Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Familiar unknowns

This photo doesn't show just how large the book really is
As I neared the end of the very long The Invisible Bridge (or perhaps what should have been the end), I found myself struck by a certain reference found within its pages. One I couldn't remember seeing in fiction before.

On page 423, one of the characters first mentions the Struma tragedy and thus truly catapulting the book to my attention. The scene woke me up. Julie Orringer, in the midst of her Hungarian Holocaust novel slips in a piece of family history and not just by name. Recognizing that her readers will likely not know the name, she further explains the situation to the characters, tying it into their escape rhetoric. It's an interesting and effective method, in sync with much of the what the book aims to prove.

First Struma reference and explanation
Orringer's use of a virtually unknown Holocaust tragedy that escapes the bounds of the typical Holocaust cliché is what makes this a book worth even considering. Even beyond the Struma incident, Orringer's main characters face tragedies of a different sort than Auschwitz and they attempt escapes that don't involve desperate chases and runs through the woods. This is a Hungarian Holocaust novel and one of the only ones I've ever read.

Taking a familiar setting (the years leading up to the Holocaust and through to the end of the European war) and making it new is not an easy task. Orringer may not have written the next classic novel, but it's a pretty good take nonetheless (if way, way too inflated). The sparks of originality that slip into the narrative give the book a few fresh moments even as the story progresses in a familiar and predictable manner. That Orringer introduced me to a new story that I already knew... it's chilling and yet somewhat wonderful. I want authors to tell me different stories. I want authors to educate me. That readers of The Invisible Bridge now know about the Struma gives me some peace. Julie Orringer, I tip my hat.


  1. I loved this book because of how detailed it was, and like you I've never read an account of Hungary during the Holocaust. I was fascinated by Hungary's role in WWII and how it treated its Jews actually better than many other countries. I'll be visiting Eastern Europe for the first time this year and can't wait to see Budapest. Where Orringer struggled is she didn't create characters I really cared about. But I loved the detailed history and like you say, this isn't like most Holocaust novels, which I am finding increasingly cliche. (You might be interested in my recent review of Those Who Save Us.) Thanks for a really interesting perspective on this book!

  2. I bought this a while back and am very curious to read it. It's abit long for my taste but if it's still complex it's OK.

  3. Wow, I didn't know anything about the Struma incident. I wonder how so many people could command such a callous thing to be done, and hardly anyone know of it.


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