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The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer: Reading Group Guide

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer: Reading Group Guide

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Published by Alfred A. Knopf
The questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Invisible Bridge, a sweeping novel of World War II told through the story of one family, their loves and their losses. Julie Orringer, the author of the bestselling shortstory collection How to Breathe Underwater, brings their world to life with astonishing power and insight.
The questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Invisible Bridge, a sweeping novel of World War II told through the story of one family, their loves and their losses. Julie Orringer, the author of the bestselling shortstory collection How to Breathe Underwater, brings their world to life with astonishing power and insight.

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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf on Aug 16, 2012
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The Invisible BridgeJulie Orringer About this guide:The questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed toenhance your group’s discussion of 
The Invisible Bridge,
a sweeping novel of World War II told throughthe story of one family, their loves and their losses. Julie Orringer, the author of the bestselling short-story collection
 How to Breathe Underwater,
brings their world to life with astonishing power andinsight.About the book:
The Invisible Bridge
opens in September 1937 as Andras Lévi leaves his brother Tibor to study abroad.Andras has a scholarship at architecture school in Paris, while Tibor remains in Hungary until he too isgranted entrance to medical school in Italy. At the Ecole Spéciale, Andras is one of a small number of Jewish students. He had experienced anti-Semitism in Hungary and feels it in Paris as well, but when anew Hungarian law forbids granting scholarships to Jews studying abroad, he comes face-to-face withthe tide of ethnic hatred spreading throughout Europe. A job at a theater run by a fellow Hungariangives Andras just enough money to stay in school—and leads him Klara Morgenstern, a beautiful andenigmatic Hungarian émigré. Despite Klara’s secretiveness about her past, their love flourishes andsurvives a risky return to Hungary in the late summer of 1939. Tibor, forced to leave Italy when his visaexpires, returns to Hungary with his Italian wife. As a German ally, Hungary is quickly building up itsmilitary forces, and soon after the beginning of the Second World War, Andras, Tibor, and their younger  brother, Mátyás, are drafted into the Hungarian Labor Service, which supports the country’s army.As Hitler’s armies march across Europe, the brothers and their families in Budapest see their world disintegrate. Amid reports of mass killings of Jews in Eastern Europe, they grasp at the possibilityof emigrating to Palestine. But their dream of escape seems to perish first in 1942 when Andras isdeported to the Ukraine and then finally in 1944 when German troops flood into Hungary and imposetheir virulent anti-Semitic agenda. Jews throughout the country are corralled into bleak ghettoes or deported to concentration camps. Andras, Tibor, and the other Jewish men in the Hungarian Labor Service are designated prisoners of war and packed into boxcars for transport to work camps. In theturmoil that follows the Soviet advance into Hungary, the brothers lose track of one another. After 
 
months of horror, Andras is liberated by Soviet troops and returns to Budapest to face what the war hascost his family and his beloved country.An intricate mélange of historical events and personal dramas,
The Invisible Bridge
is a stunning portrait of a world at war and an unforgettable story of love, courage, and survival.For discussion:What does the opening chapter establish about the cultural and social milieu of prewar Budapest? Whatdo Andras’s reactions to Hász household reveal about the status of Jews within the larger society? Howdo the differences between the Hász and Lévi families affect their assumptions and behavior during thewar? Which scenes and characters most clearly demonstrate the tensions within the Jewish community?Why do Andras and his friends at the Ecole Spéciale tolerate the undercurrent of anti-Semitism at theschool even after the verbal attack on Eli Polaner (pp. 39–40) and the spate of vandalism against Jewishstudents (p. 94)? To what extent are their reactions shaped by their nationalities, political beliefs, or  personal histories? Why does Andras agree to infiltrate the meeting of Le Grand Occident (pp. 97–102)?Is his belief that “[the police] wouldn’t deport me . . . Not for serving the ideals of France” (p. 102), aswell as the reactions of Professor Vago and Andras’s father to the German invasion of Czechoslovakia(p. 266) naïve, or do they represent widespread opinions and assumptions?Andras and Klara’s love blossoms against the background of uncertainties and fear. Is Klara’s initial lack of openness about her background justified by her situation? Why does she eventually begin an affair with Andras? Are they equally responsible for the arguments, break-ups, and reconciliations thatcharacterize their courtship? Do Klara’s revelations (pp. 214–34) change your opinion of her and theway she has behaved?Despite the grim circumstances, Andras and Mendel produce satirical newspapers in the labor camps.What do the excerpts from
The Snow Goose
(p. 331),
The Biting Fly
(pp. 360–61), and
The Crooked  Rail 
(p. 437) show about the strategies that helped laborers preserve their humanity and their sanity?What other survival techniques do Andras and his fellow laborers develop?In Budapest, the Lévi and Hász families sustain themselves with small pleasures, daily tasks at home
 
and, in the case of the men, working at the few jobs still available to Jews (pp. 352–55, pp. 366–77, pp.405–10). Are they driven by practical or emotional needs, or both? Does the attempt to maintainordinary life represent hope and courage, or a tragic failure to recognize the ever-encroaching danger?What impact do the deprivations and degradations imposed by the Germans have on the relationship between the families? Which characters are the least able or willing to accept the threats to their homeland and their culture?What details in the descriptions of Bánhida (pp. 356–63, pp. 392–99), Turka (pp. 486–503), and thetransport trains (pp. 558–66) most chillingly capture the cruelty perpetrated by the Nazis? In addition to physical abuse and deprivation, what are the psychological effects of the camps’ rules and the lawsimposed on civilian populations?General Martón in Bánhida (pp. 399–402), Captain Erdó, and the famous General Vilmos Nagy in Turkaall display kindness and compassion. Miklós Klein engages in the tremendously dangerous work of arranging emigrations for fellow Jews (pp. 422–23). What motivates each of them to act as they do?What political ideals and moral principles lie at the heart Nagy’s stirring speech to the officers-in-training (pp. 506–7)? (Because of his refusal to support official anti-Semitic policies, Nagy waseventually forced to resign from the Hungarian army; in 1965, he was the first Hungarian named as aRighteous Among the Nationsby theYad Vashem Institute
.)
Why does Klara refuse to leave Budapest and go to Palestine (p. 510)? Is her decision the result of her own set of circumstances, or does it reflect the attitudes of other Jews in Hungary and other countriesunder Nazi control?“He could no sooner cease being Jewish than he could cease being a brother to his brothers, a son to hisfather and mother” (p. 46). Discuss the value and importance of Jewish beliefs and traditions to Andrasand other Jews, considering such passages as Andras’s feelings in the above quotation and his thoughtson the High Holidays (pp. 201–3); the weddings of Ben Yakov and Ilana (pp. 255–56) and of Andrasand Klara (p. 317); the family seder in wartime Budapest (pp. 352–55); and the prayers and small ritualsconducted in work camps.

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