Most of the literature that is based in Budapest and Hungary is, naturally, written by Hungarians. We even see some of these books in English translation. Classic books like Paul Street Boys, Anna Edes, and Celestial Harmonies. But occasionally a curious foreigner comes along and discovers the highly literary atmosphere of Budapest, and gets inspired to write about it. We are thinking of books like Budapest, by Chico Buarque, the ironically named coming-of-age comedy Prague, by Arthur Philips, and more recently, The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer.
The later turned out to be a huge international best-seller, and is currently under development for a film version. But until that happens, we only have the novel to look to. The narrative of The Invisible Bridge concerns a Hungarian Jewish family and an epic romance during the lead-up to World War II and Hungary under the German occupation. Following Andras Lévi, a poor Hungarian who goes to Paris to study architecture, and the beautiful ballet teacher he meets there, named Klara, the story is ambitious in relating love in the most tumultuous of eras. Praised for its ‘brilliant storytelling’ by the Guardian, the book was a critics’ darling. Indeed, the New York Times gave it high praise as well, saying, “The strength of The Invisible Bridge lies in Orringer’s ability to make us care so deeply about the people of her all-too-real fictional world. For the time it takes to read this fine novel, and for a long time afterward, it becomes our world too.”
In describing the historical and personal inspiration for her novel, Orringer told Moment Magazine: ”What drew me to the story was hearing about my grandfather’s experiences when he was younger. Despite the fact that I grew up in a Hungarian family, I just didn’t know much about what had happened to Hungarian Jews during the war. Like a lot of families with Holocaust survivors, those years just weren’t discussed in my family. My grandparents certainly alluded to them and I heard bits and pieces about their survival, but I didn’t really have a sense of the whole picture because my grandparents didn’t talk about it. Once I started asking them questions about what had happened, they really wanted to tell their story. They wanted the novel to be written.”
Written in her thirties, Orringer, despite her name, is of Hungarian origins. The story in The Invisible Bridge is largely based on her relatives, who came from the town of Konyár near Lake Balaton. Her uncle is the highly regarded sculptor Alfred Tibor, also a Holocaust survivor. Orringer’s literary pedigree includes many of the most prestigious schools in the United States, including Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
We can only hope there is progress in the film’s development, as Budapest will be a necessary part of the setting, and Orringer can bring her family’s story home once again.
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