In 1937, Andras Lévi travels from his home in Budapest to Paris to study architecture at the École Spéciale. He faces a variety of challenges adjusting to the new country and making ends meet, but manages to find a part-time job, make friends of fellow students, and most importantly, fall in love with Klara, an older woman with a secret past. But their happiness is overshadowed by the growing threat of Nazi Germany, especially since Andras and Klara are both Jewish. A series of events take Andras and Klara back to Hungary, where Andras is pressed into service not as a soldier, but as a member of a labor corps responsible for digging ditches, felling trees, loading boxcars, and so on.
The first half of The Invisible Bridge takes place primarily in Paris, and serves to develop a rich cast of characters in a setting that is idyllic compared to what they have in store. Andras is established as a promising young architect; his brother Tibor, a physician. The brothers meet their future wives, and forge strong bonds with a group of peers. And then suddenly, new laws affecting Jewish immigrants change everything, and their close-knit group is scattered. The second half of the book covers the war years in harrowing detail, and it was interesting to read about World War II from a Hungarian perspective. Hungary was part of the Axis powers allied with Germany and Italy, but this was somewhat by force. Many of the characters in this book secretly hoped for Germany’s downfall. Life was one struggle after another: labor servicemen were subjected to extremely poor conditions as well as physical and emotional abuse. It wasn’t any easier for those left at home, as they faced food shortages and government corruption. And communication channels were poor, so people often didn’t know how their loved ones were faring while they were apart.
The Invisible Bridge is a well-paced story of love and hardship, but it’s also a long book (nearly 600 pages), and I lost concentration in the last 100 pages. Some aspects felt repetitive: Andras leaves for labor service, returns home, and is called up again. And then he comes home. And then he is called back. And … well, you get the idea. Each time there were new plot developments both in his life and in the war, but I still tired of it. And yet, there was a lot of excitement in this story, as well as emotion, and I will not soon forget Andras, his family, and the hardships they had to overcome.