Julie Orringer is the author of the award-winning short-story
collection How to Breathe Underwater, which was a New
York Times Notable Book. She is the winner of The Paris
Review's Discovery Prize and the recipient of fellowships from
the National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford University, and the
Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the
New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is
researching a new novel.
1. What does the opening chapter establish about the cultural
and social milieu of prewar Budapest? What do Andras's reactions to
the Hász household reveal about the status of Jews within the
larger society? How do the differences between the Hász and Lévi
families affect their assumptions and behavior during the war?
Which scenes and characters most clearly demonstrate the tensions
within the Jewish community?
2. Why do Andras and his friends at the École Spéciale tolerate
the undercurrent of anti-Semitism at the school even after the
verbal attack on Eli Polaner (pp. 48-50) and the spate of vandalism
against Jewish students (p. 118)? 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. 121-27)? Is his belief that "[the police]
wouldn't deport me . . . Not for serving the
ideals of France" (p. 128), as well as the reactions of Professor
Vago and Andras's father to the German invasion of Czechoslovakia
(p. 337) naïve, or do they represent widespread opinions and
3. 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, breakups, and reconciliations that characterize their
courtship? Do Klara's revelations (pp. 270-96) change your opinion
of her and the way she has behaved?
4. Despite the grim circumstances, Andras and Mendel produce
satirical newspapers in the labor camps. What do the excerpts from
The Snow Goose (p. 419), The Biting Fly (pp.
457-58), and The Crooked Rail (p. 454-55) show about the
strategies that helped laborers preserve their humanity and their
sanity? What other survival techniques do Andras and his fellow
5. 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. 446-50,
464-78, and 514-21). Are they driven by practical or emotional
needs, or both? Does the attempt to maintain ordinary 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
6. What details in the descriptions of Bánhida (pp. 451-61 and
498-506), Turka (pp. 618-638), and the transport trains (pp.
709-19) 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 laws imposed on
7. General Martón in Bánhida (pp. 506-11), Captain Erdó, and the
famous General Vilmos Nagy in Turka all display kindness and
compassion. Miklós Klein engages in the tremendously dangerous work
of arranging emigrations for fellow Jews (pp. 536-37). What
motivates each of them to act as they do? What political ideals and
moral principles lie at the heart of Nagy's stirring speech to the
officers-in-training (pp. 641-43)? (Because of his refusal to
support official anti-Semitic policies, Nagy was eventually forced
to resign from the Hungarian Army; in 1965, he was the first
Hungarian named as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem
8. Why does Klara refuse to leave Budapest and go to Palestine
(p. 647-48)? Is her decision the result of her own set of
circumstances, or does it reflect the attitudes of other Jews in
Hungary and other countries under Nazi control?
9. "He could no sooner cease being Jewish than he could cease
being a brother to his brothers, a son to his father and mother"
(p. 57). Discuss the value and importance of Jewish beliefs and
traditions to Andras and other Jews, considering such passages as
Andras's feelings in the above quotation and his thoughts on the
High Holidays (pp. 253-57); the weddings of Ben Yakov and Ilana
(pp. 323-24) and of Andras and Klara (p. 401-2); the family seder
in wartime Budapest (pp. 446-50); and the prayers and small rituals
conducted in work camps.
10. The narrative tracks the political and military upheavals
engulfing Europe as they occur. What do these intermittent reports
demonstrate about the failure of both governments and ordinary
people to grasp the true objectives of the Nazi regime? How does
the author create and sustain a sense of suspense and portending
disaster, even for readers familiar with the ultimate course of the
11. Throughout the book there are descriptions of Andras's
studies, including information about his lessons and the models he
creates and detailed observations of architectural masterpieces in
Paris. What perspective does the argument between Pingsson and Le
Corbusier offer on the role of the architect in society (pp.
354-47)? Whose point of view do you share? What aspects of
architecture as a discipline make it particularly appropriate to
the themes explored in the novel? What is the relevance of Andras's
work as a set designer within this context?
12. Andras's encounters with Mrs. Hász (p. 7) and with Zoltán
Novak (pp. 23-24) are the first of many coincidences that determine
the future paths of various characters. What other events in the
novel are the result of chance or luck? How do the twists and turns
of fortune help to create a sense of the extraordinary time in
which the novel is set?
13. Does choice also play a significant role in the characters'
lives? What do their decisions-for example, Klara's voluntary
return to Budapest; György's payments to the Hungarian authorities;
and even József's attack on Andras and Mendel (p. 625)-demonstrate
about the importance of retaining a sense of independence and
control in the midst of chaos?
14. The Holocaust and other murderous confrontations between
ethnic groups can challenge the belief in God. Orringer writes,
"[Andras] believed in God, yes, the God of his fathers, the one to
whom he'd prayed . . . but that God, the One,
was not One who intervened in the way they needed someone to
intervene just then. He had designed the cosmos and thrown its
doors open to man, and man had moved
in. . . . The world was their place now" (p.
549). What is your reaction to Andras's point of view? Have you
read or heard explanations of why terrible events come to pass that
more closely reflect your personal beliefs?
15. What did you know about Hungary's role in World War II
before reading The Invisible Bridge? Did the book present
information about the United States and its allies that surprised
you? Did it affect your views on Zionism and the Jewish emigration
to Palestine? Did it deepen your understanding of the causes and
the course of the war? What does the epilogue convey about the
postwar period and the links among past, present, and future?
16. "In the end, what astonished him most was not the vastness
of it all-that was impossible to take in, the hundreds of thousands
dead from Hungary alone, and the millions from all over Europe-but
the excruciating smallness, the pinpoint upon which every life was
balanced" (p.709). Does The Invisible Bridge succeed in
capturing both the "vastness of it all" and the "excruciating
smallness" of war and its impact on individual lives?
17. Why has Orringer chosen "Any Case" by the Nobel
Prize-winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska as the coda to her
novel? What does it express about individuals caught in the flow of
history and the forces that determine their fates?
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