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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Invisible Bridge - CHUNKY BOOK CLUB Discussion Post

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Welcome to the final Chunky Book Club discussion for 2012! This month's book club read is The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer which is set against the backdrop of Budapest and Paris, and involves three brothers whose lives are ravaged by war. Orringer's historical novel was long listed for the prestigious Orange Prize. Anyone is welcome to the discussion which will continue through the rest of this month. Please respond to comments on this post to join the conversation. You may want to subscribe to comments to make it easier to discuss the book. 

The following questions are to help get the conversation started - feel free to answer any, all or none of them - or come up with your own questions! 

**BEWARE: Spoilers may be contained in the questions and answers on this discussion post.


  1. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not? 
  2. Why do Andras and his friends at the Ecole Spéciale tolerate the undercurrent of anti-Semitism at the school even after the verbal attack on Eli Polaner (pp. 39–40) and the spate of vandalism against Jewish students (p. 94)? To what extent are their reactions shaped by their nationalities, political beliefs, or personal histories?
  3. Is Klara’s initial lack of openness about her background justified by her situation? Do Klara’s revelations (pp. 214–34) 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. 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? 
  5. What impact do the deprivations and degradations imposed by the Germans have on the relationship between the families in the book? Which characters are the least able or willing to accept the threats to their homeland and their culture? 
  6.  What details in the descriptions of Bánhida (pp. 356–63, pp. 392–99), Turka (pp. 486–503), and the transport 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 laws imposed on civilian populations? 
  7. 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 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 Institute.) 
  8. Discuss the value and importance of Jewish beliefs and traditions to Andras and other Jews, considering such passages as Andras’s feelings on page 46 ("He could no sooner cease being Jewish than he could cease being a brother to his brothers, a son to his father and mother.") and his thoughts on the High Holidays (pp. 201­–3); the weddings of Ben Yakov and Ilana (pp. 255–56) and of Andras and Klara (p. 317); the family seder in wartime Budapest (pp. 352–55); and the prayers and small rituals conducted in work camps. 
  9. 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? 
  10. The Holocaust and other murderous confrontations between ethnic groups can challenge the belief in God. “(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 the 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. 432). 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? 
  11. 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?  
  12. Why has Orringer chosen “Any Case” by the Nobel Prize–winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborkska 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? 
Have you reviewed this book? Please consider including a link to your review below (using Mr. Linky):

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