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Julie Orringer
Your epilogue, combined with the acknowledgements, suggests this novel is, at least to some extent, a homage to the experiences of your own family. How difficult was it to fictionalise stories you’d heard from your grandparents?
Well, the epilogue is almost entirely fictional—the young girl in that final chapter is invented, just like most of the other characters, with the exception of the historical figures. But my grandparents did in fact survive the war in Hungary, and their experiences contributed a great deal to the novel. When I began writing the first draft, I found myself hewing quite closely to the family stories. But when Andras fell in love with Klara, the novel became truly fiction, and that was when I began to feel a much greater freedom within the project. My grandparents always understood that what I was writing was a work of fiction, and they assured me that the stories I was creating reflected real-life experiences nonetheless—if not their own, then those of others who lived through the war in France and Hungary.
You conjure wonderful images of the architecture that Andras studies and imagines. How different is portraying the atmosphere of a building to constructing the persona of a character?
That’s an interesting question. Buildings do, of course, have personalities, and like human beings they change over time. One of the great pleasures of the novel was getting to know more about architecture, particularly 1930’s architecture, and learning about the academic politics of different architectural schools of thought. As the novel goes on, I think Andras comes to see both people and buildings in a different way—he’s more deeply aware of the complicated history beneath the surface.
There are a couple of occasions when your protagonists enjoy lucky respites in the direst of circumstances. Do you think there was an element of the accidental and arbitrary to life during the war?
My grandparents and their friends told many stories of survival in which a bit of luck made the difference between life and death. I think the Wislawa Szymborska poem at the end of the novel captures that notion quite briefly and elegantly. Of course, what feels like luck can also be the confluence of factors too complicated for us to comprehend all at once; “luck” is, in a sense, a word that indicates the limitation of our vision.
Most of the protagonists are at one point or another émigrés or exiles. Is THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE a metaphor for the links and pathways of a global diaspora?
I think that’s a good interpretation, one that works a bit more broadly than my initial idea when the title occurred to me; I was thinking at first more about the ties between loved ones who are separated from each other. But as the novel progressed and I thought more about the characters’ complicated connections to home and country, the interpretation you’re suggesting did come to light.
The marginal characters are very vivid and the storyline about Polaner and Lemarque could fill a novel of its own. Have you considered writing a sequel to bring out their stories?
Well, I’m delighted that those characters came to life. In fact, I found it impossible to leave Polaner behind entirely—I had to find a way for him to return in the later section of the novel. At the moment there’s no sequel planned, though the new book I’m working on now also takes place in France at the beginning of the 1940’s.
Who inspires you – literary or otherwise?
My husband is also a fiction writer, and his strict work ethic and deep creativity are a great inspiration. While I was working on The Invisible Bridge, I was deeply inspired by the scope, detail, and psychological acuity of the nineteenth-century Russian and English novel, and I wanted that mode to contribute to my own novel’s form and character. But I’m very much indebted, too, to twenty-first century writers like Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Eugenides, who are also great admirers of the nineteenth-century novel but manage to make it new.
Julie Orringer

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