Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Andras Lévi wants to study architecture, but since opportunities for Jews are limited in Hungary, he goes to Paris instead. There he lives among other students at the Ecole Spéciale, makes ends meet by working in the theater, and falls in love with Klara, a fellow Hungarian with a dark secret in her past. With war looming, Andras is forced to return to Budapest, and Klara follows him. Soon, their lives are swamped by history. Andras is conscripted into the labor service, and in an act of defiance, he and a friend produce a series of subversive newspapers. As a result, just when the Lévi clan is about to immigrate to Palestine, he and his whole batallion are loaded on a train and shipped to the Ukraine. Back in Budapest in 1944, Andras reflects that the Jews of Hungary had been relatively lucky. Then the Nazis invade. Orringer's first novel (her short story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, won several awards) is a hugely ambitious undertaking, but she has every detail under control, from the architectural currents in Europe in the 1930s to the day-to-day struggle to survive in a work camp. The early sections set in Paris, in particular, are completely absorbing, and if sometimes the emotional force of this long, long book gets lost in the march of events, it is still an astonishing achievement.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Orringer's stunning first novel far exceeds the expectations generated by her much-lauded debut collection, How to Breath Underwater. In this WWII saga, Orringer illuminates the life of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jew of meager means whose world is upended by a scholarship to the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. There, he makes an unlikely liaison with ballet teacher Claire Morgenstern (née Klara Hász), a woman nine years his senior whose past links her to a wealthy Hungarian family familiar to Andras. Against the backdrop of grueling school assignments, exhausting work at a theater, budding romance, and the developing kinship between Andras and his fellow Jewish students, Orringer ingeniously depicts the insidious reach of the growing tide of anti-Semitism that eventually lands him back in Hungary. Once there, Orringer sheds light on how Hungary treated its Jewish citizens-first, sending them into hard labor, though not without a modicum of common decency but as the country's alliance with Germany strengthens, the situation for Jews becomes increasingly dire. Throughout the hardships and injustices, Andras's love for Claire acts as a beacon through the unimaginable devastation and the dark hours of hunger, thirst, and deprivation. Orringer's triumphant novel is as much a lucid reminder of a time not so far away as it is a luminous story about the redemptive power of love. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
In September 1937, Andras Levi leaves Budapest for Paris, where he will study at the cole Speciale on a scholarship. Before he leaves, he encounters Elza Hasz, who asks him to carry a letter to Paris addressed to C. Morgenstern. Andras posts the letter and begins his studies, getting help from a Hungarian professor, a desperately needed job from a theater director he met on the train, and an introduction to some friends from an actress at the theater. The daughter is sullen and disinterested, but the mother turns out to be Claire Morgenstern, recipient of the mysterious letter, and it is with Claire that Andras launches a tumultuous affair. Soon, a painful secret about Claire's past emerges-and then war comes to sweep everything aside. Verdict With historic detail, a complex cast of characters, and much coincidental crossing, this book has a big, sagalike feel. Unfortunately, it also has a paint-by-the-numbers feel, as if the author were working too hard to get through every point of the story she's envisioned. The result is some plain writing, not the luminous moments we remember from her story collection, How To Breathe Underwater. Nevertheless, this should appeal to those who like big reads with historic significance. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/10.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A long, richly detailed debut novel from prizewinning short-story writer Orringer (How to Breathe Underwater, 2003), unfolding from a little-explored area of the Holocaust.The brothers Andras and Tibor Levi, Hungarian Jews, are models of aspiration. As the narrative opens, Andras is bound for Paris to study architecture, Tibor for Italy to study medicine. The year is 1937, far enough along in the proceedings that neither should be surprised to learn that bad things are about to happen; yet both are so resolutely set on their paths that, it seems, the outside world does not always figure. Andras is helped along by a few fellow Jews at the Parisian academy, as well as a seemingly sympathetic artist who inspires him to contemplate, at 22, converting to "become a Christian, and not just a Christiana Roman Catholic, the Christians who'd imagined houses of God like Notre-Dame, like the Saint-Chapelle, like the Mtys Templom or the Basilica of Szent Istvn in Budapest." This will not be the first time Andras gives free play to lofty-mindedness, but the mood gives way to earthlier concerns when he meets a woman who has an engagingly complex pastand whose story will travel alongside Andras's through the labor-camp system and, eventually, the Nazi death machine. Tibor's story is a quieter version of Andras's; indeed, the reader sometimes wonders whether Orringer has forgotten about him, though only for a time. The author works large themes of family, loyalty and faith across a huge sweep of geography and history. Her settings are the smart avenues of world capitals, snowy dirt tracks on the road to Stalingrad, even the woods of upstate New York. Her story develops without sentimentality or mawkishness, though it is full of grand emotions. Though the events of the time, especially in Hungary, are now the stuff of history books and increasingly fewer firsthand memories, Orringer writes without anachronism, and convincingly.Written with the big-picture view of Doctor Zhivago or Winds of Warand likely to be one of the big books of the season.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.