Cover of The Surrendered
You know how sometimes, you think you’re randomly choosing books, but then you realize you’ve read three books in a row about Australia, or mourning the loss of a spouse, or keeping your own chickens?
Lately, I read three books in a row dealing with the experience and aftermath of cataclysmic wars, and it left me feeling a little shell-shocked. First, I read Between Shades of Gray (read my review at that link), and then I read a pair of truly stunning books, books that break your heart and take your breath and leave you feeling haunted and amazed. The Invisible Bridge , by Julie Orringer, and The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee, are books that span decades and epic battles while also being masterpieces of character development, showing indelible moments that sum up an entire personality in a small sketch.
Of the two, The Invisible Bridge was my favorite, and even beyond that, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and sure to be come one of my top-ten best books ever (after I’ve read it at least one more time). I was a little wary, because the book is both blurbed by and compared to Michael Chabon in several reviews, which is quite a high bar to set for a reader like me. I had read Orringer’s book of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, before and enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the wonder that is The Invisible Bridge. Parts of it made me cry, others made me laugh, and still more left me staring at the page, shaking my head in terror and amazement. The love story of Andras and Klara, set in Paris and Hungary during the approach of the second World War, is a legendary one, ready to join those famous couples of literature that help define the limits and wonders of love. This is a book I will cherish for years to come; I can’t recommend it any higher than that.
The Surrendered is a bleaker book for sure, and you’re much less likely to finish it and feel uplifted or even hopeful about the bonds of love between individuals, or between humankind, the way it’s possible to feel at the end of The Invisible Bridge. However, Lee’s novel does have its own power, mainly in the way he creates the three characters at the heart of the story and shows us their hearts and minds as they travel on their inevitable and destructive paths. Lee’s tale is also a little lighter on romance than Orringer’s, and is rather more insistent on including the appalling brutality of war. For this reason, I’m not sure how often I’ll reread this one, but I would definitely highly recommend it.
Last week was my spring break, and while I had many goals ranging from a massage to spring cleaning (accomplished, all), I also wanted to read some wonderful books, when I had more time to become absorbed in them. Luckily, these two absolutely fit the bill, and while both had their share of heartbreak, it was lovely to immerse myself in some great literature again, to get me recharged to try and ignite that love in my students.