About Time I Read It: The Bridge at Andau by James Michener

After a failed popular uprising against an oppressive regime, nightly newscasts and newspaper articles tell of 200,000 refugees flooding across borders and nearly overwhelming Europe’s ability to care for and house the desperate masses. Despite priding itself on being a nation of immigrants, as well as beacon onto the world of freedom and democracy, the United States agrees to accept a relative handful of refuges, fearing there are spies and evil doers secretly embedded among the displaced. Many ask why on earth America is so resistant in granting sanctuary to theses refugees since they are the creme de la creme of any modern society: the young, the educated, the highly skilled, the artistically gifted and the athletically talented. To any country willing to accept them, these displaced persons would be a huge boon, potentially enriching their new host nations beyond measure. But as the world’s leaders half heartedly debate, or even ignore the situation, the human crises in Europe drags on.

No, I’m not describing the current plight of Syrian refugees in Europe. Something similar happened once before in history. Back in 1956, after a decade of Communist tyranny the people of Hungary rose up against their Soviet-backed oppressors. Unfortunately, their freedom lasted only a week before the revolt was brutally crushed by Russian troops. For a brief period before the Communists were able to completely seal the borders, approximately 200,000 refuges made their way to neighboring Austria, leaving by way of a forgotten country bridge near the Austrian border village of Andau. During this crises, a Pulitzer-prize winning American author named James Michener happened to be living in Austria. Being relatively close to the action, he was able to interview a number of the Hungarian refugees, some of which actively participated in the attempted uprising. Those interviews served as the source material for Michener’s 1957 book The Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People.

Like many readers of my generation, I’m no stranger to Michener. In high school, I was assigned to read two of his tomes, The Source and Centennial, and around the same time, on my own I read Caravans. But only recently have I read anything else by this once popular American author. Looking for something I could read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, I found myself cruising my public library’s online catalog when out of the blue I remembered Michener had written a book decades ago on the failed 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Seeing copy of this book happened to be available I grabbed one. I’m happy to report a bit to my surprise I was not disappointed.

The Bridge at Andau is a very good book. At first I was scared it wouldn’t hold up well over the years but lo and behold it has, and as a result still makes for enjoyable and intelligent reading. The accounts of heroism and tragedy Michener chronicles in The Bridge at Andau will stick with a person long after reading this book. Pleasantly surprised by this sixty year old piece of nonfiction writing, I now find myself wanting to read more stuff by Michener. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see a few more of his books featured on my blog.

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Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, Eastern Europe/Balkans, Europe, History

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