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The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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"On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to pr "On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His study leads to his own death — and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is now reissued in this handsome hardcover edition featuring a new foreword by Russell Banks. Tappan Wilder has written an engaging and thought-provoking afterword, which includes unpublished notes for the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, illuminating photographs, and other remarkable documentary material. Granville Hicks's insightful comment about Wilder suggests an inveterate truth: "As a craftsman he is second to none, and there are few who have looked deeper into the human heart."


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"On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to pr "On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His study leads to his own death — and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is now reissued in this handsome hardcover edition featuring a new foreword by Russell Banks. Tappan Wilder has written an engaging and thought-provoking afterword, which includes unpublished notes for the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, illuminating photographs, and other remarkable documentary material. Granville Hicks's insightful comment about Wilder suggests an inveterate truth: "As a craftsman he is second to none, and there are few who have looked deeper into the human heart."

30 review for The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    My ex fiance recently contacted me, interrupting my yearlong effort to convince myself I'd never hear from her again, to tell me her dad had died. It was solemn news, for I adored the man and had, once upon a time, been within a hairbreadth of being a part of his family. I searched for the proper way to respond. I went to Hyvee and looked at the sympathy cards but, seriously, they have 2 types of sympathy cards - both lame - and 4,567,987 types of cards making fun of people turning 40 (and 3% of My ex fiance recently contacted me, interrupting my yearlong effort to convince myself I'd never hear from her again, to tell me her dad had died. It was solemn news, for I adored the man and had, once upon a time, been within a hairbreadth of being a part of his family. I searched for the proper way to respond. I went to Hyvee and looked at the sympathy cards but, seriously, they have 2 types of sympathy cards - both lame - and 4,567,987 types of cards making fun of people turning 40 (and 3% of those cards feature Chippendale-type men on them...because it's funny?). So I went to the bookshelf and pulled down Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." Though I tend to annotate my books, I seldom read anything twice. There are too many books and not enough life. This is a rare exception. I've read this book four times, usually after some great heartbreak - the loss of a loved one, the loss of love itself. It is a simple, yet surpassingly elegant disquisition on the nature of love. The book starts with the collapse of a bridge outside Lima, Peru. Five people were on the bridge and fell to their deaths in a gorge. A monk named Brother Juniper uses the collapse for an investigation into the will of God. The bridge, you see, has stood for many years and safely allowed many thousands to cross the gorge. Brother Juniper wondered why, out of all the moments on earth, the bridge chose this particular time to fall, and how it came to be that these five specific people were on it at that fateful time. Brother Juniper believed that by tracing the path of each person to the bridge, he could see - to use Melville's phrase - "God's foot upon the treadle of the loom." The book, thus, starts as an exploration of the divine plan. God is a given, but God's nature is not: "Some say that we shall never know, and to the Gods we are like the flies that boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." Brother Juniper seeks to find out why these five were chosen to die. In successive chapters, his discoveries about each person is revealed. There is Esteban, and orphan learning hard lessons after the death of his brother; Uncle Pio, an old man rumored to be the father of a famous actress; Dona Maria, who devoted her life to her daughter; Pepita, another orphan, who was groomed to be an abbess; and Jaime, the son of the famous actress, who travels in the company of Uncle Pio. Brother Juniper does not solve the mystery of the cosmos. His discovery is much more prosaic, how love brought each person to the bridge, a finding beautifully stated in the famous final lines of the book, the ones I often look to for comfort (and which has been oft quoted, by Tony Blair after 9/11, and after the 35W bridge collapse). "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    On the 20th of July, 1714, in the Spanish colony of Peru, five people descended to eternity, when they fell into an enormous abyss. Ironically, as colorful birds sung sweetly nearby , a beautiful scene of snowy mountains, far away, seen, and green vegetation with pretty trees below. The noon collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey, not only killed the poor unfortunates, but maybe more important, showed the world, how precious life is. An uncommon novel because it tells the reader at the very begi On the 20th of July, 1714, in the Spanish colony of Peru, five people descended to eternity, when they fell into an enormous abyss. Ironically, as colorful birds sung sweetly nearby , a beautiful scene of snowy mountains, far away, seen, and green vegetation with pretty trees below. The noon collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey, not only killed the poor unfortunates, but maybe more important, showed the world, how precious life is. An uncommon novel because it tells the reader at the very beginning, the ending. Brother Juniper, a curious, tired Franciscan monk, had stopped to rest and saw the horrible, deadly catastrophe, from the road. The distant, tiny, hurling bodies, falling quickly from view, doomed, no possible rescue...But unlike others, didn't think how lucky he was (he had survived!). His thoughts though were, why these beings ? At the mountain, Juniper decides to devote himself to finding out all he can, about the deceased. Knocking on every door in the small capital city of Lima, talking with the people, filling many notebooks, writing a long book afterwards, from six years of an exhaustive investigation. Nevertheless , can anyone really know another person? The locals were greatly shocked, the land where frequent earthquakes bring sudden death, tidal waves, that crush and destroy coastal cities, rampant disease, which decimates the frightened population, occurs too often. Did they think the century old , Inca made bridge of vines and twigs, was going to last forever. Or maybe that much used ancient artificial structure, linking the towns of Lima and Cuzco, would always be safe...An "Act of God," as the lawyers say, changed everyone's perspective. A royal old, lonely lady, an orphan girl, a surviving, grieving, twin boy, the uncle of a famous actress, and her sickly son, all perished on the bridge... Later the somber Requiem Mass at the Cathedral, in Lima, for the poor victims, with the Archbishop presiding, the Viceroy in attendance, as are all the notable people of the city . "There is the land of the living and a land of the dead" said this book , " and the bridge is love".....Poignant story that is sad at heart, no happy endings , but asks the question, is life worth living... You only, can answer that...... A new bridge made of stone has been built, where the former legendary one was...Symbol of hope and the indomitable spirit of mankind, will prevail over adversity...May it always be that way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Gentle Sarcasm; Sarcasm Nevertheless It appears to be commonplace among many readers (and several film directors) to interpret this story as a paean to love based on its oft quoted closing “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." Rubbish. The story is patently sarcastic, gently so to be sure, which is part of its artistry, but sarcastic nonetheless. The only examples of love in the story are either obsessive fixation or Gentle Sarcasm; Sarcasm Nevertheless It appears to be commonplace among many readers (and several film directors) to interpret this story as a paean to love based on its oft quoted closing “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." Rubbish. The story is patently sarcastic, gently so to be sure, which is part of its artistry, but sarcastic nonetheless. The only examples of love in the story are either obsessive fixation or guilty desire. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a somewhat elliptical re-telling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Wilder signals this early on in his paraphrase of Shakespeare’s Gloucester: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods." [Wilder: “... to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day.”]. The story shares precisely the same theme as that of Lear: the intelligibility, or lack of it, of providential justice. The story also shares with Lear a persistent ambivalence about where and how such justice might be perceived. Just as Shakespeare hints at, only to dismiss, the possibility of a benign rationality in Lear’s madness and Cordelia’s death, so Wilder has Brother Juniper searching without result for the divine intention behind six apparently random casualties (I include his own). Where Wilder differs radically from Shakespeare is in his consistent sarcasm about his context: Spanish American culture, Peruvian colonial administration, the Catholic Church, and every one of his characters. Brother Juniper is his first target: “It seemed to Brother Juniper that it was high time for theology to take its place among the exact sciences, and he had long intended putting it there. What he had lacked hitherto was a laboratory.” High comedy or low sarcasm? Wilder then makes his opinion on Juniper’s project clear: “Everyone knew that he was working on some sort of memorial of the accident, and everyone was very helpful and misleading.” The narrative which follows, therefore, is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. The Church suffers some of Wilder’s wittiest jibes. Referencing a work on sewers, he writes that the “...treatise on the laws of hydraulics was suppressed by the Inquisition as being too exciting.” The Archbishop of Peru, a harmless but ineffectual man, makes his entry as “... something in Lima that was wrapped up in yards of violet satin from which protruded a great dropsical head and two fat pearly hands.” Uncle Pio, the likable rogue of the piece “had been reduced for a time to making investigations for the Inquisition, but when he had seen several of his victims led off in hoods he felt that he might be involving himself in an institution whose movements were not evenly predictable.” Spanish culture is presented by Wilder as a burlesque. The Viceroy, for example, “...had contrived to make exile endurable by building up a ceremonial so complicated that it could only be remembered by a society that had nothing else to think about.” Much is made of the degradation of the Spanish language from its pristine Castilian under the influence of native Peruvians. Only that art originating in the home country was worthy of admiration so that “Uncle Pio and Camila Perichole were tormenting themselves in an effort to establish in Peru the standards of the theatres in some heaven whither Calderón had preceded.” Individual characters are all comically flawed. The abbess, who acts as a sort of central employment bureau, “... was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization” (referring to her devotion to women’s equality). The prostitute, actress and aspiring socialite, La Perichole (apparently meaning half-breed bitch but untranslated by Wilder) participates in public ritual by holding a “candle in the penitential parades side by side with ladies who had nothing to regret but an outburst of temper and a furtive glance into Descartes.” Even the victims themselves are treated with an implicit sarcasm. The Marquesa and Pepita die just after discovering their misdirected loyalties. Esteban, being persuaded to live without his brother, falls to his death the next morning. Uncle Pio and Jaime have no sort of conversion at all before they end up in the abyss. Not only is there no discernible pattern, there are no narrative implications of their deaths. They are all merely dead. And Brother Juniper is despised and killed because of his interest in their lives. Thus it seems to me sentimental claptrap to interpret the story as endorsing the redemptive power of love. Wilder’s various references to love range from the sordid to the inappropriate. Why he would then cap his story with praise of an absent virtue is a mystery those who enjoy melodrama will have to explain. This is farce not tragedy. Postscript: reality imitates fiction: https://youtu.be/QSU8GozlAKc

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emily May

    "Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." You might think a book so focused on God and faith would fail to have the desired effect on an atheist like me. But, actually, I think the religious factor of this novel is just a small part of something which affects all of us: our need to question why "Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." You might think a book so focused on God and faith would fail to have the desired effect on an atheist like me. But, actually, I think the religious factor of this novel is just a small part of something which affects all of us: our need to question why things happen. When tragedy falls upon our loved ones, or perhaps not even that, perhaps a news story captures our attention of young children involved in a fatal accident, completely in the wrong place at the wrong time - when life presents us with such situations as these, it seems it is a common element of human nature to ask that question which has plagued philosophers, priests, historians and scientists for millennia. Why. This book begins with the collapse of the San Luis Rey bridge in Peru. Brother Juniper witnesses the disaster and watches as five people plummet to their deaths in the gorge below. He finds himself wondering why those people at that exact point were chosen to die, what it was about their lives that shaped such a destiny for them. We are taken on an emotional journey into the lives of the deceased, exploring questions about life, death, religion, faith and chance. Did these five people die because of some grave sin that doomed their souls? Or was it something far more complicated than that? "Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well." This beautifully written novel captures numerous emotions in a very small amount of pages and also gives the reader an interesting view of the ruling classes in Spanish South America at this time (18th century). The book can be viewed as several gradually entwining short stories which feature very different lives that end in the same unfortunate way. It is quite a painful read, especially when looking at the relationship between Dona Maria and her daughter, the former longing for the latter's love but unsure how to obtain it. Knowing the outcome of each tale adds a looming cloud of despair to the stories and makes the characters' situations that much more tragic. What many see as this book's major weakness and I found to be its greatest strength was the lack of answers to the questions first pondered by Brother Juniper when he witnessed the collapse of the bridge. Wilder purposely leaves the ending open for interpretation as to whether these people were the victims of chance or deliberately targeted as part of God's greater plan. The only certainty is that, in one way or another, love brought each of those people to that bridge at that exact point. And I believe the ambiguity makes it all the more powerful. "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    This is not mere writing. This is poetic philosophy. I'd heard it was good, but I didn't know what to expect from Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. For all I knew, it took place somewhere along the Californian coast along with all the other Sans and Santas. After all, there is the San Luis Rey Mission in San Diego. But no, this is set in Peru. Even better! I love when a story transports me some place I've never been before. The concept in a nutshell as explained on Wikipedia: It tells t This is not mere writing. This is poetic philosophy. I'd heard it was good, but I didn't know what to expect from Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. For all I knew, it took place somewhere along the Californian coast along with all the other Sans and Santas. After all, there is the San Luis Rey Mission in San Diego. But no, this is set in Peru. Even better! I love when a story transports me some place I've never been before. The concept in a nutshell as explained on Wikipedia: It tells the story of several interrelated people who die in the collapse of an Inca rope bridge in Peru, and the events that lead up to their being on the bridge. A friar who has witnessed the accident then goes about inquiring into the lives of the victims, seeking some sort of cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928. And well deserved! This is not a family saga of epic proportions. It's short. It's compact. It takes a slice or two of life and examines it. It does this three times for five people. The numbers are only slightly off and the stories don't all focus on one incident, but this is still quite reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa'sRashomon, itself based on two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The people and their problems are varied and interesting. Their choices and why they chose them are made even more so by Wilder. Maybe this isn't 5 star perfection, but it is damn good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Seemita

    Let me draw a scene for you. You are standing at the balcony of a high rise building and looking down at the busy road of the evening hours. You spot a fleet of coloured cars, nudging each other with a relaxed urgency, you see little boys in nickers and little girls in frocks tugging their mothers for sweet somethings, you see ebullient couples stealing a kiss while keeping an eye on the pedestrians, you locate the lesser-privileged scrapping at the abandoned baskets for respectable leftovers, y Let me draw a scene for you. You are standing at the balcony of a high rise building and looking down at the busy road of the evening hours. You spot a fleet of coloured cars, nudging each other with a relaxed urgency, you see little boys in nickers and little girls in frocks tugging their mothers for sweet somethings, you see ebullient couples stealing a kiss while keeping an eye on the pedestrians, you locate the lesser-privileged scrapping at the abandoned baskets for respectable leftovers, you see the wanderers leaning on the poles, watching the scene, just like you. Now, I pull myself up well within your ear’s reach and joining your view, ask you: Does anything bind you to them ? Does anything at all, bind you to any one of them on the road? With a little thought, both of us would hiss out, yes . At Level 1, it is the world we live in; the air we breathe, the trees we see, the smoke we inhale, the fog we fight - they are all the same for us and them. At Level 2, it is the labyrinth of emotions we hold close; the love we feel, the tears we shed, the impatience we possess, the amusement we harbour – they are common in us and them. And at Level 3, the highest, we are bound by the truth of Life and Death; while on this side of the Life-Death Bridge, we are all huddled into the animated and raucous jungle of Life and once we cross over to the other side of this bridge, our dissimilarities, once again merge into the silent ocean of Death. But who should tell us how to cross this bridge whenever we are called upon to? There is no easy answer but Wilder tries to give us one in this delicately weaved story of six people. When the imposing Bridge of San Luis Rey, breaks on a fateful day, it goes down taking the lives of five random people in its arms. This incident shakes no Peruvian native as much as Brother Juniper. He is besieged by a strong urge to unearth the reasons behind the choice of victims. Why these five? Was there anything common in them besides their appointed date, time, place and instrument of death? The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed. In a desire to understand His intentions in a pure state, he sets in motion many interviews, reference sets, neighbourhood versions and historical records to draw concrete evidence about these five people who led largely different lives: An Aristocrat(also A Mother) and Her Help(also An Orphan), A War Veteran and His Find(also A Brother) and A Theatre Personality(also A Teacher). In the flood of motherly affection and in the muck of orphaned loneliness, in the war of distilled priorities and in the swamp of brotherly abandonment, even in the shadow of vanquished lessons, Brother Juniper gropes for the sky that protected these five souls till it burst open on the call of Death. It is not clear if Wilder wished to reinforce any spiritual truth or religious dogma but he certainly established an inspiring line of beauty in ordinary things, which intersperses a futile life with smoked humor and infectious spunk. He lets the society condemn Brother Juniper’s finding as farcical and baseless but also renders him a certain unquestionable dignity that keeps the curious flame lit under the darkest clouds of doubts and fallacy. After stroking the picture of each of the five victims with their respective color brushes for a laborious six years, Brother Juniper is sombre at last when the final picture exhibits the masterstroke, merging all the colors into a single shade. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ruby Granger

    Seeing as I study spanish, I loved the hispanic undertones to this book and enjoyed translating snippets from Castilian into English. Not only this, but there was a strong Catholic undercurrent in the novel, no doubt a consequence of the denomination's popularity in the hispanic world, and this made for enjoyable analysing. The novel is told by means of three separate stories, each one sending with the same event: the bridge. It's a beautiful representation of human community and the connections Seeing as I study spanish, I loved the hispanic undertones to this book and enjoyed translating snippets from Castilian into English. Not only this, but there was a strong Catholic undercurrent in the novel, no doubt a consequence of the denomination's popularity in the hispanic world, and this made for enjoyable analysing. The novel is told by means of three separate stories, each one sending with the same event: the bridge. It's a beautiful representation of human community and the connections which exist between us. Oh, even if you don't want to read the whole thing, I urge you to find the book and READ THE LAST PAGE!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    “Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.” (p.12) Without the batting of an eye, Thorntorn Wilder’s presents his short story with the dilemma of the nature of the divine will and the resultant conflict between fate and randomness, faith and reason, meaning and absurdity. Set in the eighteenth centu “Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.” (p.12) Without the batting of an eye, Thorntorn Wilder’s presents his short story with the dilemma of the nature of the divine will and the resultant conflict between fate and randomness, faith and reason, meaning and absurdity. Set in the eighteenth century in Perú, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” focuses on the collapse of the mentioned ancestral bridge built during the Inka hegemony that unites the capital of Lima with the merchant town of Cuzco, taking away the lives of five people who happened to be crossing the bridge at the precise moment of the fatal accident. “Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.” (p.9) The latent question throbbing behind the scene being whether the hand of God had some doing in the tragedy leads Brother Juniper to doubt and to investigate the five deceased searching for some logical pattern in their deaths while forgetting that the act of believing involves the acceptance of the senseless, which eventually proves catastrophic for the inquiring Brother. The Marquesa de Montemayor pours her heart writing emotional letters overflowing with lyricism to her daughter Clara, who is married in Spain and who can’t abide her mother, proclaiming her almost obsessive motherly love and her need to feel accepted instead of scorned by her only daughter. Pepita , the Marquesa’s assistant, who was raised by the Abbess in the Convent of Santa María Rosa de las Rosas, selflessly offers her mistress faithful devotion but Pepita’s continuous efforts pass unnoticed by the miserable Marquesa. Manuel and Esteban are telepathic twins who were left at the same Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas as infants who become scribes. Esteban worships his brother and finds himself in agony when he discovers the secret love Manuel nurtures for Camila Perochile, a famous actress, which threatens the brother’s uncommonly close relationship, making him aware that Manuel’s fraternal love is less profound than his. Esteban’s remorse increases when his beloved brother cuts his knee with a piece of metal and dies from a massive infection, leaving Esteban devastated and without an aim in life. Uncle Pío is a self-made man; confidant, manager and protector of the aforesaid actress who launches her stellar popularity in the theaters of Lima. After having a romantic relationship with the Viceroy of Perú, which produces three children, Camila decides to stop acting in order to become a true lady. After Uncle Pío’s failed attempt to convince her to return to the stage, he persuades her to allow her only son to accompany him in order to be trained for a year. When these apparently unrelated people cross the bridge on the fateful Friday on July the twentieth, they are dragged down and irremediably engulfed like insignificant ants by the waters of the river alongside the bridge of San Luís Rey, taking their lives, their dreams and their new resolutions with it. What force propelled them to be walking across the bridge at the particular instant of the misfortune? Were they selected by some Divine Providence for some inscrutable purpose? Beware though. Because those who survive might obtain less wisdom, might live less intensely than those predestined or fortuitously condemned to death, as Brother Juniper reflects after tragedy strikes: “Everybody knows that in the world we do nothing but feed our wills. Why perpetuate this legend of selflessness? Why keep this thing alive, this rumour of disinterestedness?” The five deceased characters in Wilder’s story have the commonality of sharing loneliness, heartbreak and despair. Maybe the key to all the unanswerable questions lays there. Maybe the rejected are in need to cross an allegorical bridge to find love and solace, either in the world of the living or in the world of the dead. Maybe insignificant humans are part of an indecipherable greater scheme of the universe. Maybe nothing is scripted and capricious randomness rules the world. But even in the most absurd of scenarios, erring humans will need to cross the bridge of fear and find the courage to love some time or another. And Love, my friend, might be the one and only answer. “Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” (p.124)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    This is a classic novel that has been on my radar simply because it is on many "must read" lists. A Pulitzer Prize winning best seller that has been made into 3 movies and has occasionally been an influence on other novels, I figured this was a book I should eventually get to. I am settling on 3.5 out of 5 stars. Not sure if I should round up or round down . . . The idea was interesting - a monk trying to determine if there is scientific/mathmatical evidence as to why certain people die in tragedi This is a classic novel that has been on my radar simply because it is on many "must read" lists. A Pulitzer Prize winning best seller that has been made into 3 movies and has occasionally been an influence on other novels, I figured this was a book I should eventually get to. I am settling on 3.5 out of 5 stars. Not sure if I should round up or round down . . . The idea was interesting - a monk trying to determine if there is scientific/mathmatical evidence as to why certain people die in tragedies over others. This leads to three intertwined backstories that all end in the collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey. Such a cool concept, it was enough to keep me interested to see what he figures out! The best part for me was the writing. I like Wilder's writing style and storytelling. It went a long way towards elevating my rating of this book. My biggest criticism is the stories themselves. They just really weren't all that interesting to me. In fact, after I was done, I went to find a synopsis of the book on Wikipedia to see if I had missed anything - I had not! What I read and remembered is exactly what Wikipedia said. So, perhaps this was more interesting to people living at the time it was released? Sales would seem to indicate so. I recommend this book if you like classics or need to complete a must read list. But, I think I have just talked myself into rounding down.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a beautifully written book full of eternal questions. If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surp The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a beautifully written book full of eternal questions. If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surprise the reason of their taking off. There are so many unrelated people in the world, so many different fates and then unexpectedly some calamity may bring fates together in the most tragic way… Is it a dire misfortune or God’s Divine Providence? There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. Crossing so many bridges during our life we inexorably approach the bridge that will collapse under our feet.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ines

    I’m having a hard time reviewing this book. It seems an insignificant booklet that deals with a strange story, a stubborn monk who tries to find a connection that logically links the death of five people in the collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey in 1714... OK, you will say, why can such a theme be so hostile in its understanding? It made me think a lot once finished it, a book that seems to be conceived giving the reader multiple ways and possibilities of reading... Historical: with many histo I’m having a hard time reviewing this book. It seems an insignificant booklet that deals with a strange story, a stubborn monk who tries to find a connection that logically links the death of five people in the collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey in 1714... OK, you will say, why can such a theme be so hostile in its understanding? It made me think a lot once finished it, a book that seems to be conceived giving the reader multiple ways and possibilities of reading... Historical: with many historical references of the Spanish conquests, on the sacred music of the 16th century with Da Victoria,Allegri and Palestrina and the diffusion of their choral music masterpieces in the new world... Linguistics and philology: a very special use of words and terms, a way of using old but not ancient terminologies, the version translated into Italian is wonderful!!! much has been left in the dialogues in Spanish, and the language in the dialogues is in Italian not ancient but in the vernacular of the late 18th century. Literary: here I am not very expert, but I have seen some connections, paraphrases similar to the works of Shakespeare and Miguel da Cervantes..... Religious: for someone, it would seem the most hidden part, but paradoxically Wilder knows his business, and making these wonderful characters talk, who have nothing to do or very little with Faith and religion.( just think of the Marquesa de Montemayor) We find them in the midst of their daily life, a life that is not far from the feeling of our heart today. Love, loneliness, sadness, despair, sloth..... but why Wilder puts them before us and puts them before us as poor, sinful people? Why make us a list of poor people like all of us and then pretend to find some connection in the misfortune that will see them united in death? Even the Monk Juniper does not seem sure of his research, seems convinced to have taken the right path studying the component of goodness, devotion and humility to then remain kneeling to an overwhelming reality...the Mystery of God that moves our lives, and how the Grace of salvation and change can transfigure us despite a life dedicated solely to iniquities.... I am troubled by the last sentence of the book Soon we will die, and every memory of those five will disappear from the earth, and we ourselves will be loved for a short time, and then forgotten. But love will have sufficed; all those motions of love return to the Love that created them. Not even memory is necessary to love. There is a world of the living and a world of the dead, and the bridge is love, only survival, the only meaning" Quid es veritas? Quid es amor? Omnia vincit amor Mi sento in difficoltà a recensire questo libro, lo dico subito.. sembra un libretto insignificante che tratta una storiella un pò stramba, un monaco ostinato che cerca di trovare un nesso che leghi in modo logico la morte di cinque persone nel crollo del ponte di San luigi Rey nel 1714.... ok, voi direte, perchè mai un tema del genere può essere così ostile nella sua comprensione? Mi ha fatto riflettere molto una volta terminato, un libro che sembra essere concepito donando al lettore molteplici vie e possibilità di lettura... Storica: con tantissimi riferimenti storici delle conquiste spagnole, sulla musica sacra del 16 secolo con Da Victoria, Allegri ,Palestrina e la diffusione dei loro lavori nel nuovo mondo... Linguistica e filologia: un utilizzo particolarissimo delle parole, una modalità di utilizzare terminologie desuete ma non antiche ( la versione tradotta poi in italiano) è meravigliosa!!! tanto è stato lasciato nei dialoghi in spagnolo, e il linguaggio nei dialoghi è in italiano non antico ma in volgare del primo 800. Letteraria: qui non sono molto esperta, ma vi ho visto dei nessi, parafrasi simili alle opere di Shakespeare e Miguel da Cervantes..... Religiosa: per alcuni sembrerebbe la parte piu' nascolta, ma paradossalmente Wilder sa il fatto suo, e facendo parlare questi meravigliosi personaggi, che nulla hanno da spartire con la Fede e la religione..( basti pensare alla Marquesa de Montemayor), li troviamo nel pieno del loro vivere quotidiamo, un vivere che non è lontano dal sentire del nostro cuore d'oggi. Amore, solitudine,tristezza, disperazione, accidia..... ma perchè quindi Wilder c e li pone davanti così come dei poveri Cristi peccatori? perchè farci un elenco di povera gente come tutti noi e poi pretendere di trovarci un qualche nesso nella disgrazia che li vedrà uniti nella morte? Anche frate Ginepro non pare sicuro di questa sua ricerca, sembra convinto di aver intrapreso la strada giusta studiando la componente di bontà, devozione ed umiltà per poi rimanere inginocchiato al una schiacciante realtà...il Mistero di Dio che muove le nostre vite, e come la Grazia di salvezza e di cambiamento possa cambiarci nonostante un vita dedita unicamente alle iniquità..... Mi lascia inquieta l'ultima frase con cui si chiude il libro Presto moriremo, ed ogni memoria di quei cinque sarà scomparsa dalla terra, e noi stessi saremo amati per breve tempo, e poi dimenticati. Ma l'amore sarà bastato; tutti quei moti d'amore ritornano all' Amore che li ha creati. Neppure la memoria è necessaria all' amore. C'è un mondo dei viventi e un mondo dei morti, è il ponte è l'amore, la sola sopravvivenza, il solo significato" Quid es veritas? Omnia vincit amor

  12. 5 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    Pulitzer prize novels have been a mixed bag for me, so I approached this 1927 winner without high expectations, especially as the movie version I have seen a few years back, has been OK, but not all that memorable. Well, I changed my opinion in only a couple of pages, as I kept picking post-it notes to put down ideas and quotes. First, I was attracted by the sparse elegance of the text and the quotable sparkling of the author's wit, but these estethical delights were soon overshadowed by the pain Pulitzer prize novels have been a mixed bag for me, so I approached this 1927 winner without high expectations, especially as the movie version I have seen a few years back, has been OK, but not all that memorable. Well, I changed my opinion in only a couple of pages, as I kept picking post-it notes to put down ideas and quotes. First, I was attracted by the sparse elegance of the text and the quotable sparkling of the author's wit, but these estethical delights were soon overshadowed by the pain and suffering of the characters, both the ones that perished in the collapse of the San Luis Rey bridge, and those left behind. The book opens with an introductory chapter, where the author - like a good teacher - sets up the homework subject for his students/readers. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, is witness to the collapse of an ancient Inca bridge in 1714, and decides to divine God's plan for humanity by trying to find out why the five victims of the accident were chosen and not someone else: If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. Set in a period of time when the Inquisition still dominates the Spanish World, it takes courage to try to figure things out by yourself instead of accepting blindly the dogma handed down from the leaders of the Church, but brother Juniper, like every one of us, has doubts and will spend six year combing through every little detail of the five lives that were cut short: He merely wanted to prove it, historically, mathematically, to his converts — poor obstinate converts, so slow to believe that their pains were inserted into their lives for their own good. People were always asking for good sound proofs; doubt springs eternal in the human breast, even in countries where the Inquisition can read your very thoughts in your eyes. The author has stated that the idea of the novel came from conversations with his own father about the nature of Divinity: Strict Puritans imagine God all too easily as a petty schoolmaster who minutely weights guilt against merit, and they overlook God's 'Caritas' which is more all-encompassing and powerful . This theme of trying to determine what validates a life and what purpose, what road is the proper one to pursue in a probably arbitrary universe, is one I can become fully involved with, even if I don't personally subscribe to any established cult. Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God. After the slightly academical introduction, the rest of the story leaves brother Juniper at his task, and concentrates on the character of the victims. Here the talent of the author really shines, both in painting a vibrant interior life in only a couple of paragraphs, and in going directly at the essence of each person's motivation, ignoring the trivial details that will hobble brother Juniper inquest. From the first story, of Dona Maria, Marquesa de Montemayor, and her companion Pepita, it becomes clear that the defining trait to be studied will be the capacity for love: in the case of Dona Maria - parental love, and Pepita - filial love. Later the theme of love will be replaced by the need for courage, for leaving behind selfishness and for honesty in admitting your own mistakes. The second story is about brotherly love and passionate love, self sacrifice and the pain of surviving the loss of a loved one. Esteban and Manuel are identical twins, raised in a convent and later sharing adventures on the road as they try their hand at temporary jobs. Esteban is defined initially by his devotion to his brother, and later by remorse about things left unsaid and paths not taken. The third story is my favorite : the tale of the born adventurer, thrill seeker, free spirit and libertine aesthete - Uncle Pio. he is an older man who has probably seen everything and tried everything at least once. He is weary and world wise, but entirely without bitterness : His eyes are as sad as those of a cow that has been separated from its tenth calf. . As a modern day Pygmalion, he finds a rough jewel of a girl singing popular songs in a taverna, and he will take her under his wing, train her and cherish her into a formidable career as the greatest actress of her time. When his protegee is turning away for him, he tries to start over with her son, the fifth and last victim of the accident, and the embodiment of the perfect innocent in this game of weighing rights and wrongs. From Uncle Pio comes my favorite passage, one that reminded me of Chance Wayne from "Sweet Bird of Youth" and his observation in the lighthouse about how there are only two kinds of people in the world. This is the same thing, coming from Thornton Wilder: He divided the inhabitants of this world into two groups, into those who had loved and those who had not. [...] He regarded love as a sort of cruel malady through which the elect are required to pass in their late youth and from which they emerge, pale and wrung, but ready for the business of living. I have mentioned the central characters in the drama at San Luis Bridge, but the survivors are as important to the story as these five. They are intermingled with the fate of the five, coming in and out of their lives in a game of "six degrees of separation" where everybody is ultimately connected with everybody else and part of the same tapestry. - Captain Alvarez - endlessly travelling to the far corners of the world in order to forget the loss of a beloved daughter, friend of the Abbess, and guest of the Viceroy's late night parties. His advice about coping with pain and loss is worth noting : We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn't for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You'll be surprised at the way time passes. - Don Andrés de Ribera, the Viceroy of Peru - bedridden by gout, epicurean in taste, apathetic and disillusioned in his exile from the intellectual pleasures of the metropolis, he is redeemed by his passion for La Perichole and by his philosophical meetings with Uncle Pio, Captain Alvarez and the Archbishop. The richness of the Spanish cultural heritage shines in their dialogues in a way that reminds me of another favorite author, describing Madrid cultural scene about 100 years earlier: Arthuro Perez-Reverte. - Camila Perichole, born Micaela Villegas - uncle Pio's Galateea, the darling of the Lima theatre goers, talented and ambitious, charismatic and insecure in her success. She moves between the twin brothers, the Viceroy, Uncle Pio, The Abbess, like a liant to the disparate stories gathered that fatefull day on the bridge. For her, I have selected a passage describing travelling with Uncle Pio, an invitation to enjoy life and adventure: They went to Mexico, their odd clothes wrapped up in the self-same shawl. They slept on beaches, they were whipped at Panama and shipwrecked on some tiny Pacific islands plastered with the droppings of birds. They tramped through jungles delicately picking their way among snakes and beetles. They sold themselves out as harvesters in a hard season. Nothing in the world was very surprising to them. . - Abbess Madre María del Pilar - the rock anchoring the drifting lives of the other characters, the one the author will choose to close the novel instead of the clueless brother Juniper, with his slide rules and tables putting numerical value to a person's piety, usefullness and goodness. She is the dedicated worker for the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the lost souls, the one to emulate and admire for not giving up the thankless job of moving the world forward. Her closing remark about the power of love to bridge the chasm between the living and the dead is well documented, so I will end my review with another of her revelations: "Now learn," she commanded herself, "learn at last that anywhere you may expect grace" ------------------------ There's a reason this book vas voted among the best 100 novels of the 20th century. My recommendations is to read it and find out why.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    The first sentence of this novella grabs our attention: "On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." Brother Juniper was a witness to the terrible event and wondered why these five people were the victims. Was it fate or divine intervention? For six years Brother Juniper studied the lives of these five people looking for patterns in their lives, or reasons that their deaths might be part of God's plan. The nar The first sentence of this novella grabs our attention: "On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." Brother Juniper was a witness to the terrible event and wondered why these five people were the victims. Was it fate or divine intervention? For six years Brother Juniper studied the lives of these five people looking for patterns in their lives, or reasons that their deaths might be part of God's plan. The narrator claims to know even more about the five victims and the people important to them. The common theme running through their lives, and extending into the future, is love in many forms. "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." Readers who like literary fiction should enjoy this Pulitzer Prize winner.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    4.5 stars This is a brief novella which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 and is often mentioned in lists of the greatest novels. It is set in Peru and is centred on the collapse of a rope bridge which killed five people. A Franciscan witnesses the collapse and sets out to find out why those five people died and not others. Brother Juniper feels that the mind of God must be logical and knowable and there must be a scientific method of working out why those particular people die. He therefore sets ou 4.5 stars This is a brief novella which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 and is often mentioned in lists of the greatest novels. It is set in Peru and is centred on the collapse of a rope bridge which killed five people. A Franciscan witnesses the collapse and sets out to find out why those five people died and not others. Brother Juniper feels that the mind of God must be logical and knowable and there must be a scientific method of working out why those particular people die. He therefore sets out to find out all he can about the five who died and their stories are the bulk of the book. Brother Juniper sets out all his information and is unable to come to any firm conclusions. Unfortunately the Church takes a dim view of his work and he and his book are burnt. Wilder said that his work was a reflection on arguments he had with his father, who was a strict Calvinist. Wilder was asking “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?” It isn’t about why bad things happen to good people there are no conclusions, only ambiguity. I am going to be predictable and quote the same passage everyone else does, because it hits the nail on the head in relation to what Wilder was saying; “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and then forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” It is indeed all about love. Whatever other philosophical and religious questions are being pondered, this is the point; the real bridge is not physical but in and of the heart. This is why the novel is so often quoted and well remembered. Novelists and writers as varied as David Mitchell, Ayn Rand, John Hershey and Stephen King have referenced it. There have been three films (one starring Kathy Bates, Robert De Niro, Gabriel Byrne, F Murray Abraham and Geraldine Chaplin amongst others). There has even been an opera! Tony Blair quoted it at the memorial service for the 9/11 attacks. It isn’t sentimental or maudlin (well perhaps just a little), but it is about the links between people rather than links between humans and some cosmic schoolmaster reckoning scores and meting out “accidents”.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    I had high hopes for this and it started with an incredible opening sentence. But the whole thing remained curiously flat to me despite some detailed sympathetic characters and an interesting premise. I think my reaction may have more to do with my state of mind than the book itself. It’s the middle of a long hot summer, and my literary cravings are running to crime thrillers and sci-fi that I can easily absorb as I cower from the sun in the house with the central AC on so high that the senses b I had high hopes for this and it started with an incredible opening sentence. But the whole thing remained curiously flat to me despite some detailed sympathetic characters and an interesting premise. I think my reaction may have more to do with my state of mind than the book itself. It’s the middle of a long hot summer, and my literary cravings are running to crime thrillers and sci-fi that I can easily absorb as I cower from the sun in the house with the central AC on so high that the senses become numb. Or to shake off the frostbite, I’ll brave the heat on the shady part of the deck but it takes a lot of cold beer to make that tolerable. Those conditions aren’t ripe for books that make you think too much. In the early 1700s in Peru, five random travelers are in the wrong place at the wrong time when crossing an old Incan bridge and go splat. A priest got obsessed on figuring out if those victims ‘deserved’ their fate any more than the lucky bastards who just missed being on the bridge. The book gives a glimpse at the trials and tribulations of the people who died and the circumstances that had them on the bridge at that exact moment. There’s some great writing and good characters here, but there’s also an aloofness that makes you feel above caring about what happened to these people. From the afterward in this edition, Wilder deliberately kept the reader at a distance so that we can view what happened somewhat dispassionately. For my taste, he did it a little too well because this didn’t have much emotional impact to me. This is one that I ended up admiring as a technical accomplishment rather than liking as a story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. Thus begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, witnesses the collapse, and he sets out to know about the five people and determine why God chose to end those five lives on that day. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.> poses Brother Juniper. In doing so, he asks the fundamental question th On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. Thus begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, witnesses the collapse, and he sets out to know about the five people and determine why God chose to end those five lives on that day. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.> poses Brother Juniper. In doing so, he asks the fundamental question that haunts all of us at some time in our lives, particularly in a time of loss in which we can see no pattern and no good. The five are old and young, they are wealthy and poor, they are all embarking on some significant change, and they are all expecting to make it to the other side of the bridge, as indeed thousands have done for centuries, and live. As we begin to know the five individuals who plunged from the bridge to their deaths below, we see not paragons of virtue being harvested by God, nor minions of evil being punished, but five people, involved in life, planning their futures, embarking on new paths, who are suddenly and abruptly gone. What struck me most was that each of them had grappled with some overwhelming adversity and each was looking at a glimmer of hope for finding their way forward when their lives were stopped. Dissertations have been written on this short masterpiece, and without giving significant plot away, it would be impossible for me to add anything of value. I find it staggering that so much depth of understanding of the human dilemma, the different varieties of love, and man’s struggle to comprehend God could be packed into such a short work. Wilder has perfected the art of saying only what is needed and nothing more. I could not close this review without adding one last quote. It struck me as being one of the most true and important things I have ever read: ”Even now,” she thought, “almost no one remembers Estaban and Pipita, but myself. Camila alone remembers Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and then forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

  17. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    "Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like flies that boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." And some of us say that we shall never know, full stop. Neither are we the playthings of fickle deities, nor are we held tenderly in the hand of some giant all-seeing ineffable being in the sky. I thought this had all been thrashed out in the 18th century - the old "Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like flies that boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." And some of us say that we shall never know, full stop. Neither are we the playthings of fickle deities, nor are we held tenderly in the hand of some giant all-seeing ineffable being in the sky. I thought this had all been thrashed out in the 18th century - the old theodicy problem that so exercised Leibniz, didn't that all come to a head in 1755 when the Lisbon earthquake killed tens of thousands? Voltaire pointed out in his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne that this could hardly be the work of a benign and concerned deity. Heinrich von Kleist took up the theme again in 1806, in Das Erdbeben in Chili, based on a historical earthquake in Santiago de Chile in 1647. Kleist's story is a truly radical indictment of any attempt to interpret natural disasters as the will of god. It can only be done by performing back flips that outrage any sense of natural justice - in his story, this turns out to be not merely pointless but shockingly, violently, disturbingly disastrous. So Wilder is ploughing a pretty well-worked furrow, still furrowing his own brow over the question in 1927. I suppose even if you leave transcendental beings out of it, that sense of natural justice still remains. Humans like a nice direct line between cause and effect, which in itself is questionable in our messily interconnected world. But even more delusional is the idea that for every effect there must be a cause. No, actually sometimes things are purely random. A fluke. Why me? A question I cannot connect with. Why not me? Why ask 'why' at all? The very question is absurd. Basically, this is the conclusion that Wilder reaches too. We are ants, and we could fall into the abyss at any time. We are here on earth for a while, then we die. Love is enough. Love is the only survival, the only meaning. Yep.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen M

    Perhaps a Review A book about the connections that we forge between us, Thorton Wilder’s 1928, Pulitzer winning novel is a Great Gatsby-Heart of Darkness scale of a book, with the same type of compact brevity that the other two are famous for. The book also represents some of the ideas that were swirling around at the time in the modernist canon, all those ideas that were the precursor of the meta-fictive pomo literature that was to come some 40-50 years later. It’s often nice to explore this ter Perhaps a Review A book about the connections that we forge between us, Thorton Wilder’s 1928, Pulitzer winning novel is a Great Gatsby-Heart of Darkness scale of a book, with the same type of compact brevity that the other two are famous for. The book also represents some of the ideas that were swirling around at the time in the modernist canon, all those ideas that were the precursor of the meta-fictive pomo literature that was to come some 40-50 years later. It’s often nice to explore this territory while it was still fresh, before fractured, multi-perspective stories became the norm, before it seeped all the way up to the more popular spheres of entertainment (see crash, inception and ugh... no wait.... hhuuuuuuuurrrrrlllll Valentine’s Day). I have nothing against it; I actually gravitate towards these types of stories, but it is nice taking a look at the seeming adolescent stages of fractured lit, before the Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf forebears came to the forefront of the canon, were christened as the “important” writers they are today and before first generation—the Pynchon, Gaddis crew—and second generation—DFW, Mitchell—both took this style of writing to its absolute extreme. Before all that writing—seems like such a simpler time, so many less authors, such a lower threshold of books to achieve the oft-desired, supercilious title of ‘well-read’—before all of that was Thorton Wilder’s concise, novella length opus, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The first I became interested in it was per the recommendation of Mr. Mitchell, who called it the perfect little book. He uses a line from the opening chapter as the epigraph for his debut Ghostwritten and also names a character from the book Cloud Atlas after the bridge: San Luisa Rey. While I’m not quite in agreement with D. Mitch about it being a masterpiece, I do recognize some of its brilliance. And anyone who is a fan of the contemporary writer, will immediately recognize what drew D. Mitch to The Bridge of San Luis Rey: disparate story lines that connect in serendipitous ways, forming that higher, almost humanistic sense of ultimate connection between everything. The meat of San Luis Rey is divided up into three short stories. Each one centers on a character that dies in a bridge collapse at the end of each story. The bridge is in a small town of Peru and is a cross-road for the major cities of Lima and Cuzco. When it collapses it kills five people in the process. With each story, we learn more about the town, through the perspectives of those that are killed. The first is the Marquesa de Montemayor. Her story mostly revolves around her struggle to connect with her daughter, and the majority of the exposition is carried in the letters that she addresses to her daughter who lives as a wealthy affluent member of royalty in Spain. Even setting aside the fact that the depiction of the Marquesa is slightly awash in antiquated notions of feminine hysteria, this is not necessarily the strongest character of the cast, as she spends the majority of her time bemoaning her lonely predicament and the ways in which both her husband and daughter have left her behind. The second story is about twin brothers Manuel and Esteban, who are so similar in every respect that no one can tell them apart. They are inseparable not just by proximity but by emotional connection. The way in which Wilder describes the two of them is almost indistinguishable. Obviously, it is a nice play on the closest possible connection two separate people can form. Given the context, a book preoccupied with trying to push people together, this gives a slightly different take on what it means to be close to another person. It seems that so many of the brothers’ features and traits are identical, so close to the ideal of inner-connection with a person that the two become inseparable in the mind of the reader. Narratively speaking they are the same person. But obviously the collapse of the bridge in the town (the bridge being a symbol for the commercial connections we form as societies) becomes the ultimate wedge between the brothers. This section was certainly the most intriguing from a character and thematic perspective. The last section follows up with a character that has emerged throughout the entire narrative, Perichole, a dancer/actress who plays a significant role in each of the principal characters’ lives. The last section focuses on Uncle Pio (Tio is spanish for “Uncle”, a little connection that I didn’t know what to do with). Uncle Pio is the lover and manager of Perichole, and the majority of the story is dedicated to their squabbles, bickerings and whatever else it is that couples argue about. The main flaw of the book, is that the ideas far outweigh the content within. I suspect that Mr. Wilder thought of the idea of the book on a global scale, saw its potential, but when it came time to fill it with the actual meat of the story—the exposition—it fell a bit flat. And although the more boring aspects of the individual stories fill up the center of the book, the overarching ideas and the frame of the book are quite a bit of fun. The first chapter is extraordinary, dropping off ideas with Pynchon-like speed, as it describes the collapse of the bridge and the subsequent effects it has on the town. We find out that all the stories within the book swirl around Brother Juniper, a devout member of the church who sees divine intention behind every action. The stories are couched in a larger narrative, that is Brother Juniper’s search for the connection between the people who died. The ties that bind the five of them together. Because why was it those five who had to die? Why specifically them? If the tension on the bridge had been even slightly less and the rope just one strand thicker, then those five wouldn’t have died, the five after may have. If they had all left a few minutes later or earlier, surely it would have been another set of five to have died off. It is these types of questions that inevitably rise from freak accidents that fuel the drive behind this book. Brother Juniper, assembles “studies” and tries to be “scientific” with his research, calculating how pious each person was, how utile they were to society in order to judge the reason behind their death. He wishes to see God’s ultimate intention, or as Wilder puts it in a jab at Milton “he would fall to dreaming of experiments that justify the ways of God to man”. As we read each story, it is really the “research” compiled by brother Juniper. This is where it gets meta. Because traditionally when a reader reads a work of capital L literature, they are in search of a higher meaning behind the words, the ultimate significance behind it all. So as we read each story, which grow very detached from one another, we continue to seek out the ties that bind each story together, as it was Juniper’s intention to find God behind the stories of each person who dies. (Does that make the author God?) It was interesting that I was reading another “in search of significance” book in the same format, publisher (Perennial Classics) and font type as The Crying of Lot 49. It also becomes particularly Pynchon-esque at the end for poor old Brother Juniper. (view spoiler)[Brother Junipers’ work is considered heresy and he is sentenced to a death which he accepts because he feels he has failed God (hide spoiler)] . Given the parallel between the search for God and the search for inter-textual meaning, the ending is a bit devastating. The ending, as one would expect, is an agnostic’s ending, a resignation to ignorance. The question posed originally turns out to be a failure: “Why did this happen to those five?’ If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those libes so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan” These ideas struck home for me particularly, given the recent horrible events only fifteen miles from where I live, not to mention the high school that I attended. Horrible, inexplicable events have been standing in peripherals for a lot of my life, and in places where I spend my time and where I’ve grown up. It’s all so close and it’s such a reality and possibility of my life that my mind, and those of the people that I know, just beg for interpretation, wanting to find the reason behind such dramatic and violent events around us. There are words like randomness, freak accident and these things Just happen. But it’s a tough pill to swallow at times. The universe is violent and indifferent, and here we all are, trying to make the most sense that we possibly can. Notable Quotes "When he had enjoyed the style he had extracted all their richness and intention, missing (as most readers do) the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart. Style is but the faintly contemptible vessel in which the bitter liquid is recommended to the world." "At times, after a day's frantic resort to such invocations, a revulsion would sweep over her. Nature is deaf. God is indifferent. Nothing in man's power can alter the course of law. Then on some street-corner she would stop, dizzy with despair, and leaning against a wall would long to be taken from a world that had no plan in it. But soon a belief in the great Perhaps would surge up from the depths of her nature and she would fairly run home to renew the candles above her daughter's bed." "Love is inadequate to describe the tacit almost ashamed oneness of these brothers. What relationship is it in which few words are exchanged, and those only about the details of food, clothing and occupation; in which the two persons have a curious reluctance even to glance at one another; and in which there is a tacit arrangement not to appear together in the city and to go on the same errand by different streets? And yet side by side with this there existed a need of one another so terrible that it produced miracles as naturally as the charged air of a sultry day produces lighting. The brothers were scarcely aware of it themselves, but telepathy was a common occurrence in their lives, and when one returned home the other was always aware of it when his brother was still several streets away."

  19. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    Christmastime 2010. You just got home from attending a Christmas party. Your bedroom clock says that it is 12:01. You change your clothes and about to sleep so you turn off the light. Then your cellphone rings. It is one of your friends who just came from the same party. There is a terrible news. Five of your friends, the ones that you saw in the same party who boarded together in the same car had a fatal road accident. They are now all dead. You put down the phone. You cannot sleep anymore. So Christmastime 2010. You just got home from attending a Christmas party. Your bedroom clock says that it is 12:01. You change your clothes and about to sleep so you turn off the light. Then your cellphone rings. It is one of your friends who just came from the same party. There is a terrible news. Five of your friends, the ones that you saw in the same party who boarded together in the same car had a fatal road accident. They are now all dead. You put down the phone. You cannot sleep anymore. So you try to remember all the events that happened before you parted. Then all the things you know about them: who they are, where you met each of them, each encounter, what they said to you. Then on to their loved ones, their family, their hobbies, the music they listen to, the books they read... Then you ask yourself: Why? Why them? What does God want to tell us? Is it time's up for each them? Or it was just because the driver, Mark (also your friend) was probably drunk so it was all his fault? Similar thing happened to Brother Juniper, a Monk character in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, winner of 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Wilder (1897-1975) created the character of Brother Juniper who witnessed the falling of a fictional Inca-built suspension bridge in Lima, Peru. He is not a friend to any of the 5 characters but he asks the similar questions trying to prove the omnipresence of God. Specifically, he poses this question on God's Providence: "Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual's own will?" In the last chapter of the book entitled "Perhaps an Intention", to answer this question, Brother Juniper even came up with a tabulation for each character and their scores on Goodness, Piety, Usefulness. He is trying to see if the person was good or bad that he/she deserved his death or not. It is as if saying that if the person is good, God willed his/her death because God wants him/her back to His fold. If he/she is bad, his/her death was God's punishment. However, in my edition's Afterword, Wilder, probably answering a reader's complaint that the book does not provide enough answers to the question it posits, says that this book is not to solve, i.e., the book's intent is not to answer the highlighted question above. He continues: A vague comfort is supposed to hover above the unanswered questions... I dare not claim that all sudden deaths are, in the last counting, triumphant. As you say, a little over half the situations seem to prove something and the rest escape, or even contradict. Chekhov said: "The business of literature is not to answer question, but to state them fairly." That for me is what I really liked about this novel. Not the answers but my own interpretation for the characters' death. Like what Dorris Lessing says: if the book is not open to interpretations, it is not a good book. In the same way you can interpret on your own the reason why those five friends of yours just died a sudden death.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    I have to admit this book perplexed me a little bit. I found a good deal of it haunting. It is also somewhat aloof and detached. Much is made of the fact that Brother Juniper is trying to discover God's Plan in his misapplied scientific investigation of the sudden deaths of the handful of Peruvians plunged to their death by a collapsing bridge in the 1700s, but Juniper's story just kind of peters out at the end. The story of the Esteban brothers is the most interesting one, a great short story i I have to admit this book perplexed me a little bit. I found a good deal of it haunting. It is also somewhat aloof and detached. Much is made of the fact that Brother Juniper is trying to discover God's Plan in his misapplied scientific investigation of the sudden deaths of the handful of Peruvians plunged to their death by a collapsing bridge in the 1700s, but Juniper's story just kind of peters out at the end. The story of the Esteban brothers is the most interesting one, a great short story in its own right. Although there are moments of overlap among the various characters' narratives, this plays as a collection of short stories all thematically related, more than a fluid narrative. What brought a handful of people to their shared fate? Wilder's protagonist never really finds out, and that's just fine. It's just that less is made of this protagonist than is initially promised. Wilder keeps it short and sweet, but should he have? Hmmm.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tej

    “The most valuable thing I inherited,” he once said in an interview, “was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope.” Aforesaid are Thornton Wilder’s words about his own self and this short work, does reflect a bit of him, perhaps. The premise behind his conjuring up this tale is Brother Juniper’s whimsical yet putatively scientific predilection towards finding answer in the voice of God or faith for the death of five people in the destruction of “The most valuable thing I inherited,” he once said in an interview, “was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope.” Aforesaid are Thornton Wilder’s words about his own self and this short work, does reflect a bit of him, perhaps. The premise behind his conjuring up this tale is Brother Juniper’s whimsical yet putatively scientific predilection towards finding answer in the voice of God or faith for the death of five people in the destruction of the famous Inca era bridge on the highroad, between Lima and Cuzco, ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’. Anyone else would have said to himself with secret joy: “Within ten minutes myself …!” But it was another thought that visited Brother Juniper: “Why did this happen to those five?” If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. He strove to refuse that it could be a mere co-incidence that led only those five people to be there exactly at that particular time. Labeled ‘a heretic’, destined for stakes but he was worried with larger questions now that he was unsure of his own convictions, the stakes didn’t matter much. The quagmire of doubts he set out to dispel, sucked him in with ever more vigour when he found confounding statistical results in another quirky venture of his wherein the rampant pestilence took hold of more ‘useful’ men and skewed his results as far as his hypothesis regarding ‘more faith meaning more roses’ was crushed before him. It almost looked as though the pestilence had been directed against the really valuable people in the village of Puerto. And on that afternoon Brother Juniper took a walk along the edge of the Pacific. He tore up his findings and cast them into the waves; he gazed for an hour upon the great clouds of pearl that hang forever upon the horizon of that sea, and extracted from their beauty a resignation that he did not permit his reason to examine. The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed. By virtue of his retrospective research, Brother Juniper, nevertheless, unearthed and deciphered delicate little subtle humane tales laced in existential undertones that are caressing as a feather carried along in a zephyr. The poignancy of these tales reside in their simplicity and the emotions they elicit are vivid, daubed in varied tones of joy and sadness. The five of them together descending out of their individual stories, to be mauled into smithereens along with the bridge that fell into the very ravine that the bridge bridged. Now, why them? As old as human history, is this question of unfathomable eternity, what schemes govern, what co-incidences decide, what event triggers another and if that chain was somehow interfered with, would the results have been antagonized. Who decides that what rings fit in and where? All five united by one fate, to fall with the tumbling bridge and lost for eternity or united in the fate they shared. A mother ” for she knew that she too sinned and that though her love for daughter was vast enough to include all the colors of love, it was not without a shade of tyranny: she loved her daughter not for her daughter’s sake, but for her own.” finally letting go of the hold that she ensnared her child with, a selfish demand that is of being loved on her own terms “She had a strange sense of having antagonized God by too much prayer and so addressed Him now obliquely. “After all it is in the hands of another. I no longer claim the least influence. What will be, will be.” and thus did she leave ” She wondered whether a subtle doctor cutting through to that battered throne could at last discover a sign and lifting his face to the amphitheatre cry out to his students: “This woman has suffered, and her suffering has left its mark upon the structure of her heart.”; A girl, an orphan, a child Pepita was an orphan and had been brought up by that strange genius of Lima, the Abbess Madre María del Pilar., precociously matured into the world of elders The education for greatness is difficult enough at any time, but amid the sensibilities and jealousies of a convent it must be conducted with fantastic indirection., questioning her status quo, finally solaced in some way by the lady whom she provided her care. Done against given her age but united in fate with one she was caring unconditionally yet incredulously The beginnings of hope and affection that Pepita had such need to expend would be wounded. She tiptoed about the palace, silent, bewildered, clinging only to her sense of duty and her loyalty to her “mother in the Lord,” Madre María del Pilar, who had sent her there; Inseparable, orphan telepathic twins Because they had no family, because they were twins, and because they were brought up by women, they were silent. There was in them a curious shame in regard to their resemblance. They had to live in a world where it was the subject of continual comment and joking. It was never funny to them and they suffered the eternal pleasantries with stolid patience, tending to fall apart over a woman “Manuel could not quite understand this and, as we shall see, he nourished a dim sense of being accused unjustly. But he did understand that Esteban was suffering. In his excitement he groped for a means of holding this brother who seemed to be receding into the distance”, separated by death of one of them through injury, the other one dying on this bridge; And then uncle Pio, amusing in his ways and peculiar in his ambitions, dying with the son of his protégé, Camila Perichole, whom he mentored in an imposing manner only to be left groping for her. Brother Juniper wondered, “He thought he saw in the same accident, the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city. But Brother Juniper was not satisfied with his reasons. It was just possible that the Marquesa de Montemayor was not a monster of avarice, and Uncle Pio of self-indulgence.” Madre María del Pilar, the Abbess “She resembled the swallow in the fable who once every thousand years transferred a grain of wheat, in the hope of rearing a mountain to reach the moon. Such persons are raised up in every age; they obstinately insist on transporting their grains of wheat and they derive a certain exhilaration from the sneers of the bystanders. “How queerly they dress!” we cry. “How queerly they dress!”, inundated in incessant passion for change and upliftment, far ahead of her times and toiling along in her uncanny way “She was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization. She hurled herself against the obstinacy of her time in her desire to attach a little dignity to women. At midnight when she had finished adding up the accounts of the House she would fall into insane vision of an age when women could be organized to protect women, women travelling, women as servants, women when they are old or ill, the women she had discovered in the mines of Potosi, or in the workrooms of the cloth-merchants, the girls she had collected out of doorways on rainy nights.” It is her in the end to whom the grieving souls of the daughter Dońa Clara as well as the actress Camila Perichole look up to for solace of some sort after realizing the hurts that they caused to those who died in the fateful incident of the fall of the Bridge of San Luis Rey “Camila rose and swayed. There! again that access of pain, the hands of the dead she could not reach. Her lips were white. Her head brushed the Abbess’s knee: “Mother, what shall I do? I am all alone. I have nothing in the world. I love them. What shall I do?” . The phlegmatic Abbess thus gave her hand to the other and had an eye to see the light inside the abyss as well; “The Condesa showed the Abbess Dońa María’s last letter. Madre María dared not say aloud how great her astonishment was that such words (words that since then the whole world has murmured over with joy) could spring in the heart of Pepita’s mistress. “Now learn,” she commanded herself, “learn at last that anywhere you may expect grace.” And she was filled with happiness like a girl at this new proof that the traits she lived for were everywhere, that the world was ready. “Will you do me a kindness, my daughter? Will you let me show you my work?” The Abbess, thus overwhelmed gives us this epiphanous bunch of words, “She had accepted the fact that it was of no importance whether her work went on or not; it was enough to work.” Nietzsche declared the God dead and Voltaire sought to invent if one did not originally exist but the moot point is, do we need one or really care for one? More blood has been spilled, human blood, over God than may be would have been in the absence of one. Or it would be fair to say, it didn’t make any difference to our panache for spilling blood that there WAS God somewhere obscurely ensconced. With or without God, nature of life is such a caustic and vitriolic cauldron that spills over from time to time over the hapless flood of humanity, and the probability is fairly statistically governed, skewed statistics that we traditionally attribute to the will of proverbial almighty. God is the ultimate epitome of fear who promises hellish reprimands for moral flippancy. Has such a God really served any purpose till date? Why do we need to have one in the first place? I mean why can’t we do away with him completely, ignore him if he really is present somewhere, even if we recognize his watchful eye and do good in view of its presence, the elements do not turn more merciful. Let God be for once, take care of his own self and us ours. In centuries of evolution that has made us, we must have accrued some knowledge somewhere for building strong citadels of humanity and fortitude to tide us along. In our fight against the elements, we are always left with our human fortitude, to grapple with, inherently alone as a whole in fighting against odds. Rather than invoking a debatable, dubitable and ethereal God, why not to bridge the islands that are us rather than strengthening the ramparts amongst ourselves on slightest pretexts. The co-incidences that make us or break us are, invariably, savoury pieces of brilliant art that are splayed on the canvas of life and metaphorical enough to galvanize our tryst with destiny, only if we have eyes to look amidst the haze. In their subtlety, they unveil such beautiful connections and interlinks in the tapestry of life so as to be deserving of being eulogized simply for what they are than to be explained in the name of God or supernatural. If indeed there is God up there, then why it has to be the fear of his hell or the lure of his heaven or the unfavourable consequences of any hue attributable to him, that should form the background of our so to speak conditionally ‘unconditional’ praise of his? To hell with such God really, let him be if such is his wont… the only union that can keep us in good stead is our mutual love and bonding over the commonality that we share, that of being human. Ain’t it enough? It has to be, if it can’t be for some reasons, must not it be worked for incessantly and with as much more strength as the elements to curb it down. An unprecedented inundation of material wealth rather than alleviating our problems has only left our souls, barren and us groping for some scaffolding to cling on to and that cannot be God… if anything, it has to be us and us alone if any sort of dream of world as a worthy place to live in has to be realized. Of course this is idealistic ranting, even romantic hope that is as far off from reality as is God if you please, okay, so be it, and its un-attainability cannot become a reason for not striving for it. Amidst a plethora of absurdities we justify in the name of life and strive for meaningless goals in meaningless existences, why can’t a semblance of effort towards attainment of some sort of meaning be undertaken? It is beyond me to grapple with… Do we have a choice other than to hope? A hope for its own sake and not bound within the all-pervasive cacophony of ambitions, deadlines and goals… sustained from the heart and lived with the full being. Knowing to the point where we realize that we know nothing and incessantly striving for that knowledge that takes us to the precipice of eternal incredulity… Perhaps it is the knowledge of unfathomability that is the elixir, and to strive to fathom that unfathomable, our lot…. Absurd goals in an absurd existence, the bridges, metaphorical and real, traversed only by love if anything…. Even death’s fear accrues out of this un-bounded desire to stay in this world more than ever, to outdo each other. Why can’t life be akin to the notes of music that jingle along in a crescendo to attain the epiphany and once they do that, then they will die out most naturally exhausted and spent. The sea of humanity, that lingering mass of spent notes and the flow of life ever so drab and cacophonous. The oriental even questions the existence of death, there is no death but only the flow of life, in a continuous stream that rests not. Love is the only possible absorber against the undulations of the ebb and flow of life. “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall [117] be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I’m really not sure what all the fuss is with this book. Granted, there’s no modern fuss lately, but I mean the Pulitzer, the recent acclaim for Wilder’s novels more so than his plays. I bought this because I loved “Our Town” so much; this did not speak to me at all. Perhaps I would get more out of it if I read it again – now knowing the characters, their roles, how they overlap (because there is a lot of Spanish and church terminology: the Perichole, the Viceroy, the Archbishop, the Marquesa de I’m really not sure what all the fuss is with this book. Granted, there’s no modern fuss lately, but I mean the Pulitzer, the recent acclaim for Wilder’s novels more so than his plays. I bought this because I loved “Our Town” so much; this did not speak to me at all. Perhaps I would get more out of it if I read it again – now knowing the characters, their roles, how they overlap (because there is a lot of Spanish and church terminology: the Perichole, the Viceroy, the Archbishop, the Marquesa de Montemayor) – but I feel like the entire time I was reading this I was ready to be done with it. It’s essentially 2 or 3 short stories put together because they overlap a bit, but I felt like each section was so short and referenced so many different random characteristics for each protagonist, nothing really gelled. No character came together as a fully living, breathing person that I identified with. The whole purpose of the novel is to explore the divine reasoning WHY these 5 were to the 5 to die on the collapsing bridge – but does it do that? I felt like it didn’t. Again, maybe if I read it a second time, but I did not feel amused, touched, or intrigued enough to go through it all. I missed Wilder’s style of understatement and everyday observations of the mundane that brought meaning to life in “Our Town.” I felt this was overwritten, ignored the universal, and spent too much time describing meaningless background details and/or characteristics. The point? A person does enough in their life to merit the “good” in goodness and the “bad” in badness simultaneously, therefore resulting in final judgment of life that can be seen as either, or, or both from different people who knew the character. Ok, true; but he didn’t really make me feel it here – and is that profound enough and written well enough to merit a Pulitzer? I didn’t think so.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    There are countless ways of wondering at circumstance. The Bridge of San Luis Rey in Peru collapsed on July 20, 1714, and killed five travelers. Was it an act of God? In the aftermath of the mysterious disappearance about a week ago of a Malaysian aircraft and its 239 passengers, this same question must have surfaced in many troubled minds. Do the tragedies that befall men “belie the notion of a guided world”? In his very short but profound novel, Thornton Wilder raised theological questions. Wa There are countless ways of wondering at circumstance. The Bridge of San Luis Rey in Peru collapsed on July 20, 1714, and killed five travelers. Was it an act of God? In the aftermath of the mysterious disappearance about a week ago of a Malaysian aircraft and its 239 passengers, this same question must have surfaced in many troubled minds. Do the tragedies that befall men “belie the notion of a guided world”? In his very short but profound novel, Thornton Wilder raised theological questions. Was there a plan in the universe? Among many sources, Wilder drew on a key Biblical passage in Luke 13:4 (“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”) There were two propositions: “Either we live by accident and we die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan." Brother Juniper, a Franciscan from Northern Italy who was in Peru converting the Indians, witnessed the accident. He began a studious inquiry into the secret lives of the five individuals who plunged to their death. This experiment was prompted by an observation he made in a prior investigation after tragedy struck his village. When he rated the dead and the survivors on their goodness, piety and usefulness, the dead were five times more worth saving than the living. The novel then embarked on an exploration of the background, lives, strengths, and weaknesses of the five people whose lives were rudely taken away when the Peruvian osier bridge gave way. Each of these five characters made for fascinating reading and one marveled at the tone of detachment the narrator adopted that was in marked contrast to the drama that unfolded in their checkered existence. The common denominator that typified the five individuals seemed to be the struggle they each have with their hopes of self-improvement, which was pitted against their failings and self-abasement. The product of the friar’s quest was an enormous book that was publicly burned on a spring morning in the great square along with its author. Did Brother Juniper’s experiment succeed in justifying the way of God to man and in rebuking the sneers cast at faith? Baffling as it may seem, I think Wilder had a larger and nobler intent, which he conveyed in the events that transpired in the lives of the people close to the deceased. There’s something deeply consoling in the recognition that we may yet expect grace even in people in whom we seem to have lost faith. The loveliest thought Wilder wished to communicate, I feel, must be bound up in the last few lines of the novel that underscored the sustaining quality of love: "…we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." The Bridge of San Luis Rey won the Putlizer Prize in 1928 and has never been out of print. This testified to its timeless relevance. I'm sure if I were to return to this novel in the future, I would be touched in a different way.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    I had to pull out my Post-It flags for this one -- I kept finding beautiful, thought-provoking passages to bookmark. I especially enjoyed Wilder's thoughtful observations on human nature & his interesting perspective on love. Here are a few of my favorite passages: "[Dona Maria] saw that the people of this world moved about in an armor of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, athirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest frien I had to pull out my Post-It flags for this one -- I kept finding beautiful, thought-provoking passages to bookmark. I especially enjoyed Wilder's thoughtful observations on human nature & his interesting perspective on love. Here are a few of my favorite passages: "[Dona Maria] saw that the people of this world moved about in an armor of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, athirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest friends, in dread of all appeals that might interrupt their long communion with their own desires." (p. 18) "[Camila] was quite incapable of establishing any harmony between the claims of her art, of her appetites, or her dreams, and of her crowded daily routine. Each of these was a world in itself." (p. 88) [I can *so* relate to this!] "The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed." (p. 113) And, of course, the final passage: "Even now, almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita, but myself. Camila alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." (p. 123) Don't know how I missed out on reading this book in school, but I'm glad I've found it now. While it doesn't answer the question of why tragedies occur, its message is an uplifting one.

  25. 5 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    I had such high hopes for this book. It sounded like a plot I should love, and it's a classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning book by one of America's best-loved authors. How could it not be a wonderful reading experience? Somehow, though, I just didn't enjoy it. I never came to feel anything for any of the characters and the writing didn't age well for me. I was anxious to just finish it and move on. Sigh.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenbebookish

    I had high hopes for this one! I loved the premise but the whole thing remained pretty flat throughout. It was a short quick read tho, I read thru in less than two hours so not a major time investment. 3 stars is on the high side for how bored I was while reading this, but I gave an extra star for concept:)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Loretta

    I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was a nice story with interesting characters. What more could you want?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelly ...

    After a bridge in Peru collapses, killing 5, a local monk named Brother Juniper goes about learning their stories and trying to determine why they died. The results are interesting because there are no answers. The book actually inserts contradictions, and leaves Brother Juniper (and the reader) in a place where he must determine for himself the whys. I liked this aspect of the book as death is like that. We find ourselves looking back at the lives of our friends and seeking from God the answers After a bridge in Peru collapses, killing 5, a local monk named Brother Juniper goes about learning their stories and trying to determine why they died. The results are interesting because there are no answers. The book actually inserts contradictions, and leaves Brother Juniper (and the reader) in a place where he must determine for himself the whys. I liked this aspect of the book as death is like that. We find ourselves looking back at the lives of our friends and seeking from God the answers we need. In the end we find that we cannot know why, only come to some sort of level of comfort. Unfortunately although I liked the book, I didn't love it. I never fully connected with any of the characters despite finding some of them quite sympathetic.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yodamom

    DNF, I just didn't want to pick it up bad enough to finish, I got to page 41 and was forever distracted

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Fickle Finger of Fate Fells Five I grew up and still live in an old gray house with many trees in a small Massachusetts town by the sea. Well, town once was a lot smaller. As I grew up, I seldom met people from other countries, particularly those who were not European. So, I was deeply shocked when at age 25 I met a woman whose aunt had been born in our house around the turn of the 20th century. The aunt had married a Muslim man from India. I was shocked because I was about to marry a Hindu woman Fickle Finger of Fate Fells Five I grew up and still live in an old gray house with many trees in a small Massachusetts town by the sea. Well, town once was a lot smaller. As I grew up, I seldom met people from other countries, particularly those who were not European. So, I was deeply shocked when at age 25 I met a woman whose aunt had been born in our house around the turn of the 20th century. The aunt had married a Muslim man from India. I was shocked because I was about to marry a Hindu woman from the same country. How could it be that in this small, New England town, where we had never seen any Indians at all, that two people in a single house would have a similar fate separated by half a century or more? On top of that, I had had a girlfriend in 8th and 9th grade, though I think it was largely, but not entirely, my infatuation. I did take her out, but she was three years older, which is a vast gap at that age. She was musical and kind, and we had some great musical adventures at least. Three years after she graduated I heard that she had had a complete nervous breakdown and had been institutionalized. Fast forward 40 years. I met her sister who told me that she’d recovered somewhat, left the institution, and joined the Hari Krishnas, gotten cancer, and gone to India to die. She showed me a photo of her in sari, performing aarti. So tell me that there is no such thing as Fate, that life works in completely rational and ordinary ways that are explainable. Go ahead. Five people plunge to their deaths while crossing an old Inca bridge in Peru. It happens on the first page, so there’s no spoiler here. We read about the lives of all of them. Is there anything that connects them? Can we see God’s hand at work here? Wilder tries to say that various kinds of love are what connect us, both to the living and the dead. Perhaps they were connected by being in love---with a small protégé, with a brother, with an adopted daughter---but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s just a human habit to love someone or something. It’s an excellent effort, well-worth reading, but you may come away thinking that life is still a mystery. With over 1800 reviews already on here, I don't think I'll come up with anything else worth saying.

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