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The Bridge of San Luis Rey (original 1927; edition 2003)

by Thornton Wilder, Russell Banks (Foreword)

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2,860602,024 (3.79)110
Member:writestuff
Title:The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Authors:Thornton Wilder
Other authors:Russell Banks (Foreword)
Info:HarperCollins Canada / Harper Trade (2003), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:2007 Read, Pulitzer Project, Classic Literature

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The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927)

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English (59)  Spanish (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
This was a fantastic book. I love books that pose big questions, and the question posed in this book is one of the biggest. Having lost friends to accidents and to suicide, it's a question that has gone through my mind repeatedly - why them? What does it mean? While Wilder does not exactly answer the question (he leaves it for the reader to decide), he poses it brilliantly and beautifully. This is a book that really gets you thinking, which is how all great books should be. ( )
  sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |
When I moved to New Hampshire a year ago, I found out that I was entering the land of Our Town. Thornton Wilder's classic play was written in and based on the town of Peterborough, NH, 15 minutes away from my new home. My memories of the play are vague, mostly based on seeing that TV version with Paul Newman in high school, but Wilder also wrote one of my favorite works of fiction, Theophilus North. I determined to read all of six of his other novels to see what else might be gleaned from them.

Well, they certainly are a diverse bunch. Some are set abroad, in modern and ancient Rome (The Cabala and The Ides of March) and ancient Greece (The Woman of Andros). Others explore explicitly American themes, with one about a peripatetic salesman/preacher (Heaven's My Destination), and another concerning a multigenerational mining family saga - slash - murder mystery (The Eighth Day). All are definitely worth reading, and reveal what The Paris Review once called "one of the toughest and most complicated minds in contemporary America."

The one that touched me most, though, and immediately became another of my favorite books, was his very early The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I'm not alone--when it was first published, it was a huge bestseller and remains extremely popular. Wilder's writing in this book is simply brilliant and should be studied by all aspiring writers of fiction. He has the ability to artfully turn a poetic phrase in a way that is always lucid and conversational, never pretentious or contrived. In a brief narrative (not much more than 100 pages), he manages to bring to life a whole world of distinctive characters, from aristocrats to peasants. He sets his story in 18th century Peru, but his people, while convincingly of their place and time, are also universal in their struggles with the great questions of life, death, love, and fate.

The Limited Editions Club and its mass-market arm, the Heritage Press, put out a lovely edition that brings the perfect marriage of form and content to Wilder's words. I have the less-expensive Heritage Press version, which can easily be had for under $10. I find it a spectacular example of bookmaking for that price. The two-color binding, stamped in black and real gold leaf, is a striking and beautifully simple evocation of the characters' journey to the fatal bridge. I love the font choices (Albertus and Plantin), which like Wilder's writing are classic, eminently readable, and distinctive, and the typography is impeccable. The accompanying lithographs by Remy Charlot have a sculptural simplicity that also perfectly complements the text.

So, what are you waiting for? Go find this book and start reading! I hope you'll love it as much as I do.

Originally posted on The Emerald City Book Review
emeraldcitybookreview.blogspot.com ( )
  withawhy99 | Jun 22, 2014 |
I adored Wilder’s Our Town the first time I saw it performed. It’s a simple story, but it reaches something deep within the reader because its poignant message is one we can all relate to. The core moments of the show are about the inevitable joys and sorrows of life. This slim Pulitzer-Prize winner is similar in the fact that it looks at what gives each life meaning.

Once again Wilder allows us into the lives of the characters, although this time we are in Lima, Peru. A bridge collapses in 1714 and five people are killed. A priest, Brother Juniper, tries to find some meaning in the accident by researching the lives of the people who were killed. We see each individual who is killed and learn about the people they were close to, including twin brothers, a stage performer, and a spurned mother. Each new life the priest explores is complex and beautiful. There is no black and white in a person’s life. They are not all good or evil; it’s never as simple as that.

BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful story about trying to find meaning in tragedy. Our Town remains my favorite piece by Wilder, but I will read more of his work as soon as I can.

"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." ( )
  bookworm12 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Read in a break from Bleak House.

As an aside I had never known of the Marquise de Sevigne before reading the end notes of this edition. I had imagined Wilder had invented the character of the Marquesa entirely, and was amazed.

She grew to love them so, that she would catch herself gazing deep into their black and frowning eyes, looking for those traits that would appear when they grew to be men, all that ugliness, all that soullessness that made hideous the world she worked in. ( )
  ben_a | Mar 25, 2014 |
This wonderfully descriptive short novel is one that you can easily read in an afternoon. As I continue my quest to read the books on the MLA Top 100 Novels list, this was one of the ones I had not read previously. I must say I am sad that this was my first exposure to the book. It is one I will likely return to from time to time.

Wilder paints a vivid picture for the reader, and the book is so richly descriptive that I had trouble putting it down once I started. Wilder has the gift of transporting the reader to a different place at a different time and letting the reader experience this tragic event first-hand. He also brilliantly weaves together a storyline from several different perspectives describing the impact of a single situation on several lives. ( )
  Drmeghollis | Dec 19, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
It is no exaggeration to say that on second reading I was completely blown away, not so much by Wilder's sensitive treatment of his central theme as by the richness and power of his prose.

It is an entirely remarkable book, it has lost none of its pertinence in the eight decades since its publication, and I'm very glad indeed that my old friend sent me back to it.
 

» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thornton Wilderprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abrahams-van Raalte, J.H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charlot, JeanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drevenstedt, AmyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hicks, GranvilleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hicks, GranvilleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kent, RockwellIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leighton, ClareIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perlstein-van Raalte, A. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To My Mother
First words
On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.
Foreword

Thornton Wilder's Bridge of San Luis Rey is as close to perfect a moral fable as we are ever likely to get in American literature.
Quotations
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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060088877, Paperback)

This beautiful new edition features unpublished notes for the novel and other illuminating documentary material, all of which is included in a new Afterword by Tappan Wilder.

"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 then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death -- and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.

This new edition of Wilder’s 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel contains a new foreword by Russell Banks.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:57 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

This beautiful new edition features unpublished notes for the novel and other illuminating documentary mate- rial, all of which is included in a new Afterword by Tappan Wilder. "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 then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death -- and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

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