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The Bridge of San Luis Rey: A Novel (original 1927; edition 2004)

by Thornton Wilder

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3,216831,725 (3.78)151
Member:deborahk
Title:The Bridge of San Luis Rey: A Novel
Authors:Thornton Wilder
Info:Harper (2004), Edition: 1st pr of this, Hardcover, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:audio; lima peru, bridge collapse, accident, death, history, orphan, actress, priest

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

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» See also 151 mentions

English (81)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  English (83)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
Not claiming to answer its central existential question, the allegory instead paints the portraits of five interconnected characters, transforming them from the statistics of an incomprehensible tragedy to individual lives of successes and heartbreaks. With its broad strokes of events and characterisations, there is a certain lack of realism which instead contributes to its fable-like qualities. And the closest hint of an answer or a philosophy of life it gives is as you would expect from a parable: love is the reason. Recommended for high-school students, the perfect age for questioning the purposes of life.

Aside: I learnt about the book from Cloud Atlas which explains a lot of David Mitchell's inspirations and aspirations. ( )
  kitzyl | Nov 29, 2016 |
“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. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.

I've had The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder on my to-read list for probably twenty years. I had vaguely heard of it growing up, but it really crossed my radar when the local Catholic high school suggested it as a book to teach in junior high. I considered it whenever it came time to evaluate the novels I taught in eighth grade, but it somehow never grabbed me enough to read it, much less teach it. That's one of the main reasons I put it on my Classics Challenge list: to see if it's a good novel to teach to eighth graders.

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1928, and was selected for Time's All-time 100 Novels List and the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels (The Board's List).

Here's a summary of the plot from 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 presents several deep and important questions, but does not answer them. Nor is it meant to. In a letter included in the The Harper Perennial Kindle edition, Wilder answers a student who had written to ask about his position on the book's questions:

Dear John:

The book is not supposed to solve. A vague comfort is supposed to hover above the unanswered questions, but it is not a theorem with its Q.E.D. The book is supposed to be as puzzling and distressing as the news that five of your friends died in an automobile accident. 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 questions, but to state them fairly."


If Chekhov is right, then Wilder does good business in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It is as puzzling and distressing as Wilder intended, and it does not offer trite or shallow answers to deep questions.

As to my question about whether it would be good to teach in junior high, I can only answer that it would not be a book that I would choose. It certainly has many of the qualities a piece of literature ought to have to make a good classroom novel: well-drawn characters, thought-provoking subject matter, depth of meaning, and so on. It deserves to be on a list of books to be taught in junior high. However, it didn't move me the way a book needs to in order to be passionate about teaching it. ( )
  nsenger | Nov 22, 2016 |
An ancient bridge in Lima, Peru collapses, killing 5 people. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan, investigates their lives to try to find out why God took those five people. Although a Divine reason is never found, love, in all of its forms is the bridge connecting both those 5 people and all others. The character portraits are absolutely stunning. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
A wooden suspension bridge in Peru breaks and 5 people fall to their death. With sudden death comes a look back at the victim and their relationships. Written in 1927 its voice is flowery and religious, and being sited in Peru two centuries ago, the Spanish inflection is not always understandable. Not at all what I was expecting. ( )
  Bettesbooks | Oct 3, 2016 |
Rating: A+
Perhaps on of the best novels I've ever read. Brilliantly told. Wonderful character development. Many anticipated, but unexpected turns. Story will stay with me a long while. ( )
  jmcdbooks | Oct 2, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 81 (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 (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thornton Wilderprimary authorall editionscalculated
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
Koene, SimonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leighton, ClareIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perlstein-van Raalte, A. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
…the Conde delighted in her letters, but he thought that 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.
Some days he regarded his bulk ruefully; but the distress of remorse was less poignant that the distress of fasting.
His favourite notions: that the poor, never having known happiness, are insensible to misfortune.... that only the widely read could be said to KNOW that they were unhappy.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:26 -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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