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

by Thornton Wilder

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3,126771,799 (3.78)140
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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English (75)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
This book is beautifully written. The author is witty and wry. Very enjoyable. ( )
  bradylouie | Apr 10, 2016 |
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder
Washington Square Press, 1939
ISBN 0-671-46354-3 (paperback), 186 p.

Review date: March 2016

A classic with good reason. That's how I'd describe Thornton Wilder's second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927). Almost 90 years old now, it's waxed and waned in popularity, but it's never been forgotten; nor shall it, I believe. From the memorable first line to the memorable last line, Wilder crafts a compelling and deceptively simple narrative that marks the author not only as an eminently skilled wordsmith but also as an artistic and sensitive soul who possessed great insight into humanity.

Told in three acts, framed at beginning and end by the commentary of the fictional narrator, this book deftly weaves together the tales of a handful of lives in 16th-century Peru and comments on the eternal struggle of humankind and on the persistent power of love. It is optimistic, but not naively so, as some have characterized Wilder to be, and the only fault I personally feel worth mentioning is that Wilder chose to use the names and occupations of two historical figures who actually lived decades later than the setting of the story—and if that's the most a nitpicker like myself can hold against it, then surely it's an amazing piece of literature indeed.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey certainly became an instant favorite for me after my first time through. I give it four and a half stars and recommend it to all discerning readers. Sometimes I disagree with "classic" status—but this masterpiece by Wilder wholly deserves it.

——————————

Rating:

4½ stars: Excellent! The work displayed a skill beyond the reach of most others. I am likely to add it to my permanent collection, read it repeatedly, and recommend it wholeheartedly to others. This rating may be more subjective than others, as it relies to a slightly greater extent on my tastes in genre and style. Creative writing is more likely to receive four stars than conventional nonfiction. There is little difference between a 4½-star work and a 5-star one, except that I can find slightly more to quibble about in the former. Equivalent to an 'A+' on a school-grade scale. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Mar 29, 2016 |
I simply love this little book. At page 40, my heart panged just so, when two of the five travelers had fallen into the gulf. How did Thornton Wilder captivate me in a mere 40 pages?? Apparently, it IS heart. (See quote.)

This 1927 novel starts with: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” Brother Jupiter, who had witnessed this accident, proceeds to prove the divinity of this accident. In the three parts that follow, we learn the lives of the five travelers. All had lacked a certain loving element in their lives, and all were about to embark on a new journey in life when the accident happened. Those who are left behind, in part five, examine themselves and the role they had played.

The perfected brevity, the richness in personalities, the delicately intertwined lives, and the elegant prose were all a joy to read. I hungrily underlined far too many gems. Learning that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner of 1928 makes sense. Like many of today’s Pulitzer winners, I sense a touch of defiance of the norm, which in this case was the church – unforgiving, literal, Inquisition, and male dominated. As a contrast and balance, the Abbess played a nurturing role, and she too feels suffocated. While reading this book, I felt vibes of “Cloud Atlas”, likely because of the intertwined characters. I was surprised to learn from Wiki that David Mitchell had in fact named Luisa Rey after this book including her fall from the bridge. Go figure.

Some quotes:
In honor of its charming brevity, I’m keeping this short too despite the many smiley’s I wrote on margins.

On Literature – good writing needs heart!
“…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.”

On Infatuation:
“It was not the first time that Manuel had been fascinated by a woman…, but it was the first time that his will and imagination had been thus overwhelmed. He had lost that privilege of simple nature, the dissociation of love and pleasure. Pleasure was no longer as simple as eating; it was being complicated by love. Now was the beginning that crazy loss of one’s self, that neglect of everything but one’s dramatic thoughts about the beloved…”

On Love – I love this:
“But soon we shall die and all memories 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." ( )
1 vote varwenea | Mar 29, 2016 |
3.5***
The novel begins at noon on July 20, 1714, when the “finest bridge in all Peru” suddenly collapses, sending five people plummeting to their deaths. A Franciscan missionary, Brother Juniper, witnesses the calamity and asks, “Why those five?” He feels this Act of God must have specifically targeted those people, and none of the other thousands of citizens who might have been on the bridge instead. So he investigates the lives of the five victims in an attempt to understand what happened.

This is a moral fable in which Wilder tries to answer the question, “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?” He explores the characters’ motivations in life, their triumphs and disappointments. Its universal appeal is that Wilder is writing about human nature – conflicted, noble, contradictory, loving, and exasperating. He holds a mirror up to the reader’s own soul, asking the reader to examine his or her own actions and reactions.

Then Prime Minister Tony Blair read the closing sentences of this work at the memorial service for British victims of the Sept 11 attack on the World Trade Center: “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.”
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
A powerful book. ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (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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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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