Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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This beautiful new edition features unpublished notes for the novel and other illuminating documentary material, all of which is included in a new Afterword by Tappan Wilder.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

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1927

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Thornton Wilder

119 books401 followers
Thornton Niven Wilder was an American playwright and novelist. He received three Pulitzer Prizes, one for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and two for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, and a National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day.

For more see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thornton...

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
9,163 (27%)
4 stars
11,636 (35%)
3 stars
8,885 (27%)
2 stars
2,453 (7%)
1 star
674 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,424 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
898 reviews28k followers
April 26, 2016
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."
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews67.8k followers
September 28, 2020
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
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,374 reviews3,187 followers
September 5, 2021
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 tie certain 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.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
446 reviews3,219 followers
July 15, 2021
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 Cuzc 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, can prevail over adversity...May it always be that way.
Profile Image for Blaine.
710 reviews569 followers
May 2, 2022
A year ago, I bought the Pop Chart 100 Essential Novels Scratch-off Chart. At the time, I had read 11 of the 100 books. Over the last year, I have read 10 more. For the most part, hanging the chart in my library has served to inspire me to read books I’ve long heard of and just never read.

But The Bridge of San Luis Rey is in a different category. I don’t believe I’d ever heard of this book (despite a recent movie with a pretty good cast), and without the chart prodding me, I likely never would have read it all. And correcting that single oversight has made the chart a worthwhile purchase.

“On Friday noon, July twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.” Brother Juniper sees the accident, and resolves to show by proof that their deaths was part of God’s plan for them, because “[e]ither we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.” Thus begins this wonderful meditation on the limits of understanding what’s in another’s heart, and on the search for the meaning in our lives. It is full of interesting characters and profound quotations, especially about love:
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 returned 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.
Published in 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey is from a different era of literature, when it was possible to be both the biggest selling book of the year and win the Pulitzer Prize. But it was worthy of both honors. This is a story with universal appeal told through beautiful writing. Nearly 100 years after it was written, this tale is every bit as moving and insightful today. A timeless must read.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
September 19, 2016
"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."
Profile Image for Lea.
115 reviews280 followers
October 10, 2021
“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.”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a Pulitzer Prize winning short novel tackling the big religious and philosophical questions. The story follows the lives of five victims of the bridge collapse. The crash is witnessed by a monk, brother Jupiter, who in his own fear in the proximity of tragic fate that could easily befall him as well, embarks a civilization-old question; “Why did the tragedy occur to exactly this group of people?”. In searching for answers Jupiter wants to find the thread that connects victims' lives to the tragedy and explain this divine intervention. This is an ancient quest to find the meaning of suffering. Because the greatest pain is not the tragedy, but our incapability to find the meaning in it. Facing the absurd is more excruciating than facing the pain itself. In that sense, this novel made me reminiscent of Camus's The Plague. The character of monk Jupiter is similar to father Paneloux in trying to use an external religious system of belief to impose forced meaning to the senselessness of tragic fate, rejecting the absurd element of life and randomness by which suffering is imposed on young, as well as on old, on good, as well as on bad.

“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.“

Monk Jupiter is determined to subject the mystery of life and death to reason. For him, there are two options, there is a logically detectable system of explanation that is reachable through empirical observation, or there is no explanation at all, no meaning or greater plan of for life.

“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.”

Jupiter's quest unravels the stories of morally gray characters, full of flaws, but also full of imperfect and utterly human love and passion, complex real people that cannot be subjected to pure demise and punishment of sinners nor heavenly glory of saints. Both generous and selfish, cruel and merciful, innocent and sinful, the five characters are an archetypical representation of all of humanity; The Great Mother, The Orphan Girl, The Brother, The Teacher and The Beloved Son. Father Jupiter finds no answer at all, only unfinished life stories carried by flawed and somewhat self-serving love.

“The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed.“

Life and death, as well as the complete meaning of suffering, will be not ever subjected and reached by human reason, and that is the quest that only leads to the death of characters that pursuit it, as we can see in brother Jupiter, father Paneloux (The Plague) even Captain Ahab (Moby-Dick or, the Whale). Meaning, fate, love and hope cannot be empirically investigated, proven nor explained. One must be open to the indefinite mysteriousness of the world, and one cannot fool gods with his intellect and find a definite meaning of destiny.

In the famous finishing sentence Wilder detects love as the bridge of life and death and the only meaning, but at the same time throughout the novel shows that in this world, human love is always defective, never the same, and uniquely individual, just as our lives.

"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."
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,140 followers
October 30, 2022
# bibliotecaafectivă

Totul se petrece pentru că așa a vrut Dumnezeu sau totul se petrece la întîmplare?

În data de 20 iulie 1714, în amiaza unei zile de vineri, puntea de rafie - zisă a Sfîntului rege Ludovic - se rupe și 5 oameni pier. A fost un hazard sau lucrarea subtilă a providenței?

Mai bine de șase ani, fratele minorit Juniper cercetează biografiile defuncților și încearcă să tragă o concluzie cu privire la intenția (și motivele) lui Dumnezeu, deși - nu mai e nevoie s-o spun - intelectul divin nu se supune artmeticii folosite de piosul călugăr. Harul și justiția Lui nu se pot cîntări. Ne situăm în domeniul inefabilului. Așadar, nu știm și nici nu vom ști vreodată de ce (și în ce scop) cineva / nimeni a decis prăbușirea punții fix în ziua de 20 iulie 1714. Analiza cantitativă a fratelui Juniper este, neîndoios, o întreprindere eretică. Inchiziția are tot dreptul să-i ardă cartea. Dar Dumnezeu este milostiv și decide să păstreze un exemplar din catalogul lui. Pe exemplarul acesta va lucra Thornton Wilder...

Încercarea de a scruta vrerea lui Dumnezeu mi-a amintit de autobiografia lui Bejamin Franklin. La sfîrșit de săptămînă, tînărul tipograf și viitor diplomat făcea un calcul destul de bizar: aduna faptele bune și obținea o cifră. Aduna faptele rele, păcatele, și mai obținea o cifră. Ca la indicele Hirsch al universitarilor. Din cîntărirea meticuloasă a celor două cifre încerca să deducă dacă se găsește pe calea damnării sau pe aceea a mîntuirii. Era o tentativă îndrăzneață.

Mai bine să pariem pe hazard (adică pe grația haotică a lui Dumnezeu) și să declarăm, ca Pierre-Simon de Laplace odinioară, că ființa divinității este „o ipoteză de care nu avem nevoie, cînd calculăm probabilitatea unui anume efect”.

P. S. În nimicnicia mea, eu cred că rafia din care fusese împletită puntea se rosese în unele locuri esențiale și, la momentul tragediei, pur și simplu s-a rupt. Vinovați au fost meșterii și istoria. Iar istoria e ceea ce face hazardul din ceea ce a făcut Providența...

P. P. S. Micul roman al lui Thornton Wilder (1897 - 1975) a fost tradus de Horia I. Popovici. N-ar fi rău ca o editură să-l reediteze...
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book366 followers
May 11, 2021
Early in the year 2020 a small earthquake, not uncommon in the state of California, shook the walls and the bookshelves and five of the Reader's books ended up on the floor. He thought nothing of it until the news the following morning announced an almost immediate quarantine, social isolation was what they called it, as a particularly tenacious virus was at that very moment sweeping the Earth. So the Reader looked at his books again, he would have lots of time for reading, and set out to discover why in particular those five books had fallen from his shelf the evening before...

While part of me adores this book, the other part of me despises it. Wilder poses a question, and then never really answers it. Well, he does. Sort of. Is there a concrete answer to such a question? Not really. Right? But that doesn't mean I didn't expect him to come up with something more than a Beatles lyric. (Impressive, some might say, given that when this book was published none of the Beatles had even been born yet.) I know it is absolutely disgraceful to compare it to The Alchemist, but there's that same eye roll inducing hokeyness (or so the despising part of me proclaims). However, Wilder's characters and setting are all beautifully drawn, and so this toxic relationship lives on.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,197 followers
February 17, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Kenny.
485 reviews811 followers
October 13, 2022
Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey ~~ Thornton Wilder

The Bridge of San Luis Rey has been on my radar for years. Thanks to my friend, Alan, for giving me the kick I needed to return to Wilder.

The themes of The Bridge of San Luis Rey intrigued me since my father passed away several weeks ago.

I first read Thornton Wilder in my early teens. At 14 I was working my way thru the classics of the American stage. As part of that reading project, I read Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, & Our Town. I’ve read both many times thru the years. They are among the greatest plays ever written.

When I entered this universe, I knew very little about this book other than it was written by Wilder ~~ a big draw for me ~~ and Wilder won his first Pulitzer Prize for this ~~ yes, he has more than one.


The story is deceptively simple. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a collection of interwoven stories of five people who died while crossing an incredibly tall Peruvian bridge. Plagued with the seemingly unanswerable question of whether or not these individuals were destined to die, Brother Juniper makes it his mission to learn everything he possibly can about their lives. Rooted in the themes of love, life, death, fate, and art, this novel is more than simply an attempt to answer Brother Juniper’s inquiry; rather, it ponders the very existence of the question in the first place.

Jonathan Yardley said of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, it deals in universals . I agree; here, we learn of Wilder's philosophical views. I can't help but think World War I heavily influenced Wilder's views on life and death and love as well as The Bridge of San Luis Rey.


As I said earlier, I was intrigued by the concept of this novel due to my father's recent death ~~ I view death differently these days ~~ Wilder asks is it possible to reconstruct the lives of those destroyed by tragedy and discover a reason for their deaths? It’s the sort of question that plagues anyone who has lost a loved one. Why did it happen? Was there some sort of reason or purpose? Because death is something that feels so senseless when you’re faced with it. It’s a question that people have sought answers for though religion, and philosophy for thousands of years.

Brother Juniper goes about the question in an entirely different way. He looks at this tragedy thru the eyes of a scientist ~~ science and religion ~~ they fit hand in hand for Brother Juniper. He believes that he can objectively prove and explain God and tragedy, creating a formula of sorts to describe the indescribable.

This is the setup of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Soon, Wilder describes the lives of the five victims of the bridge collapse. Each is viewed with their own flaws and desires, sorrows and joys. These lives are filled of the same mixed up confusion of emotions and events and actions that we have all experienced. There is nothing neat or tidy about the lives or deaths of any of these characters. These deaths seem senseless and confusing. Some characters have just turned a page and are trying to start anew ~~ others continue down a path of loss and sorrow.

While each of the dead has their own separate and distinct story, they are also all part of a larger story. Their lives intertwine and interact ~~ each have, in some small way, an effect on the others’ lives. During the characters' stories, we see the other victims begin to play a role in each other's lives ~~ I wouldn't be surprised if Wilder was influenced by Hinduism.

What Wilder suggests to us instead is that death is the beginning rather than the end. This too is the message of Our Town. It is the way in which the survivors begin to come together to mourn and attempt to move on from death that concludes the novel. And it is here that Wilder gets at the root of tragedy and loss. It is only the beginning of the story for the survivors. It is the way in which people attempt to cope with loss and death and find themselves and their lives in the aftermath ~~ yes, death is the beginning rather than the end.

I understand this from having recently mourned the loss of my father. It begins with death as we question Why? ~~ we search for answers in the midst of loss. Then we move on to a remembrance of those lost to us. Each of the characters' chapters is a sort of eulogy for the deceased ~~ an in the end, the survivors attempt to find some comfort and means of living their lives in the new reality of loss.


So why should you read The Bridge of San Luis Rey? It’s a beautifully written story that slowly unfolds as you learn more about these characters. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is filled with humor, sorrow, joy, and every emotion in between, and Wilder, as always, write a beautiful portrait of humanity through each of his characters.

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,681 followers
September 30, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Labijose.
925 reviews380 followers
October 31, 2021
Leído allá por 2006 o 2007, que yo recuerde.

Aunque la prosa es buena, y se le notan las hechuras del buen escritor que era, no me atrapó. De hecho, algunos pasajes se me resistieron. Pero, en conjunto, me alegré de haberlo leído, aunque a recomendarlo no me atrevería, por mi experiencia.

Profile Image for Seemita.
178 reviews1,553 followers
January 1, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Dolors.
515 reviews2,139 followers
October 22, 2017
“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)
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,161 reviews9,017 followers
May 6, 2020
Thinking of how to review this little novel is beginning to take me longer than reading it so let’s just do this. Like a radio station with a dodgy signal sometimes this book is sharp and clear and beautiful and sometimes it’s vague and mushy and hard to hear. Many pages I wanted to turn into wallpaper and paper my house with, so I could read them again when I gazed into the mid-distance looking for inspiration, but others were just blah blah blah about tiresome rich people in Peru in the 18th century. Enough about neurotic actresses and their sycophants! So what you get is potted biographies of three people who got killed when the famous bridge collapsed. You might say it’s an examination of any random death. What is the meaning of it? What is God up to? A humble monk investigates the incident and compiles a massive book. (Okay he can’t be that humble then.) His idea was to prove that God knew what he was doing when he either broke the bridge deliberately or passively allowed the last threads to fray (it was a rope bridge). The concept that the municipality of Lima should have instituted regular bridge inspections and it was their gross negligence in not doing that was the obvious reason for the tragedy is bizarrely not addressed, even though, clearly, that would have got God off the hook. The priest did not have to go rootling around in the lives of these victims to figure if they in some way deserved to die.

Fans of this book quote the last sentence which is about there being a bridge between the living and the dead and the bridge is made of love. But I thought that was the worst bit. It made me feel a bit sick. Maybe I’m a fan of the parts the real fans of this book think are the worst bits!

Well, it’s an oddity and it’s worth your time. 3.5 stars rounded up because I don’t wanna plunge to my death from a frayed rope bridge in Lima, Peru on Friday, July 20th, 1714 or any other day. And so far I haven’t.

This kind of thing.


Uncle Pio came of a good Castilian house, illegitimately. At the age of ten he ran away to Madrid from his father’s hacienda and was pursued without diligence. He lived ever after by his wits. He possessed the six attributes of the adventurer – a memory for names and faces, with the aptitude for altering his own; the gift of tongue; inexhaustible invention; secrecy; the talent for falling into conversation with strangers; and that freedom from conscience that springs from a contempt for the dozing rich he prayed upon. From ten to fifteen he distributed handbills for merchants, held horses, and ran confidential errands. From fifteen to twenty he trained bears and snakes for travelling circuses; he cooked and mixed punches; he hung about the entries of the more expensive taverns and whispered information into the travellers’ ears – sometimes nothing more dubious than that a certain noble house was reduced to selling its plate and could this dispense with the omission of a silversmith. He was attached to all the theatres in town and could applaud like ten. He spread slanders at so much a slander. He sold rumours about crop and about the value of land.
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 2 books44.5k followers
September 2, 2018
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!
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,462 reviews926 followers
June 2, 2012

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.
Profile Image for Ines.
316 reviews185 followers
August 15, 2019
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
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,643 reviews433 followers
November 19, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,022 reviews1,007 followers
September 24, 2020
"The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed.”
Forty years ago, a childhood friend of mine, almost ecstatic, pointed out the ingenious beauty of this small book from 1927, which he saw as the stylistic and philosophical pinnacle of American literature. For some reason I never got around to reading it myself, until now. My reading experience can be summarized in one sentence: fascination after the opening chapter, slight confusion after the subsequent life stories, and finally frustration with the unwinding of the story.

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) does indeed tell a very concise story with a fascinating intrigue: was it the hand of God that made collapse a rope bridge in Peru, in the early 18th century, and caused the death of 5 people, or was this pure coincidence? It is the classic philosophical-religious dilemma of divine providence, blind destiny, and human free will. Curiously, in the story it is a Franciscan friar, Brother Jupiner, who uses the disaster to solve this eternal problem once and for all by systematically mapping the characteristics of the victims and weighing them up in quantitative terms. “Nice approach”, I thought, because with this Wilder seemed to illustrate the classic Western scientific method on this dilemma, “I wonder how that will end”.

But then Brother Jupiner disappears from the scene, and Wilder himself briefly sketches the life stories of some (not all) of the victims. They turn out to be ingeniously intertwined; they also share being stuck in life, solitary and lonely, even bitter; and fate (the collapsing bridge) appears to strike just when a turning point in their lives was in view. In the end Jupiner pops up again, with his systematic-scientific method, but he has to conclude that he too has found no satisfying answer to the philosophical dilemma. On the contrary, because of his investigations, he gets into trouble with the Inquisition. In fact, you could not expect otherwise, Wilder too must leave open the question of divine providence, blind destiny or human free will; but he does this in a very sarcastic way.

But then there is that famous closing paragraph, an ode to 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.” I am not going to haggle on this wonderful quote, but someone should explain to me where this element is incorporated in the previous stories? I didn’t see it, on the contrary, Wilder gave a very sarcastic touch to the lives of his characters, with hardly any place for love. So I think Wilder could have made so much more of this booklet. He wrote a nice little novel, with a lot of potential and with some nice oneliners, but also a missed opportunity.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,143 reviews1,908 followers
July 12, 2014
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”.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,388 reviews6,647 followers
July 11, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Alan.
377 reviews150 followers
July 21, 2021
The elevator pitch for this beautiful novel should be enough to arouse curiosity in just about anyone: a famous bridge snaps in Lima, Peru. Five people fall to their deaths. A monk sees the event and sets out to explore – why did this happen to those five people in particular? Was it a higher power? Was it God? Were the deaths deserved?

I came across this book on a random webpage, looking for yet more book lists to justify my procrastination and feed my insatiable hunger for “mastering” these challenges. I was unaware that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and even more unaware that it had been immensely popular. Either way, the method via which I found out about this book is not important. What is important is the experience, and it was one that was heavenly.

Wilder takes us on a journey, giving us semi-comprehensive vignettes of each of the five individuals. These stories are powerful to begin with, but are made more so by the reader knowing that the death is approaching. We know the precise end, start at the beginning, and work toward that point. In a way, this imbues random errands and trifles with a meaningful, melancholy aura. This is a book which brings up certain important thoughts, not to be forgotten no matter how many times they are repeated across literature:

- Value your loved ones, and tell them that you do so before they are no longer there.
- Forgive. You don’t have to forget, but forgive.
- How others see you (and how posterity sees you) will be completely different from how you see yourself on a daily basis.
- There is every chance that others and posterity will not remember you. You will become a dust particle, a scratch in a lecture hall desk, or a faded photograph. That’s it.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 2 books5,409 followers
March 17, 2021
This wonderful book talks about the collapse of a bridge in Peru in the late 18th century. Five people pass away in the accident and a local priest decides to investigate their lives. We follow his research and then learn his own fate. The language is languid and beautiful. It won a Pulitzer in 1927 over Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I haven't read the latter, but I might have edged out Sinclair Lewis over this book had I been given the choice.
In any case, this is a beautiful short book that I can highly recommend.

Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.2k followers
September 24, 2021
The Bridge at San Luis Rey won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928 and was a best seller. Thornton Wilder was one of the most loved American writers, both a novelist and a playwright, the author of Our Town and The Skin of our Teeth. I associate him with other writers roughly of the same period, Sherwood Anderson (Winesberg, Ohio), Ray Bradbury's Waukegan stories. Stories with heart, a touch of sentimentality, nostalgia, generally well-written. That said, I never loved this book, and still don’t much. I don’t quite get the tone of it.

A bridge falls in Peru and five people fall to their deaths. We look into those deaths with the help of a monk, Brother Juniper, investigating whether life is random or ordered. Is it: “ . . . to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day” (echoing that Lear quote) or is “His eye is on the sparrow, so I know he watches me”?

“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.”

“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."

And we never quite know the answer to the question, as we hear the monk’s researched stories of the dead, though he seems to lean to some kind of divine plan, never quite revealed to us.

What’s his take-away, the ending (spoiler alert):

“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 returned 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.”

That ending isn’t for me entirely satisfying to me, that love is the answer, as right as it might be, ultimately, in life. I had trouble following the stories and what they entail for me, but I am glad so many people find it enriching. I'll read reviews to see what I may have been missing.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,647 reviews1,486 followers
November 8, 2020
On Friday, July 20, 1714, an ancient Inca rope bridge on the road between Lima and Cuzco, Peru, collapsed. Five fell to their death. The novel is about these five. Their lives and the people they knew intertwine. The story told is fictional.

The incomprehensibility of fate and the redemptive power of love are the book’s twin themes.

After a horrible calamity, it is often this book that is proffered. Tony Blair cited it after 9/11.

At the book’s close, the abbess at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de las Rosas leaves readers with these words: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

I agree that this is a pretty sentence, an eloquent line of prose, but I would be annoyed if these words were thrown at me at the death of a loved one. At such a time one needs a show of compassion and feeling, not a lecture, not pretty words. Furthermore, the message relayed through these pretty words is not made evident by events in the story.

With the exception of this one sentence, the writing is neither pretty nor eloquent. Often events are expressed in a disjointed manner. There are sentences hard to make sense of.
“It was full of dogs that could add and multiply.”
“He bore his shame like an animal.”
are two examples. The prose in this book does nothing for me.

Nor do I feel anything for the characters. There are twins. They have an ability to read each other’s thoughts. I wish more had been done with this theme.

The audiobook is narrated by Thom Rivera. It’s fine; it’s OK; I could hear the words. The Spanish names are long and complicated, but this is not his fault! I have given the narration two stars.

As usual, I separate my rating of the book and the audio narration. I have not enjoyed the book, but the narration is OK. One star to the book and two to the audio narration.

I was annoyed by two more things. There is a long introduction that practically tells the whole story. At the end there is a long afterword. Here we are told a few biographical tidbits, but for the most part, it is a promotional sales gimmick telling us how popular the book has been. In other words, if you don’t like it, you’re really weird. I guess I’m weird.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book443 followers
July 21, 2019
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.”
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
610 reviews747 followers
July 27, 2013
"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.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,072 reviews726 followers
September 10, 2011
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.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,424 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.