Bridge of San Luis Rey

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1966.

Warning! This review is with spoiler!!

The premise for The Bridge of San Luis Rey is fascinating. In a nutshell an Italian monk by the name of Brother Juniper was not only witness to a terrible tragedy, he was mere moments away from sharing the same horrific fate. An ancient bridge in Lima, Peru collapses just as five travelers have set out across it. Instead of suffering a kind of survivors guilt, Brother Juniper is instead encouraged to pursue his study of theology, using the tragedy to demonstrate scientific reason as to why his life was spared. Being a man of the cloth he wants to prove it was divine intervention that caused him to avoid such an unfortunate demise. More importantly, he can finally prove the five victims (who weren’t so “lucky”) shared a common fault and their deaths were part of a larger plan. In other words, luck had nothing to do with it. The other option, less likely in the eyes of Brother Juniper, was it was a simple, random accident. Brother Juniper devotes his life to researching the private lives and documenting the secrets of the five victims, in a search for commonality. All in the hopes of proving the collapse was considered an act of god, a shared destiny. This would be something Brother Juniper could finally attach his scientific study of theology to. The five unfortunate travelers are:

  1. Dona Maria, the Marquesa de Montemayor and her companion,
  2. Pepita.
  3. Estaban – a twin grieving the loss of his brother and, before crossing the bridge, about to set sail with a sea captain.
  4. Uncle Pio, the actress Camila’s maid, singing master, coiffeur, masseur, errand-boy, reader, banker, coach, writer and tutor.
  5. Don Jaime, Camila’s son

In the end, Brother Juniper was burned at the stake along with his “research” on the five victims of the bridge collapse. He was charged with heresy.

Favorite quotes: “The Marquesa would even have been astonished to learn that her letters were very good, for such authors live always in the noble weather of their own minds and those productions which seem remarkable to us are little better than a days routine to them” (p 15).
“All families lived in a wasteful atmosphere of custom and kissed one another with secret indifference” (p 16). And another, “You see its the ocean you want” (p 67).

Can I just say I love the titles of the first and last chapters? “Part One – perhaps an accident” and “Part Five – perhaps an intention.”

Note: I should have started reading this book on July 20th, the day “the finest bridge in all of Peru” collapsed. Who knew?

Book Trivia: Bridge of San Luis Rey was made into a movie on three different occasions. It has also been interpreted as an opera and a play.

Reason read: August is the last month for students to travel before heading back to school. I chose Peru as the destination for the last adventure of August.

Author Fact: Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer for The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Peru(sing) Peru” (p 177).

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