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The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Perennial Classics) Paperback – April 15, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 138 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Presumed to be 1st as edition is unstate edition (April 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060088877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060088873
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (196 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Few novels identify their basic plotline as succinctly and forthrightly as the opening line of Thornton Wilder’s 1927 novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.” The novel’s conceit is this: a certain Brother Juniper was himself about to step out onto the bridge when it broke and subsequently witnessed the plunge of five people into the abyss below. Brother Juniper wonders if the tragedy happened according to a divine plan or was simply a random instance of misfortune. His curiosity leads him to investigate the lives of the five victims to prove that the bridge collapse and the resulting deaths were indeed divine intervention—that God intended for them to die then and there. But, of course, the point of the novel is that there is no commonality among them, other than the fact that they are all simply human, with their own frailties. Wilder ends his at-once urgent and serene novel with this haunting passage: “But soon we shall die and all memory of these 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.” --Brad Hooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Thornton Wilder, published in 1927. Wilder's career was established with this book, in which he first made use of historical subject matter as a background for his interwoven themes of the search for justice, the possibility of altruism, and the role of Christianity in human relationships. The plot centers on five travelers in 18th-century Peru who are killed when a bridge across a canyon collapses; a priest interprets the story of each victim in an attempt to explain the workings of divine providence. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

208 of 219 people found the following review helpful By Richard R on September 28, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A brilliant book. Wilder richly deserved the Pulitzer that this book earned. Short, at 133 pages in this edition, it is uniformly excellent. Wilder's sharp wit and turn of phrase are unmatched. The book's theme is powerful and resolved in an unexpected and profound way. Brother Juniper, a thoughtful friar, witnesses the collapse of a rope bridge over a gorge in rural Peru in 1714 and the death of the five people walking along it. He views this event as an opportunity to prove the existence of god and, finally, to elevate theology to the rank of the hard sciences. Juniper instinctively believes that there must be a divine reason for those five to have been chosen for death. He senses god's powerful, latent hand in the bridge's collapse and commits himself to learning all there is to know about the victims in order to discern the plan and prove god's existence. Who were the victims? What were their lives like? Why did they die?
Juniper's conclusions are, of course, inconclusive. He never found the pattern, but remained convinced that it was there, just that he was too poor an intellect to see it. Such questions, naturally, were anathema to the church of the age and Juniper and his book were destroyed for heresy. Readers who focus on the same questions as Juniper are doomed to be just as frustrated. Wilder is far too insightful to let Juniper have the last word, for ultimately, it is not Juniper who stumbles upon the meaning of the five deaths, but the survivors -those who loved the victims- as well as the reader. What the five had in common was that they were human beings, with tender sides and flaws and significant unrequited loves. There is nothing remarkable here, we are all built that way.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Elderbear VINE VOICE on June 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
A short, sweet novel. Greater minds than mine awarded it a Pulitzer Prize, so I won't blabber on about its quality. Wilder wastes few words, inserts no extra padding, to tell his story. This lacks the action sequences and suspense of Tom Clancyish pulp, but does sneak up on the intellect, leaving the reader expectantly looking for the subtle connections that weave the characters together.
The manifest story is simple. Five people have fallen to their death in Peru, and Brother Juniper seeks to prove the goodness of God by evaluating their lives to demonstrate exactly why bad things happen. Gently satirical, Wilder consigns poor Brother Juniper to a fitting end, for the chutzpah of attempting to decipher the mind of God with a moral calculus. Juniper has forgotten his Master's admonition, to "judge not." Hidden from Juniper's attempt to make sense of tragedy lay connections that he could never imagine, longings, love unrequited, and loneliness unimaginable. In the end, we learn, not WHY bad things happen, but the power and beauty that can rise from the ashes of tragedy.
Wilder tells snippets of stories, weaving lives together, in a way that goes unnoticed at first, then becomes subliminal, and finally explodes into consciousness at the end. While these lives and their interconnections are somewhat contrived, they effect a transformation, both of the story-line and the reader by the end of the book. Well worth reading a second time.<P...
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By JackOfMostTrades on March 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you want to read a novel written in masterful, melodic prose with exquisite character development, an intriguing and beguiling plot structure, and a work of profound substance and meaning, read this book. It is a true work of art. Read it, then read any contemporary American novel, read any winner of the National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, etc., and see the dearth of talent that exists among even our most "distinguished" prose stylists. Read it aloud and hear how a master of the English language can construct a narrative that is as perfect to the ear as a piece of classical music.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on April 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning novel takes on the daunting task of exploring whether or not there is a plan behind why we live and die - and how. The debate rages around the incident of the Bridge of San Luis Rey snapping one day, sending five people plummeting to their deaths. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan missionary, witnesses the tragedy and determines to make it the test case in an experiment he has long sought to complete: to prove that the victims were either impious and therefore punished or pious and therefore being whisked away to Heaven to stand beside God. It is a radical study in his time, and its inherent questioning into the nature of the world will ultimately see Brother Juniper mislabeled as a heretic by the church.

The character studies that make up the bulk of the novel (which is really more of a novella given its brevity) are uniformly intriguing, and it is there that "Bridge" truly shines, in addition to Wilder's superb use of language. His portrait of the Marquesa, her servant Pepita, Esteban and his twin brother Manuel, and the Perichole are awe-inspiring glimpses into lives that feel full and true to life - an even greater achievement considering the short amount of time Wilder spends on each of them in order to move the plot forward. If it is more difficult to get a handle on other characters like the Archbishop, the viceroy, Jaime, and the enigmatic Uncle Pio we can forgive Wilder because they still fit the larger scheme of the novel and add to its compelling plot. What emerges from their intertwining lives is the realization that human lives are often too complex to be accurately affixed with such extreme labels as `good' or `bad'. Each has marks for them and against them, making an experiment like Brother Juniper's impossible to complete.
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More About the Author

Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) is an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works, exploring the connection between the commonplace and cosmic dimensions of human experience, continue to be read and produced around the world. His Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of seven novels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928, as did two of his four full-length dramas, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). Wilder's Matchmaker was adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly! He also enjoyed enormous success with many other forms of the written and spoken word, among them teaching, acting, opera, and film. His screenplay for Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) remains a classic psychological thriller to this day. Wilder's many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature.

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