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Showing 1-10 of 120 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 256 reviews
on September 28, 2002
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. After their deaths, the Abbess whose orphanage was home to two of the victims realizes that the meaning lies in the lives themselves, in the love the victims shared with those near to them. That there is no immortality, not even memory or good works, so that what matters is the fleeting existence of goodness, and therein lies god's grace. Love is a powerful and immediate force, not a point for theological debate. "Many who have spent a lifetime in passion can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday."
Wilder's prose is smooth and polished and yielding of aphorisms: the six attributes of the adventurer (a memory for names and faces, the gift of tongues, inexhaustible invention, secrecy, a talent for chatting with strangers, and a freedom from conscience); or an observation that "the public for which masterpieces are intended is not on this earth." Every line is adept, every page a wonder.
While Wilder wrote the book in 1927, it is perhaps a perfect inquiry into 17th century baroque worldviews and the rationalist philosophies they spawned. The baroque had reached Spain, if not Peru, by 1714. Its fascination with death and the brevity of life ("carpe diem" and countless reminders of the inevitabiity of death) resound her, as do its emphasis on vanity, and theater as a metaphor for life. Lima's theatre, its actresses and audiences, are central to the book. And it is only when the beautiful actress is struck by tragedies that she reaches her resolution in grace. Juniper himself embodies that strange blend of baroque scientific materialism and divine idealism of an age in which Descartes could prove the existence of god while Newton demonstrated god's machinery in motion.
Wilder's solution is much more satisfying than Descartes' or Juniper's. Wilder may have been baroque in his cynicism, but he was decidedly 20th century american in his hopefulness. "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" is a stunning book.
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on April 24, 2017
A classic and well worth the time. It had been recommended to me by many and I don't know why I haven't read it earlier in my life.
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on August 3, 2015
If I hadn't read a competent literary review, I would have had little or no understanding of what some people think the book is about, or of why it's a "classic." Seems like a C minus book to me.
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on November 2, 2015
Sorry but this was a waste of my time. It may be a classic but I found it dull and pointless. If you want to learn about the people of Peru, read the works of Isabelle Alende instead.
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on June 28, 2015
This novel remains one of my favorite reads. Profound in its inquiry of 'why' and specific in the depiction of human nature, this work places readers inside its principal characters without romanticizing them or damning them. If readers stay with this book, then they will understand why the closing words have continued to bring solace to those who have suffered inexplicable loss ever since its publication. Wilder has written a "perfect" narrative; read this work and experience the sheer majesty of a true wordsmith and storyteller.
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on July 14, 2007
When I began this book I thought it was going to be fairly interesting. Brother Juniper wanted to show the world than everything happens for a reason by studying five people's lives and trying to prove why they fell of of the bridge of san luis rey and died. However as I so painfully read on about these five people's lives I too wished I had fallen off of a bridge. Wilder's writing style is the kind where you have to read the sentences over and over because they are 1) so incredibly boring and 2)so incredible hard to understand. I hoped as I read on that there would be some kind of powerful ending that was all worth reading for since the original purpose of the book seemed deep and intriguing. However, I was left with another boring ten pages and paragraph about love to smooth over the rest of the book. Save yourself and read something else!
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on April 23, 2011
This review is not about the novel itself but about the quality of its Kindle edition by ePenguin.

There are quite a number of spelling mistakes in this edition - as if the text had been scanned in very quickly and not been proof-read carefully enough. For instance, "die" may be displayed as "the", "part" as "fart", "but" as "hut", "greedy" as "gready", "fire" as "fife", "Maria" as "Marfo", "the theme" as "me theme", "years" as "yean", "the porridge" as "me porridge" and so on and so on. There is also a problem with punctuation - repeatedly a period between different sentences is missing or, albeit less often, a comma or dash has been inserted where it does not make sense.

All in all, the production quality of this Kindle edition is rather disappointing and enormously spoils the pleasure of reading Wilder's classic novel. (And, by the way, it does not even have a cover illustration.) I have to admit that I would have expected something better from Penguin ...
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on July 27, 2014
I read this as a required book in high school and thought it would be good to read again voluntarily as an adult. I was wrong; the book is quite boring. It's hard for an American to relate to a tragic accident in Peru in the 1700s. Accidents and tragedies happen daily, so perhaps I've become immune to much of their impact.
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on February 4, 2013
looking for god in the tragic deaths of people you do not know - not my thing. I think it's ghoulish.
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on May 21, 2014
This Novella, set in 18th Century Peru, is all of 107 pages not including the Acknowledgements, Foreword, Afterword and About the Author which, in and of themselves are well worth reading. I skipped through this book rather quickly, and was absorbed in the removed tone and style of the writing. Anyone who is deeply involved in literature will easily distinguish the reason for it having won the Pulitzer.

An exceptionally well written book cunningly poses a question that slowly weaves its way through the plot. More can not be said without setting forth spoilers, so I leave you with this: “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly.” Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904)
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