The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder

Thornton Wilder is the only author to have ever won a Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and drama. The Bride of San Luis Rey is one of his works that earned him a Pulitzer in 1928. The premise of this philosophical novel is straightforward; a footbridge in Peru breaks and takes five people down with it. A monk who witnessed the tragedy asks himself why those five people and begins to uncover the lives of each of the deceased in hopes of revealing if the catastrophe was an act of fate or a coincidence. In other words, The Bridge of San Luis Rey seeks to answer why some people live and others die? Is there a meaning in lives that an individual has no control over?

Wilder conveys a simple yet powerful theme throughout the novel, namely that the act of love is the bridge that joins life and death and this act completes those lives in death. While these ideas make the book a worthwhile read, the getting there was tedious. The novel starts out quite slow and Wilder's prose felt stiff and dense. The second half of the novel picked up after I began to understand where Wilder was going and the connective thread he was creating to link these five characters to one another.
But soon we shall all die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves should be loved for awhile and then forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.
As far as classics go, this is a great one, but it doesn't make my top ten. There seemed to be something missing. I can appreciate the deepness of emotion this novel conveys, which is probably what gained it's merit and popularity, but aside from that there isn't much to gush about.

Publisher: Harper Perennial, 1927


  1. I like the idea behind this a lot - why those five people were the ones that died. However I always find novels with a lot of philosophy in them quite tough going and a bit tedious.

  2. Woah, this looks pretty solid. I'm definitively going to look into this one. The premisce is a little "Paulo Coel-ish" but it's easy to walk around the religious novel trap. I'm pretty sure Thornton Wilder succeeded.

  3. Hit it Ben. I'd live to hear your thoughts.

  4. Sure thing, you'll hear my thoughts on Zeitoun soon. I'm 20 pages in and already sold.

  5. Ben, Good to hear. It reads quickly but delivers quite a punch.

  6. I'm almost positive I read this 10-15 years ago, but the plot doesn't sound familiar to me! Either I didn't actually read it, or it was very forgettable for me. Now I feel like I need to read it again...