The Bridge of San Louis Rey is a tiny little novel. My edition is barely 100 pages. To be so short and so acclaimed always wows me. Even though I don’t read a ton of novella/short stories, I’m always extremely impressed at how concise yet poignantly beautiful the best ones are. The Bridge of San Louis Rey is no exception and manages to address some of the most fascinating and existential questions of humanity. Wow, little book. Thornton Wilder, you Sir, were quite the genius.
In 1714, a bridge in Peru collapses sending five people to their deaths. A monk, Brother Juniper, sees this tragedy occur and immediately starts asking questions. Why did this happen? What is the meaning? Why these five individuals? Was if fate? Destiny? Where does God and faith come into play?
Brother Juniper sets out to research the five victims and try to answer the above questions. So most of the novel is just learning about our small, doomed cast of characters and how they came to be on that fateful bridge. We see how they are connected and what kind of people they were. I loved this part. Loved delving into each person and getting a glimpse of their often sad lives. Wilder manages to tell a complete life story in very few words which was pretty much amazing.
And then the end happens. Our dear Brother Juniper publishes his stories and is persecuted for his truths which land somewhere outside of religious doctrine. He’s basically executed, I think – if I read that part right, haha. The last few paragraphs border a teensy bit on the cheesy and saccharine as the story very obviously becomes a moral fable, but I honestly didn’t mind. Tony Blair actually read the last few sentences at the memorial service for British citizens killed in the 9/11 attacks. And I think Wilder’s novel remains truly relevant in the face of even modern tragedies and can offer a sense of solace even if these huge questions don’t always have the most satisfying of answers.
So glad I read this and highly recommend. It’s on TIME‘s list of 100 best novels, and I think it deserves the spot. Only takes a couple of hours to get through but will stay with you much longer!