The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Set in eighteenth century Peru, this novella is about a famous bridge that collapses, killing five people. A witness, Brother Juniper, in an effort to explain to his fellow man why God would allow such an event to occur, attempts to analyse the reasoning behind this act of divine providence.
The narrative takes the form of biographical accounts of three people who were affected by the disaster. There is convent prioress, Madre Maria de Pilar, the carer of orphaned young bridge victim, Pepita, and the talented, social status obsessed actress, Camila Perichole, who loses both her trainer, Uncle Pio, and young son Jaime in the accident. Identical twins, Esteban and Manuel, are inseparable, until Manuel dies of illness, leaving Esteban in a state of despair, until he and travel companion meet their demise, falling from the bridge.
Written in a traditional, literary style, The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a philosophical tale in which the collapse of the bridge can be viewed as a metaphor for love, a tragic event that leads to the survivors developing a deeper sense of compassion. The book also offers an interesting overview of the ruling classes in eighteenth century Spanish South America, Peru’s relationship with her mother country and an insight into the nature of identical twins.