The Bridge of San Luis Rey

One merely has to consider the central question raised by the novel, which, according to Wilder himself, was simply: ‘Is there a direction and meaning in the lives beyond the individual’s own will?’ It is perhaps the largest and most profoundly personal philosophical inquiry that we can undertake. It is the question that defines us as human beings.

– Russell Banks, Foreword to The Bridge of San Luis Rey

“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” So begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the great achievements in American literature, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and a novel still read throughout the world.

 

By chance, Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, witnesses the tragedy. He then embarks on a six-year-long quest to determine whether it was divine intervention or happenstance that led to the deaths of the five victims–the Marquesa de Montemayor, obsessed with regaining the affections of her estranged daughter; young Pepita, a humble and lonely orphan assigned by the local Abbess to be the companion of the aging Marquesa; the grief-stricken Esteban, mourning the untimely death of his identical twin, Manuel; Uncle Pio, who has recently taken seven-year-old Jaime into his care as a way of maintaining a lost relationship with the boy’s mother, Camila, once the greatest actress of her day.

 

Brother Juniper’s search for answers leads him to more questions, and, ultimately, to his own death. “There are a hundred ways of wondering at circumstance,” Wilder writes, challenging the reader to question and to wonder about a story that novelist Russell Banks says in his Foreword is “as close to perfect a moral fable as we are ever likely to get in American literature.”

Audio Guide

The Bridge of San Luis Rey Audio Guide features Russell Banks, Maureen Fiedler, Q’orianka Kilcher, J. D. McClatchy, Penelope Niven, Josephine Reed, Marian Seldes, Sam Waterston and Tappan Wilder. Click Here to learn more.