Life after Work

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, Pulitzer Winner of 1928

“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” was a book I enjoyed a lot. It was refreshingly different from the books I read so far. The first part of the book takes the reader to Peru in 1714. A bridge collapses and kills the five people that happened to cross it at that moment. A monk, Brother Juniper, wonders if the collapse was an accident or divine intervention and wants to find out everything he can about these victims, to see if they were sinners or what other reasons there may have been that God wanted them to die. He compiles his findings in book form.

The next parts of the book are the life stories of the victims of the bridge collapse. A noble woman and her young female servant, a young man, and an old man accompanying a boy. As the lives unfold before us it becomes clear that they all connect somewhere. However, what is just as clear is that none of these people deserved to die. While none of them was a saint, there also was no criminal or extraordinary sinner. And this is what Brother Juniper is getting to realize. Since merely questioning God’s reason is heresy back in the day, he soon suffers the deadly consequences of his honestly well-intended quest. At the end we are left with the few people who knew the victims of the collapse – the mother of the young boy, the daughter of the noble woman, the abbess of the convent where several of the travelers were headed. They come to the conclusion that our lives really do not matter in any other way than how we affect those around us.

I liked the well constructed life stories. The idea that someone would review a person’s life to determine if they “deserved to die” is an interesting concept. It certainly drives home the point that we could go at any time and the only thing we can try to do is live well. Compared to the other Pulitzer books so far this was definitely the most thought-provoking.

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