A Simple Story
In the early years of the eighteenth century in colonial Peru, a bridge on the high road between Lima and Cuzco collapses and five persons crossing the bridge at that fateful moment plunge to their deaths. The bridge, built by Incans one hundred years before, carried hundreds of Peruvians daily across a great gorge. To the Peruvians of the time it was to last forever. A Franciscan monk by the name of Brother Juniper, resting close by, witnesses this tragedy and immediately wonders why those five people should meet their demise on that bridge, that day.
Brother Juniper believes a Divine Plan guides the lives of individuals, no matter how random the events of life may seem. In his mind, what he witnesses is surely “a sheer Act of God” and the deeds of the five, whether wicked or good, are definite factors behind the collapse of the bridge. He is so confident of his belief that he sets out to conduct a detailed investigation into the lives of those that perished that day – the Marquesa, her peasant maid, one of two twin brothers, a retired literary man and the young son of a famed actress. By gathering all the intimate facts about the five, Brother Juniper intends to prove once and for all the role of Providence in men’s affairs. Ironically, however, his investigation is judged to be heretical and leads to his own death. Chance or Act of God?
This short novel of the acclaimed writer Thornton Wilder has stirred the imaginations of readers worldwide since it was first published in 1927 and won Wilder the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1928. Written with the feel of classical literature, it easily takes readers back to the Peru of 1714 as they peer into the lives of the unfortunate five before they fall to their deaths from the collapsing bridge. The novel poses the overriding question (in Thornton’s own words): “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?” The question has no doubt been pondered over many centuries and in spite of the setting of colonial Peru, there is effortless application of the question to modern times. Indeed to our own century as recently as September 11, 2001.