Blair: Solace in Wilder's 'unthinkable' tale

Terror in America: The Book
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Tony Blair's reading from The Bridge of San Luis Rey in yesterday's service for victims of the tragedy reintroduces an almost forgotten literary figure from the last century, as least as far as Britain is concerned. Yet the choice is almost unbearably apposite.

Thornton Wilder's novel weaves together the stories of five men and women who died when a bridge collapsed in Peru in 1714. The bridge had seemed indestructible; its failure unthinkable. A Franciscan friar, witnesses the event and writes a book about it, "to inquire into the secret lives of those persons that moment falling through the air" and to try to understand the purposes of a god which allowed the tragedy to happen. It memorialises five disparate lives, unconnected until the moment of death.

Wilder was born in 1897 in Wisconsin, and died in 1975. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, published in 1927 when Wilder was still an unknown schoolteacher, was his first big success, bringing him worldwide fame and the Pulitzer prize.

He was also a playwright. His most famous play is probably Our Town, another Pulitzer prize-winner. His comedy The Merchant of Yonkers was revised as The Matchmakers and eventually became the musical Hello Dolly!