Francis Spufford’s New Novel Imagines Lives That Might Have Been

By Christopher Benfey

By Francis Spufford

Every disaster leaves behind a cloud of what-ifs. With the Great War and the 1918 flu pandemic in recent memory, Thornton Wilder wondered why five travelers, on a Friday at noon 200 years earlier, were on the Bridge of San Luis Rey, in Peru, when the moorings broke. “Why,” he asked, “did this happen to those five?” Do we live and die by accident or according to some preordained plan?

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