Monday, 24 March 2014

A Book for Life: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Penguin edition of Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Behind all seen things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal or a window opening on something other than itself. ” Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry some years ago, but I'd never looked into the author's life or other works. This recently changed, however, thanks to the wonderful intertextuality of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. After Wind, Sand and Stars was shared between friends in the novel, I visited my local bookshop as soon as I returned from Barcelona to pick up the copy that I hoped was still on the classics shelf.

Thankfully it was, alongside two copies of Tartt's The Secret History which I'd been unable to get in Waterstones's (all hail independent bookshops). The bookshop owner, who I know well, told me that he always has a copy of Wind, Sand and Stars in stock, and was surprised that I hadn't read it before.

Off I went after making use of my student discount (somewhat reluctantly, as I knew that buying two £8.99 books for £13 wasn't going to help the shop's livelihood), and I read the book during several recent train journeys I've had.

Wind, Sand and Stars: a guide to life and deathWind, Sand and Stars is a remarkable non-fiction tale of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's life as a pilot, featuring encounters with nomadic Arabs and the 1936 crash in the Libyan Desert that he miraculously survived. Perhaps this near-miss is why Saint-Exupéry writes about life and death with such skill and insight; a talent that reminds me of León Felipe's poetry from around the same time.

“The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when the night has fallen, I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.”

What is more, I couldn't have read Wind, Sand and Stars at a more poignant time considering the recent disappearance of flight MH370. Saint-Exupéry's narrative of searching for missing co-pilots (and being lost himself) was quite difficult to read considering this present backdrop, especially as, judging by news headlines, it seems to have come to a sombre close this afternoon.

Also unfortunately fitting is Saint-Exupéry's cause of death at the controls of his plane in 1944, something that I only learned about upon picking up this book.

I think that there are many other elements of life that Wind, Sand and Stars could apply to, not just those related to air travel. In The Goldfinch, protagonist Theo Decker reads the autobiographical narrative during a time of closure on the bus from Los Angeles to return home. I also read it while travelling, foremost on a trip to Google London last Wednesday that required more than a little courage.

Have you read Wind, Sand and Stars? I'll choose it as my bibliotherapy recommendation for this month, particularly suited for anyone with changes going on who could do with stepping back to see the bigger picture. It's an incredible book that demands much more than one reading.

“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's life and death
An introduction to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his autobiographical Wind, Sand and Stars

7 comments:

JaneGS said...

My dad, who was a WWII RAF pilot, loved this book. I haven't read it yet, but mean to. Your review and quotes make it seem like a very special, reflective book indeed.

Brian Joseph said...

Intertextuality really can lead us to some interesting book
choices.

I have not read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry but this sounds like a very good book.

Wuthering Expectations said...

Oh yes, this is a good one. That crash in Libya is insane. Those early pilots were all madmen.

tolstoytherapy said...

Definitely! It's quickly become one of those books I'm planning to read over and over again - I can't recommend it enough to others!

It was so much better than I thought it would be, but now I'm sure I'll never doubt his writing again. Or his courage, for that matter...

tolstoytherapy said...

Intertextuality must be one of my favourite things... the only thing better than books must be books mentioned in books! Wind, Sand and Stars is an incredible book, so I'd definitely recommend it to you - even in translation, the writing is so moving.


Happy reading!

bellezza said...

I, too, cannot believe I haven't read this! I've read Le Petit Prince about five times, a few in French, and I loved Night Flight which is also about flying in the 1930's. Now I'm off to find this, because your review has finished the inspiring which Donna Tartt began.

tolstoytherapy said...

I think you'd love it! It's an incredible collection of tales, and I really can't wait to read it again (alongside more of his writing). When read in French, Wind, Sand and Stars must be even more of a masterpiece!