Though the writer and aviator, Antoine Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), had forever found a beloved place in my heart through his book The Little Prince – a book that can change the way you choose to see – I hadn't been compelled to read any of his other works. It was only while reading last week’s book, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, that I came across Wind, Sand and Stars – it was mentioned as an escape in which Tartt’s main character, and narrator of the book, Theo Decker, found solace during a particularly troubled time in his fictional life. Having it cited in a novel that I am still processing with love and awe was all the excuse I needed to explore another book by a man who, with The Little Prince, had made clear his extraordinary knack for a storytelling style that puts flesh and blood on the mystical.
I searched for the book at my local library without consulting the signs or indicators taped to the shelves; which made my discovering it feel like an encounter arranged by fate, since I happened to walk straight to the spot where it rested.
The stories within it, told from the first-person perspective of Saint-Exupéry, recounted misadventures of he and fellow aviators who had flown mail over France, South America, and North Africa. After diving into the first few stories, however, I soberly reflected that it wasn’t enchanting me as The Little Prince had. (Perhaps no book will ever endear itself to me in the same way again.)
I couldn’t fully connect my attention with the book's contextual vehicle: flight. But, Saint-Exupéry, being a philosopher and a writer, described the mechanical processes of flight with as much fervor as a poet fallen in love, and for that reason I read admiringly. While reading, I thought of pilot friends of mine who must soar inside when hearing a fellow aviator romanticize their profession as Saint-Exupéry did in this book. For me, a mere passenger on planes, I found great beauty in his descriptions of landscapes and cloud formations; and illusions only perceivable from thousands of feet above earth, but didn't have capacity to relate to his detailed account of steering a plane or navigating by horizon and stars.
With all that said, the book is not only about flying. Not at all. In fact, through this book, Saint-Exupéry creates a social commentary that is far-reaching and encompassing of all humanity – a perspective provided by his elevated ruminations, perhaps. Through his writings we begin to recognize beauty in desert wastelands; learn what leads a man to be willing to die for a cause; and explore what's at the core of the desire that makes us long to be free.
"Happiness! It is useless to seek it elsewhere than in this warmth of human relations. Our sordid interests imprison us within their walls. Only a comrade can grasp us by the hand and haul us free."
"Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known."
"The physical drama itself cannot touch us until some one points out its spiritual sense."
"We take it for granted that a man is able to stride straight out into the world. We believe that man is free. We never see the cord that binds him to wells and fountains, that umbilical cord by which he is tied to the womb of the world. Let man take but one step too many...and the cord snaps."
"The airplane is a means, not an end....the airplane is a means of getting away from towns and their bookkeeping and coming to grips with reality."
"Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the the visible world, but in the hearts of men."
"But truth, we know, is that which clarifies, not that which confuses. Truth is the language that expresses universality. Newton did not "discover" a law that lay hidden from man like the answer to a rebus. He accomplished a creative operation. He founded a human speech which could express at one and the same time the fall of an apple and the rising of the sun. Truth is not that which is demonstrable but that which is ineluctable."
"With more or less awareness, all men feel the need to come alive. But most of the methods suggested for bringing this about are snares and delusions. Men can of course be stirred into life by being dressed up in uniforms and made to blare out chants of war. It must be confessed that this is one way for men to break bread with comrades and to find what they are seeking, which is a sense of something universal, of self-fulfillment. But of this bread men die."
- Tenebrous: dark; shadowy or obscure
- Matutinal: of or occurring in the morning
- Diurnal: of or resulting from the daily rotation of the earth
- Succor: assistance and support in times of hardship and distress
- Conflagration: an extensive fire that destroys a great deal of land or property
- Aureole: a circle of light or brightness surrounding something
- Magnanimous: very generous or forgiving, especially toward a rival or someone less powerful than oneself
- Ineluctable: unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable