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Wind, Sand and Stars (Harvest Book) Paperback – December 9, 2002
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That said, I can't help but imagine that this book inspired many a youth to pursue a career (or at least a hobby) in flying; the depictions of flight and the landscapes he flew over (and sometimes crashed into), especially the desert, have a haunting beauty, and with the benefit of retrospect, carry with them a note of nostalgia for times gone by. For while Saint-Exupery's interests and his story are ultimately a universal one, the tale itself is very much a product of its time: the twilight of colonialism, the dawn of modernity. Saint-Exupery is clearly a proud product of a powerful, if fading, empire, and even while sympathizing with Others who are not from that heritage, he will occasionally write passages that will be offensive to the more culturally aware 21st century reader. For some readers, this might be an unforgivable flaw, but for me at least I believe one can tell from his writings that Saint-Exupery's heart is in the right place, even if his perspective is colored by the colonial mindset from whence he came. At the same time, the beginnings of the modern age make for an exciting time, and the frontier for this age is clearly in the sky, not on earth. The danger and, dare I say, the "adventure" of flight give Saint-Exupery a unique and philosophical perspective ... it is hard to think of what similar "living on the edge" type frontier exists today that combines danger, adventure, and contemplative solitude ... it is hard to think of a modern day "mail pilot" for UPS or FedEx having quite the same philosophical musings today as a mail pilot in his day. Perhaps one day space will indeed live up to its moniker as the final frontier, but for the moment at least, space does not quite represent what the sky in the 1920s and 1930s did. At the same time, Saint-Exupery is clearly wary of this modernity ... the horrors of the Spanish Civil War clearly foreshadow the even more horrible events of World War II. While we do not currently live in a world at war quite in the same way as his was becoming, the strife and conflict which abounds today makes Saint-Exupery's words no less meaningful. And, again, this was his purpose--his thoughts are not bound by time or place, even if his particular experiences were.
A gripping tale and beautifully eternal message for those of us living on this Land of Men.
Saint-de-Exupery writes with the panache and élan that only a Frenchman can muster, drawing picaresque vistas of the Mediterranean, African, Saharan, and Patagonian mail routes that he used to fly in tiny propeller planes at the beginning of the 20th century. These were the early days of aviation and the risks - both physical and spiritual - (as well as the rewards) are readily evident in the author's beautiful and breathtaking descriptions of the moonlit Mediterranean, the undulating dunes of the Sahara, and the jagged-tooth snowcaps of the Andes.
The second and third sips become a metaphysical exploration of what flying and the freedom associated with it in the days of propeller planes meant. The young author describes a grueling 10 day marooning in the middle of the Sahara after surviving a crash landing with only a thermos of coffee, two grapes, and one bon-bon. In his heat induced delirium he discovers rare universal truths - to be explored in more detail in his seminal work, "The Little Prince," which begins with the similar setting of a pilot crash landing in a sandy alien planet. Another chapter describes the literal freeing of a slave from the clutches of a Berber tribe via the author's purchase, and yet another his sly dinner games with two twin girls seated at the table of a jungle treehouse dinner. My friends - these are incontrovertibly charming and wholly unique literary experiences.
The hangover, however, is inevitable. Just as the author is typically French in his charm, he is as typically French in his chauvinism as well, haphazardly spitting the n word at darker skinned Senegalese and dismissing all non-French characters as dull witted or objects. The last chapter is effectively unrecognizable from the rest of the book, a muddled and faux political criticism of the Spanish civil war during the Franco era. It's jarring - as if one goes from flying by moonlight across the Mediterranean to staring at Picasso's "Guernica" lit by a street lamp following a night of binge drinking.
All in all, the book contains some of the most beautiful writing that I've ever read on the act of flying and the joys of LIVING. Indulge in this wonderful bottle of French but take it one sip at a time.