I’ve loved The Little Prince since the first time I read it (so much so, that I make it a mission to find the book in every language I can find, preferably the country I’ve visited). Each time I read it, there’s always a fair bit of new and different insights that I’d missed the last time. I’m fascinated by the seemingly simple story, which when you read thoroughly, has great wisdom obscured. It’s beautifully enigmatic, in a way that it can be interpreted in so many ways, and how your interpretation might change from time to time, depending on your current circumstances. To read something so rich and brilliant — all disguised as a children’s book — I’d always thought, what a great mind must have written this.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Recently, I just finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and that book tickled my fancy, leading me to google about World War II and Free France. On the page about Free France on Wikipedia, I was surprised to find notable people who joined. Among them were Ève Curie, Marcel Marceau, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
I don’t know why all this time, I pictured him as someone who was living a quiet and peaceful life, someone who dedicated his life for writing. I imagined him to be a bit like Roald Dahl, who spent his days writing in a special hut, with naps and tea time in between.
Saint-Exupéry’s life wasn’t exactly like how I imagined it. He was a commercial pilot and involved in pioneering the international postal flight, before joining the French Air Force at the time of war to fly reconnaissance missions. After France’s armistice with Germany in 1940, he flew to the U.S. to persuade its government to fight Nazi Germany. He was then appointed by the Vichy Regime to become its member, causing Charles de Gaulle to accuse him of supporting Germany.
When reading about him, it became quite clear to me that his love for aviation and literature was true. A lot of his time was spent flying airplanes, and in his spare time, he read and wrote a lot. It is said that he usually spent the time before take off to read, and once he spent an extra hour flying in the air so he could finish reading his novel. His long solitary flight was the time when he wrote his best philosophical pieces. Assuming these are true, I somehow feel a sense of closeness to him. It’s weird, having this feeling for someone who lived long time ago in a faraway place, practically a total stranger. But I’ve learned that it’s easy to feel close to someone through their habits of reading/writing, just like it’s easy to click with someone when you find out they have the same choices for books. *bookworms alert*
It seems to me he lived a life full of stories worth telling. He experienced many airplane crashes, among them was when he crashed into the Sahara desert, leading him to experience hallucination and dehydration. Fortunately, he was saved by a Bedouin with a camel. As you might have guessed, this experience inspired him to write Wind, Sand, and Stars, and The Little Prince.
Imagining a pilot who was also a great poet and writer is a bit hard. It doesn’t fit the typical picture, but when I think about it, maybe that’s the reason his stories are incredibly amazing. Because he was someone who went out and did things, and had the privilege to experience solitude with the view of the world below him, enough to contemplate and write.
He flew for the last time for a reconnaissance mission around the Rhone Valley, where he suddenly vanished. He’s assumed to have dead in this time, with his disappearance still being an object of speculation long time after that.
And again, I can’t quite explain why I felt such sadness when I discovered this. It just seems so… tragic. There are other similar cases — the disappearance of Amelia Earhart on her flight being the most popular — but none has affected me like this. I guess when you let people read your writing, you let them see a glimpse of you, and those who are touched would feel like they’ve found a friend.
To me, that’s the case, and discovering these things about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry feels like finding something sad for a long lost friend.
I’m sorry if this post is a bit absurd. Now I’m gonna excuse myself to re-read The Little Prince, and I suspect I’ll see it in a whole different light, knowing this much about its marvelous author.