January 25, 2007

February's Book: Wind, Sand, and Stars

...by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

You can either say we forgot about January's book, or you can say we gave you a head start on February's book. We hope you're all glass-half-full type people, because this month we have a happy book...

Wind, Sand, and Stars is a celebration of flight by France's "Winged Poet," Antoine de Saint-Exupery, whose most famous book is The Little Prince. Saint-Exupery was a pilot his whole adult life, flying in the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and as a commercial pilot to exotic lands. He had to beg the French government to let him fly in WWII, as his writings had made him a "national treasure." He wrote several books about flying, and he ultimately disappeared over the Mediterranean while flying a reconnaissance mission to spy German troop positions.

Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Recipient of the Grand Prix of the Académie Française, Wind, Sand, and Stars captures the grandeur, danger, and isolation of flight. Its exciting account of air adventure, combined with lyrical prose and the spirit of a philosopher, makes it one of the most popular works ever written about flying.


Marie said...

What a strange and wondrous book. The theme immediately appealed to me because I love flying, even in big fat air-whales like our modern commercial planes, and every time I fly I marvel at the miracle of it and the delight of watching my fellow men creating ant colonies on the earth below. The close quarters and bad food can't get me down -- I'm flying! He had such a poet's eye and if he hadn't been so good at communicating the magic and wonder of his experience I would have grown very bored with the long stretches of philosophical wandering.

At times I found myself wishing for more complete stories -- there were stories there, of course, but they were just cores around which he wrapped his words. Overall I liked it, and it certainly was in keeping with the feel of a pilot's life, stopping here and there to refuel, seeing little bits and pieces of individual lives before he flies on.

My favorite little story was the two animal-loving girls in the house full of holes (though that last page of their story, as he imagined it, was heartbreaking and completely unexpected). His loving and carefully rendered sketches of the children in his stories was striking (including the sleeping child at the very end). You can see how he could create the character of the Little Prince.

Speaking of which, it was fun to see the experience that inspired his more famous story -- the foxes in particular.

I also admired his general take on those who had been colonized by his countrymen -- the Arabs and Berbers. While he romanticized their fate in a somewhat ridiculous fashion, the way he regarded individual Arabs with whom he interacted was quite stunning to me considering the time and place in which he lived. I loved the story of Bark/Muhammad and his musings on what it means to feel free, not just be free.

I could go on and on -- I have about 20 pages dog-eared, all pages I wanted to remember when I went to post comments. But I don't want to clog up the blog (ha!) with too many comments right up front. I want to know what others thought of it. (I hope someone else has read it!)

wynne said...

I have a sad confession. I went and got the book, but didn't manage to get very far into it, my powers of concentration being sadly depleted. Eventually I gave up and took the book back to the library.

I really enjoyed The Little Prince--I own it, actually--and I think if my brain were in a better state, I really would have enjoyed this one. But it is not a book to read when you are half-asleep all the time. Maybe now that I am more awake, I should try it again.

I did enjoy what he said (in the beginning, of course) about how technology becomes more and more streamlined, more natural. How very true! Heavens, look what cell phones and computers look like nowadays, not to mention the airplane. Kind of a cool thought.

Sharon said...

I really liked this book. Except for the war parts in Spain, which were also well written and good, but not as interesting to me for some reason.

I'll post later tonight when not at work. I have tons of underlined parts (and though I wish I hadn't disfigured my pretty book, it will be easier to find the parts I want to talk about).

Sharon said...

Marie, I also liked the parts with the two girls and the snakes under the table. And I agree, the last page of this little story was unexpectedly beautiful and sad. But in a way it was reassuring... thinking of this man imagining the thoughts and possible experiences of the girls. To me, it seemed to oddly bridge the gender gap somewhat. And I love his language:
"And that heart which was a wild garden was given to him who loved only trim lawns".

I also really liked the part where he's crashed with Prevot in the Libyan desert and addresses the subject of suffering/tortur:

"Nothing is unbearable. Tomorrow, and the day after, I should learn that nothing was really unbearable. I had never really believed in torture".

I thought this was a very interesting statement and especially interesting knowing that he actually had gone through a lot of what we would call torture/bodily suffering. I think I agree that the human body/mind habituates itself to the sufferings it is going through and creates each minute, hour a new normal. Otherwise, wouldn't insanity or suicide arise? People say all the time, if this thing happened to me (blindness, sickness, paralysis, loss of money, loss of child), I would rather be dead. Exceptions aside, this does not to appear to be true when the event actually happens and I really think that's an exciting thing about human spirit. Not that suffering isn't real, but that you create for yourself a sadder but new reality with new joys, like when the pilots find the orange after a few days of being stranded in the desert. Oh well, enough said, but I think this author is really good at bringing up the beautiful in mankind and it's refreshing.

Belladonna said...

Ok - it's nearly April.

What book is next?

Marie said...

I was about to take this one back to the library and remembered something I'd wanted to mention -- I had it dog-eared. He's talking about his friend Guillaumet and his amazing struggle to survive after crash landing in the Andes. It's the kind of story that they love to make movies about, painting him as a fearless man who did dangerous things just to push his own limits, regardless of the consequences to his family or others around him (I'm thinking of that "Into Thin Air" movie that made me so furious while everyone around me was crying). St. Exupery's friend chose a dangerous line of work, delivering mail during the early days of air travel. But his motivations were not glory or adrenaline:

"His moral greatness consists in his sense of responsibility...To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery...It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world. There is a tendency to class such men with toreadors and gamblers. People extol their contempt for death. But I would not give a fig for anybody's contempt for death. If its roots are not sunk deep in an acceptance of responsibility, this contempt for death is the sign either of an impoverished soul or of youthful extravagance."


At one point in his ordeal, he resigns himself to death since there seems to be no way to survive. But as he lies down he realizes that if he allows himself to die there, they'll never find his body and his wife won't be able to collect the insurance that she will need once he's gone. So he decides he'll drag himself to a peak where the planes will be able to spot his body and verify his death, for his wife's benefit. Contrast that with that idiot in "Into Thin Air" going to climb Everest for his own ego and adrenaline, and then tearfully calling his wife as he's about to die and she's about to give birth to a child who will never know his idiot father. I'm glad St. Exupery has helped me articulate the difference between virtuous and selfish risk-taking that has been bothering me for so long in this adrenaline-addicted, daredevil-worshipping culture.