Monday, March 17, 2008

Books: Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Contained in this elegiac, meditative memoir are Exupery's meditations from the time he spent as a pilot flying mail over the desert for the Aéropostale. These include the kind of philosophical brooding that can only spring from not knowing whether the twinkling light you sees out your window is from a lighthouse or a star, as well as the rational ravings sprung from the detached intensity of dying of thirst after crashing in the Sahara, wanting to shoot yourself, but knowing that you can't, because of the people back at home hoping to find you, and for the hope of your co-pilot, dying of thirst and mirage alongside you.

This book did not come off the fiction shelf, and it not the kind of book I would choose for myself, but it was recommended a long time ago, and it took me something of a pilgrimage to find it (I really wish that the New York Public Library's online catalog worked so well as Whether it was a particularly breathtaking read I won't say, but its quiet humanism (aside from two egregious instances of racial epithet—which were less objectionable in 1939) is good company for a long, rainy afternoon, when one is feeling moody and spiritually-inclined (n.b. I am often moody, but rarely spiritually-inclined, even in the rain). Exupery's best moments (of the philosophical kind) come at the end, when he visits Madrid in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. His metaphors for war, his insights on soldiering, and the spiritual (argh!) openness with which he approaches the problem of political fighting is something quite quite missing in war correspondence today.

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