Wind, Sand and Stars

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Wind, Sand and Stars (WSS), an autobiographical classic first published in 1939 but still vibrantly alive on airport bookshelves, won the National Book Award and was also voted a “Top Ten Adventure Book of All Time” by National Geographic. What better endorsement can you get. I can only add that its war stories are spell binding and its prose are surely in the top of all that I have ever read.

The author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), a French aviator and a much loved writer of sublime prose, wrote nine books, before he and his plane disappeared in the Mediterranean during WWII, The Little Prince being his best known. He is, at the core, a philosopher of fiction’s highest order, and his powers of observation and his gifted metaphors render his prose musical and poetic to a fault. Like history’s greatest writers, Exupéry helps us see and appreciate everything from the mundane to the most exalted. He makes us want to run to see our next “priceless moonbeam…towns dreaming in the shade of their trees…a night singing like a sea-shell…[or] the impalpable eddies of the evening air.” And whoever thought of plane in these terms: “In the magical instruments, set like jewels in their panel and glimmering like a constellation in the dark of night, the mineral glow of the artificial horizon, these stethoscopes, designed to take the heartbeat of the heavens, are things a pilot loves; the cabin of a plane is a world unto itself, and to the pilot, it is home.”

In WSS, Exupéry gives us a series of spell-binding accounts of flying through the harrowing interstices of the Pyrenees, above the arid, breathless and often lifeless Sahara, along the cumulus and frigid inclines of the Andes, over storm-tossed seas in winds that rolled his plane into repeated life-threatening dissents, into forced landings and crashes, to near starvation, to imprisonment by hostile Arabs and seemingly certain death, all within his own life’s experiences, and he died, much as he lived, at the end of an ill-fated, military mission, at age 44. The excitement of his real life stories rival that of any fiction.

His prose is filled with arresting observations: “There is no pain or passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret burn with enough intensity, and he will set fire to the world.” “Modern warfare destroys what it claims to foster…War is won by him who rots last – but in the end, all rot together…We must put aside the passions that divide us…all beliefs are demonstrably true…There is no profit in discussing ideologies.” “Too many men are left unawakened or are poisoned by manipulators.” “Old friends cannot be created…Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions…One cannot plant an acorn in the morning and sit in the shade of an oak in the afternoon…Happiness flows from the warmth of human relations.” “What can one know of a girl…filled with adorable inventions and fables…who (from the thoughts, voice or silence of a lover) can form an empire…Born yesterday of the volcanoes, of brine of the sea, she walks here already half divine.” “Death is sweet, when it comes in the natural order of things.” “Human habitations are the product of chance, of fortuitous conjunctions of circumstance,” a clairvoyant paraphrase of today’s great paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, in his marvelous epistle on the Cambrian Evolution in his enlightening, Wonderful Life.

Saint-Exupéry’s indomitable WSS gives us the stories of a host of true pioneers of aviation – “whose planes frequently fell apart in mid-air.” It is the crown jewel of these biographical adventure stories, couched in ineffably warming prose and filled with the profundity of a true sage and literary genius of the 20th Century. It is a screaming “Must Read,”