Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Little Prince

Today is the birthday of the aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born in Lyon, France, in 1900. In 1935, a plane he was piloting from Paris to Saigon crashed in the Sahara. After surviving the crash, he and his navigator lived for four days on grapes, two oranges and a bottle of wine before being rescued by a Bedouin on a camel. This adventure formed the germ of the story that became The Little Prince.

After France surrendered to the Germans in 1940, Saint-Exupéry moved to New York and lived in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. It was here and in a rented mansion on Long Island Sound that he wrote the book for which he is best remembered. The Little Prince was published in 1943. Shortly after this Saint-Exupéry returned to Europe to offer his services to the Free French. On July 31, 1944 he took off on a reconnaissance mission from Corsica and was never seen again. He was 43.

Saint Exupéry appears on page 164 in A Book of Ages. Alternately twee and wise, but never cynical, The Little Prince is one of those books people read in their last year of college, just as they are about to launch into the unknown. It's reread later on in moments when the world seems inexplicable––and it can be read in a moment; it's quite short. One of the things it examines is the gulf between our selves at different ages. He writes: "Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." Sometimes when I read that it sounds ironic, and sometimes he sounds completely in earnest. It depends on where I am when I read it.

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