Wind, Sand and Stars

July 31: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the Mediterranean on this day in 1944 while piloting a WWII reconnaissance flight. His last letters and conversations were full of life-weary comments, but whether his death was suicide or accident—the plane, recovered in 2000, shows no sign of enemy fire—will not likely ever be known. Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint-Exupéry's 1939 award-winning bestseller (still ranked #3 on National Geographic's list of top 100 adventure/exploration books), tells of his near-death after an earlier crash landing in the Libyan desert. The closest of Saint-Exupéry's handful of close calls, the five-day ordeal which he and his assistant endured is described as an inexorable shutting-down, the body giving in to dehydration, the emotions free-falling through hope and despair to this emptiness:

Yesterday I had dreamed of a paradise of orange-trees. Today I would not give a button for paradise; I did not believe oranges existed. When I thought about myself I found in me nothing but a heart squeezed dry…. I felt no sorrow. I was the desert. I could no longer bring up a little saliva; neither could I any longer summon those moving visions towards which I should have loved to stretch forth arms. The sun had dried up the spring of tears in me.

But the two men spotted a footprint in the sand, then a Bedouin "walking towards us over the sand like a god over the waves." Saint-Exupéry would go on to write The Little Prince, a book in the spirit of an earlier passage of Wind, Sand and Stars, when in a more resilient mood:

All in all it has been a good life. If I got free of this I should start right in again. A man cannot live a decent life in cities, and I need to feel myself live. I am not thinking of aviation. The airplane is a means, not an end … a means of getting away from towns and their bookkeeping and coming to grips with reality…. A pilot's business is with the wind, with the stars, with night, with sand, with the sea….

I am not talking about living dangerously. Such words are meaningless to me. The toreador does not stir me to enthusiasm. It is not danger that I love. I know what I love. It is life.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.