Saint Exupéry: the world, seen from the sky

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born at the beginning of the XXth century and when he disappeared above the Mediterranean Sea, he was 44. His novella The Little Prince was translated in 250 languages and sold over 140 million copies. Apart from the Bible and the Quran, this is one of the widest spread books ever. His philosophical writings, collected in the memoir Terre des hommes, have become the central theme of one of the greatest universal fairs of the XXth century: Expo 67 in Canada.

Saint Exupéry was a writer, poet, philosopher and aircraft pilot. He was born in Lyon to an aristocrate family. However, because of the premature death of his father, when Antoine was not yet 4 years old, his family had to move to Le Mans, where he had a happy childhood. After a failed attempt to enter the Naval Academy and after taking some courses at the Academy of Fine Arts, he joined the Army to perform his military service. Here, he was trained to be a pilot and was transferred at an Air Force base in Casablanca, Morroco. Then Antoine left the military to marry novelist Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, and worked as a clerk in Paris. The marriage was short lived, and in 1926 Saint Exupéry resumed his activity as a pilot, working for Aéropostale on the Toulouse-Dakar route. Shortly after, the company transferred him to a Spanish location, at Cape Juby, and then to its subsidiary in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 1931 he published his novel Night Flight, and from that moment on, Antoine became a famous and prestigious writer. In Buenos Aires he married the Salvadoran artist Consuelo Suncín Sandoval, with whom he had a rough relationship that lasted for thirteen years. Durig his on and off relationship with the artist, he had other love affairs. Nevertheless, it was the bond he had with her that gave birth to one of the characters in his best known book, the Rose in The Little Prince. The writer’s aristocratic family was not willing to accept his wife, who was a widow, and called her `a wanton`, and `countess of the movies`.

In December 1935 Antoine, together with André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert, while they were competing to win the air race between Paris and Saigón. The big prize consisted of 150,000 francs. They survived the accident and spent three days without food or water. They experienced hallucinations and were on the verge of death when they were rescued by some Bedouins. This experience in the desert sands inspired Saint Exupéry to write two of his greatest books: Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince.

Shortly after the Second World War started in Europe, Antoine left for the United States and settled in New York, determined to convince the American government to enter the war against Hitler. He also traveled to Canada and, after staying on the North American continent for two years, he applied for admittance in the Allied Air Force operating in the Mediterranean. Saint Exupéry was 43 and had health problems when he was granted special permission to fly reconnaissance aircraft. In the last day of July 1944, he took off from Corsica in his unarmed P-38 reconnaissance plane, on a mission from which he never returned.

Saint Exupéry’s writings offer us a vision of the world seen from the sky. And it’s a world of proportions much different from what we can perceive from the land. In order to follow an aerial route, the pilot devises some plans that describe the reality in different terms than a geographer would use.

In The Little Prince, he tells the story of a prince who comes from a small remote planet, and meets a pilot from the Earth who is stranded in the Sahara desert. The young prince recounts to the pilot the adventures he has been through on the six planets he has visited prior to arriving on Earth. He says he has got a rose flower in his care and he has to pull out baobabs. After meeting a few more creatures on Earth, the little prince goes back to his planet. Many people consider that Consuelo was the rose in The Little Prince, who fascinated the little man from outer space.

The writer had a very special way of seeing the world, as if he looked at it from the cockpit of a plane. Many times he wrote while flying. In 2000, the remains of his plane were discovered by a diver near the coast of Marseille; they were recovered in 2003. Although a German pilot, Horst Rippert, admitted that he shot down Saint Exupéry’s plane, this is still unconfirmed, since the exact reasons why his plane crashed are not yet known.