As I loved Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry it is perhaps not surprising that I’ve recently been exploring other parts of his literary output. Specifically Night flight and Flight to Arras, translated by David Carter and William Rees respectively.
Night flight is focused on a South American air base and its leader during the time postal air traffic was in its pioneering and highly dangerous days. It is a fictional story but clearly inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s own experiences as a pilot in such a company. I greatly enjoyed it but not as much as I did Wind, Sand and Stars. Often I prefer fiction to non-fiction as fiction usually allows the author to write a tighter or more interesting story. However, as Saint-Exupéry do these things brilliantly in his non-fiction the fictional element in this case only made me less involved in the plot. I would also have preferred to spend more time in the air with the pilots rather than at the air base. However, I did find it interesting to follow the thoughts of the leader who sent them into danger and desperately tried to bring them safely back. Overall a very good book but far from his best.
Flight to Arras on the other hand is a non-fiction text and much closer related to Wind, Sand and Stars. However, compared to that one it is a much sadder text. Whereas Wind, Sand and Stars was focused on the dangerous but also optimistic days of early air traffic, Flight to Arras takes place in the final weeks before the French surrender to the German invasion during WW2. The mission is to all appearances both pointless and suicidal and surrender is already inevitable. Much like in Wind, Sand and Stars we get the thrilling story of the mission parallel to the author’s philosophical musings. We follow his thoughts from surly resignation of the near certain death on this likely futile reconnaissance mission to an ultimately optimistic humanitarian message as he realises which kind of future he’d be willing to die for. I prefer Wind, Sand and Stars but this one is also a great book, in its best parts equally brilliant.
I count Flight to Arras as my Travel or Journey Classic for the Back to the classics reading challenge.