Tag Archives: literature

The Monday Book – Wind, Sand and Stars

Jack gets to write today’s book review –

Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

wind

Some years ago Wendy and I watched a movie called ‘Wings of Courage’ at the IMax theatre in Chattanooga. It told the story of a pioneering mail flight across the Andes from Chile to Argentina that went badly wrong. The pilot was called Guillaumet and he crashed in the mountains and had to walk over many days through the snow to reach safety. What I didn’t know was that the story was based on a chapter in this book.

As an enthusiast for anything to do with early aviation, I was delighted when Wendy handed me the book from some (pre-quarantine) thrift store outing. She thought I’d find the book interesting and she wasn’t wrong. Saint-Exupery’s writing is wonderful and the translation by Lewis Galantiere does it full justice. The author describes his own experiences as one of the early aviators opening up mail routes around the world – particularly in North Arica and South America. His descriptions of the perils of flying at low altitude and before the days of navigational equipment are amazing and nail-biting.

As I finished the chapter about Guillaumet’s experience in the Andes we watched ‘Wings of Courage’ again on line and it proved very true to Saint-Exupery’s telling of the story. When I came to the final chapter, I was once again blown away as the author described crash landing in the Sahara. He was trying for a record flight between Paris and Saigon and got lost as he was heading for a stopover at the Nile. He plowed into a hill top destroying the plane, but miraculously escaping injury along with his engineer. They struggled for days finding a way to rescue with very little food or water, almost exactly replicating the earlier Andes story, but with sand instead of snow.

The book, however, isn’t all about flying. There’s a good deal of philosophizing about the meaning of life, the relationship between people and peoples, and the futility of war.

I think the only thing that might bother anyone reading the book might be the authors views on the effect of technology on humanity. He appears to view all technological advance as completely benign but I suppose we have to allow for when the book was written.

‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ finishes with the author visiting Spain during the civil war and ruminating on the way a community can be so easily and sadly divided.

Many people know Saint-Exupery best as the author of the children’s classic The Little Prince. He flew a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944 from which he never returned.

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The Monday Book – Americans in Paris

Jack gets to do the Monday book review this week –

paris

Americans in Paris – Charles Glass

Some years ago I met up with a fellow Scot and close friend who was in the middle of a French adventure. We met in Vichy on Bastille Day and helped the locals celebrate into the wee small hours. The following day we took a train down through the Massif Central to Bordeaux, sharing our compartment with an elderly couple. As we passed through various small towns they pointed out walls where ‘resistantes’ had been shot, but also where immediately after the war ‘collaborateures’ had also been shot. Vichy, of course, was the Capital of the collaborating French government under Marshal Petain.

So Glass’s book which chronicles the experiences of a wide range of US citizens in the lead up to, and during world war two and who lived in Paris during that time was a fascinating read.

There are a number of intertwining stories throughout – The American Hospital, Shakespeare and Company bookstore and the political machinations of the Vichy government are the main ones. The hospital and the bookstore somehow managed to continue, even after the US declared war on Germany. They become important waystations for escaping British and American soldiers and airmen, and their directors took enormous risks.

The writing is engaging and based on well documented research.

I knew very little of the tensions within the Vichy regime or between it and the German government, far less the attitude of the US towards Petain and Laval and their rivalries. Glass’s book, therefor, filled in many gaps in my knowledge.

Although I found the many personal stories of individuals intriguing, I think it was reading them within the broader political and wartime context that really caught my attention.

I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in France, Paris or the politics of the period.

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