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SAINT-EXUPÉRY by Stacy Schiff


A Biography

by Stacy Schiff

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-40310-8
Publisher: Knopf

An overcautiously objective and unromantic approach to the French hybrid of T.E. Lawrence and Charles Lindbergh. Schiff, a former editor at Viking and Simon & Schuster, astutely begins at the middle, in 1927. Stationed in the Sahara as an airmail flyer, isolated and threatened by bandits, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry began writing seriously and developing his poetic philosophy. His aristocratic childhood outside Lyons was nurturing and idyllic, if marred by the early deaths of his father and his 15-year-old brother. Growing up in the era of the Wright brothers, he was enchanted by the airplane, and despite a desultory education and checkered employment, he obtained pilot training and a job at Aéropostale, a company in the vanguard of French aviation. His first literary success, Night Flight, romanticized his fellow flyers, their boss, and their routes; but it was published when Aéropostale was under public criticism for mismanagement (the company was subsequently liquidated). Saint-Ex found himself a celebrity just as his glory days were fading, and his literary career rose alongside chronic unemployment and failed aerial ventures (many of which ended in crashes) until he enlisted as a pilot in WW II; he disappeared while on an observation mission to France near the war's close. (The book's publication coincides with the 50th anniversary of his disappearance.) Schiff depicts Saint-Ex as a dreamy, lonely man unable to deal with quotidian life, whether finances, bureaucracies, or Gaullists. His marriage to an eccentric and emotionally unreliable South American was a further strain, and Schiff partially discloses his longtime affair with a married woman, who, still alive, refused a full revelation (even of her name). Schiff splits Saint-Ex metaphorically between these women, each vitally important to a different aspect of his personality. But unable to reveal one of them, she underplays the other as well. The result is a strangely static and unfeeling biography of the dynamic and sentimental author of The Little Prince. (16 pages of photos, not seen)