Saint Exupéry: A Biography (book)

Saint Exupéry: A Biography (Written by Stacy Schiff)/1994

This biography spans across one very, very adventurous man’s life.  If it was someone that had led a relatively quite life it would probably be much easier to write their biography.  But not for Saint-Exupéry or Saint-ex as he was more affectionately known.  The biography combs through his personal journal, journals of his friends and lovers, letters, news items and official reports to create a bible that enshrines the magical nature of this man.

My prior knowledge of Saint-ex was “the guy that wrote Little Prince”.  After having read the biography, I think he is more adequately described as an adventurer.  Saint Exupéry is probably one of the lesser-known adventurers of 20th century.  He was someone that thrived in discomfort, foreign and dangerous situations and he sought it for what it was rather than for fame and glory or a desire to “conquer”.

He was born into a declining aristocrat family in 1900.  His father passed away when he was little and his mother and siblings lived with various relatives.  Financial struggle followed him nearly his entire life; yet he survived due to the strength of the relationships he surrounded himself with as friends continued to give him money for the latest project he was launching.

He was a loquacious, creative and active child.  He wrote stories and plays and made his siblings perform them for visitors and guests.  This kind of performer personality follows him into his adulthood and he continued to entertain people at dinner parties with his story telling and card tricks.  However behind the façade of fun, there was a thinker and someone who often felt lonely in his ideas and thoughts.  This is particularly evident in Little Prince, which was written when he was living alone in New York.

He thought that people around him were concerning themselves with pointless egotistical endeavors such as obtaining position, recognition, wealth and luxury; to him, these pursuits distracted people from broader and more imminent issues.  As an aristocrat, he did not enjoy what his name represented and preferred to spend time with pilots and engineers. He maintained a modest lifestyle and sparse apartments.

The biography presents a man that enjoyed engineering and technology but also knew the importance of spirituality and philosophy.  In the pioneering days of technology in the early 20th century, he realized that technology would be bypassing human thoughts and lamented that we would be living in a technologically advanced world for which we’re not yet spiritually prepared.

After struggling to find a job and establishing himself as an adult, he discovered his love for flying in his 30s.  At the time France was pioneering in aviation and in air postal service.  He eventually landed a position working as a pilot delivering mail in North Africa and South America.  He produced several journal articles and books of this experience, which made him known across Europe as well as America.

When France was invaded by Germany during WWII, he moved to New York where he struggled to adjust between various French political factions taking refuge in New York.  His later years were marked by fighting for French resistance and deep sadness at the loss of motherland.  However he never set foot on French soil again.

This biography is a truly splendid work deserving of the Pulitzer nomination.  It brings together hundreds of stories to depict the history of a man and the world in an era when humans achieved greatness as well as tragedy.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in not only Saint-ex but a man who truly explored his inner and outer being.

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