Lost in Translation… A review of “Wind, Sand and Stars”

I can add “Wind, Sand and Stars” by Antoine de Saint Exupery to the list of books that make me yearn to speak French.  I do recall reading his most famous work, “The Little Prince,” in my high school French class; unfortunately any lingering ability to conjugate French verbs was erased years ago.  As with the writings of Camus and Sarte, I wonder how much more powerful the words would be in Exupery’s memoir if they were to be in his native tongue.  Even the title in French, “Terre des Hommes” (Land of Men– Three words I can still remember from that distant French class) sets an entirely different tone to the book.   Land of Men… Wind, Sand and Stars… In the world of math and logic, these are not equivocal statements.  But in the world of translating literature, they must amount to something of the same sort I suppose.

Indeed, the “Land of Men” that Exupery hails throughout his memoir is made of Wind, Sand and Stars.  These basic elements create the backdrop for the mail pilot/philosopher’s harrowing journey’s through time and space.  From the Sahara to the Andes, Exupery recounts his more awesome aviation tales, with the most outstanding being his desert crash that left himself and his navigator near death.  Furthering his writings on death, he also ties in a chapter on the Spanish civil war.  Yet while death is present in many of his tales, the book emphasizes a positive outlook on mortality.   Exupery seeks to answer the most simple of humanity’s questions: what makes life worth living?  And in so many facets, he finds the answer.

Life is worth living when …

  • we have memories rich with adventure
  • we are surrounded by those whose company we find most dear
  • we are willing to die for a cause; we all have causes, but are we willing to end our life for them?
  • and, on the other spectrum, when we are willing to grasp at the final grains of sand that have become our last hours, yet pull ourselves from the comfort of death, not for the benefit of our conscious, but for the peace of mind of our loved ones when they find us still alive
  • not when we are free men, but when we are no longer enslaved to ourselves
  • when we can look within and know ourselves

Overall: The book is a quick, joyful read.  It is a fresh, thrilling adventure memoir.  An engaging account of aviation; the ultimate adventure into the sky and soul.

Some lasting quotes (aka what is currently underlined in my own copy)

“In a world in which life so perfectly responds to life, where flowers mingle with flowers in the wind’s eye, where the swan is the familiar of all swans, man alone builds his isolation.  What a space between men their spiritual natures create!”

“How shallow is the stage on which this vast drama of human hates and joys and friendships is played!”

“I have felt myself on a journey.  A journey through time.  Time was running through my fingers like the fine sand of the dunes; the poundings of my heart were bearing me towards an unknown future.”

‘Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”

“Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known.”

”Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded.”

“… and suddenly I had a vision of the face of destiny. Old bereaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.”

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