The Prince Of The Skies (2021) – Antonio Iturbe

Title:The Prince of the Skies
Author:Antonio Iturbe
Publisher/s:Pan Macmillan SA/Macmillan
Date published:2021
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Pan Macmillan South Africa kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Antonio Iturbe’s account of the life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery, who is best known for penning the children’s classic The Little Prince, is a little bit of biography, a little bit of speculative fiction, and a smattering of historical fiction. The Prince of the Skies is a novel, and the true story of a man who not only wrote a classic book, but was one of the pilots who helped pioneer routes for airmail in France, and a system of flight plans that would eventually become conventional air travel. Mostly though this is an ode to the pilots who risked their lives to deliver mail all over the world.

“You’re only important when everyone else decides you are.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupery, who became known to his friends as simply ‘Saint-Ex’ was an aristocrat with no money, a lover of danger, and the soul of a poet. He fell in love with a woman named Louise “Lou-Lou” de Vimorin, and it was a love that sustained him for years, long after it became an unrequited love – the worst kind of love there is. Perhaps his love for flying was what sustained him through the pain of loving someone who did not love him back.

Saint-Exupery’s story begins in the year 1922 as a young man flying a plane. It is a love affair that will last his lifetime. Over the years he will meet and befriend other pilots – the fellow Frenchmen Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet. Mermoz is an impulsive party boy with an equal love for the sky and the flying machines that take him to the ends of the earth. Guillaumet is the cautious one and the first to marry a woman who would forever allow her husband to live a dangerous life, though it broke her heart to do so.

“Careful people get to be old. Those who are not careful get to the end of the world.”

This epic story takes the point of view of the three pilots, De Saint-Exupery, Mermoz, and Guillaumet, and the journeys that took them all over the world. The reader will turn the page and wake up in Syria, Barcelona, Morocco, Libya, Paris, Brazil, New York, Chile, Senegal, and Algiers. It is a novel of scattered adventures, catch-ups, and conversations that all take place between 1922 and 1945, and the beginning and the end of a world war.

As the pilots cross the globe with their precious cargo – the mail – they will encounter beautiful women, delicious food and drink, and people from all walks of life. There are dangers too, and Iturbe describes Jean Mermoz’s crash in the Andes in 1929, and Henri Guillaumet’s emergency landing in the very same snow-covered mountains in 1930. As the routes become more dangerous, the company that hired the pilots becomes more commercialized, and though it makes those who fly more despondent – that love for flying remains.

“He also spends time thinking about his past flights and wonders if he could perhaps re-create them through writing. It does, however, require real effort to pin down that sensation of flight on paper. Words are not as light as they seem; they bear the weight of the ink drops. It’s hard to make them take to the air.”

Saint-Ex is our protagonist, and over time he begins to indulge in the written word. He spends a lengthy period living in the Moroccan desert in Cabo Juby where he befriends the Tuareg people and begins to experiment with his writing. He is already a published author, and though this gives him the personae of a celebrity, it is never who he wants to be. As Saint-Ex’s imagination takes on a life of its own (as the imagination tends to do) he also feels destined to live an unsatisfied life in the real world with a woman he does not love. The only saving grace is his love for flying and the unbreakable bond he has with his friends.

Antonio Iturbe’s account of the man who was both an accomplished pilot, and a successful dreamer is heart-warming, exhilarating, and fascinating. Though it tends to wander a little aimlessly at times, it is nonetheless a passionate and deeply respectful story of courage, loyalty, friendship, ambition, and love in all its shapes and forms.

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