I have been “borrowing” Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from my parents’ house for several years now, and in my continuing effort to knock down my TBRs in 2013 I thought this would be another good one to add to one of my challenges. I originally had it set for the KC Library While the City Sleeps program, but after starting The Devil and Miss Prym today I can see that they definitely needed to be switched. Night Flight is a much better representation of translated fiction for the Eclectic Reader Challenge, and The Devil and Miss Prym is better suited to the KC Library theme.
The slim novella Night Flight chronicles one perilous evening for the pioneers of airmail delivery in South America in the 1920s and 30s. Two main characters emerge: Fabien, a brave young pilot, and his supervisor Rivière, director of the Patagonia airmail operation. Despite warnings of a massive storm, Rivière gives the order for Fabien to take off for his scheduled delivery flight to Argentina. Although Fabien fears he will die on this flight, he obeys his boss’s word. Rivière grapples with his emotions about endangering one of his pilots (and many before him), but stands firm in his resolve that the airmail planes must continue to stay on schedule in order to become a viable business.
What is most striking in Night Flight by far is the dreamy, poetic language. I would have to read it in French (and, you know, be proficient/fluent in French!) to make a true comparison and see how much the translation changed intents and meanings, but here is an example of the lyrical prose in the book:
Under the leaden weight of the sky the golden music of the waves was tarnished. Lament in the minor of a plane sped arrowwise against the blinding barriers of darkness, no sadder sound than this!
Wow, right? I found myself re-reading a few passages like this to grasp completely the meaning—sometimes the action was a little unclear and Saint-Exupéry rambled on like this in places during the first half of the book. However, in the second half the story really picked up speed and interest for me, when the weather became more dangerous and Fabien lost radio contact with Rivière. I agree with other reviews that Fabien is perhaps a bit too tragically heroic, but I do feel it fit with the urgency of Rivière’s actions and the plot as a whole.
Beyond the meat of the story, I love that Night Flight introduced me to more facts about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life. Until I picked this up I had no idea that he was a pilot himself, and reported missing after a routine flight in 1944.
Side note: I typically decide what to read in a gut-feeling, random order, but I love how weirdly more often than not the books I read seem to be subtly connected to each other by sheer serendipity. This happened in the books I read last year, too. For example, last week I read The Light Between Oceans, about a lighthouse keeper, and next I read Night Flight, which had some mentions of lighthouses and oceans and takes place between Patagonia and Argentina, and today I started reading The Devil and Miss Prym which happens to be set in a small town in Argentina. NERD FUN!
Read on January 15, 2013.