Elizabeth's Reviews > Pilote de guerre

Pilote de guerre by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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's review
Feb 10, 2011

bookshelves: en-francais, flying, world-war-ii
Read in February, 2011

Thoughts of a reconnaissance pilot dodging anti-aircraft fire:

“I would like to be paid in time. I would like to have the right to love. I would like to get to know the people I’m about to die for.”

“Elsewhere, I’ve experienced adventures: the creation of airmail routes, dissidence in the Sahara, South America… but war is not a true adventure, it’s a pseudo-adventure. Adventure rests in the richness of the bonds it establishes, the problems it poses, the creations it inspires. It’s not enough to turn a game into adventure by imposing life and death stakes on it. War isn’t an adventure. It’s a sickness. Like typhus.”

Flight to Arras is really testimony—the observations of an eloquent, talented man who, having made a name for himself as a pilot and a writer, now finds his country overwhelmed by war and himself part of the huge sacrifice. Written in 1942 but set in 1940, the book is framed as a flight; St. X’s musing on the fall of France to Nazi Germany, the panicked evacuation of the French people as they mindlessly flee the occupying army, and more general observations of individuals and memories are interspersed with the nitty gritty of handling an aircraft’s controls and communicating with the navigator and gunner.

I loved this book most of the way through but bogged down towards the end—when the mission is finally over he gets very philosophical, trying hard to define Man and his place in the world and what he owes to his fellow men. And the rather sad conclusion is that this war, the real war St. Exupéry is fighting in, is not over—and that his people are vanquished.

And that’s just the sad conclusion of the book. It was painful to read it and know that, like Irène Némirovsky writing Suite Française at the same time, St. X would not live to see the end of the war. Within two years he’d be shot down and killed in flight off the coast of Marsailles… I remember when they found his identity bracelet in 1998.

Not my favourite of St. Exupéry’s books, but very worth the effort. It makes an interesting read alongside Suite Française, documenting much of the same scenes of chaos and brainlessness that seem to have characterized the evacuation of the French cities faced with occupation.

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10/28/2016 marked as: read

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