My thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

While I’ve read The Little Prince many times, and find it an endearing read, full of little nuggets of wisdom, I knew very little about its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, except that he was an aristocrat, a pilot, and an author (I haven’t read his other books so far, though). So, when I spotted this book, I certainly wanted to pick it up. The Prince of the Skies, originally written in Spanish, and excellently translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites, tells us the story of Saint-Exupéry and his fellow pioneer pilots and friends, Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet.

In the book, we trace the journey of the three friends from their initial days flying (for both Saint-Exupéry and Mermoz, this was in the army) to their joining Aéropostale, a company that flew letters to different parts of the world—here the three met and formed a life-long friendship—and thereafter, as they flew to new countries, had different experiences (including accidents in which they nearly lost their lives or those in which they were stranded in the most difficult terrains, once again facing death), but always held sacred their duty to deliver the mail. Alongside we also follow their personal stories, Saint-Exupéry’s writing career (which sadly led him to be estranged from many of his fellow pilots), their friendship with one another, and of course the war which brought new duties and challenges their way.

Saint-Exupéry, Mermoz, and Guillaumet were very different as people, though all shared a passion for flying (which was what tied them to each other). They were all also daring, and no obstacle or possible danger would deter them from flying a new or difficult route or to an unknown place. Yet all three were very different as people. Saint-Exupéry had a mind that was childlike and yet profound—like his Little Prince—seeing the world through very different eyes than others. At some level, though, he also reminded me a little of Dickens’ Harold Skimpole—living always beyond his means, and not able to ‘function’ as an adult (for instance, instead of taking notes when he was testing a plane, Saint-Exupéry was doodling). Mermoz lived life to the fullest with a voracious appetite for everything, be it flying, food, or women; a tenacious man who never gave up no matter what the challnge. Guillaumet was like them in his love for the skies, but in matters of their heart, very much in love with and loyal to his wife Noelle.

This was an enjoyable book to read giving one a picture of the initial days of aviation, the challenges pilots had to face each time they went up, and the difficult conditions which they had to navigate. Alongside, for instance, in Saint-Exupéry’s case, being manager in Cape Juby (Morocco) meant also having to develop relationships with the fiery Spanish army and also the local tribes, which he did with sensitivity; or Memoz in South America had to work out feasible routes, and also went on to establish the first ever transatlantic postal route. Flying for them was not simply about knowing how to fly a plane (those too, were not of the kind we have today), but laid the foundation for all that was to come. The challenges were many, not just from the dangers of taking to the skies, and those of being the first to do many things, but bureaucracy and politics had also to be contended with. We also get to meet Amelia Earhart and get a glimpse of the first women pilots and the challenges they faced.

I loved that the parts of the story with Saint-Exupéry also incorporated aspects from The Little Prince, incidents and scenes from the book, for instance, the elephant eaten by the boa (I kept wanting to dig out my copy and look at the illustration; ultimately I just googled it) or the taming of a gazelle (in the Little Prince, it is a fox).

The three pilots we follow were all extraordinary men, daring, adventurous, not perhaps conforming to social mores but living their lives to the fullest, in fact, much more. As their boss in Aeropostale, M. Daurat, says at one point ‘They lived each year as if it were ten. They conquered their fears, they reached amazing places where no one had been before, they overcame challenges that seemed impossible, they sacrificed themselves so that people could receive their mail in remote places. I don’t know if it was worth it, but I’m certain of one thing, they made their lives extraordinary’.

This was a wonderful and engaging read which not only told the story of these three extraordinary ‘princes’ but also made us readers feel their love for the skies!

4.5 stars.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Prince of the Skies by Antonio Iturbe

    1. Hope you enjoy it too 🙂 I’ve read reviews by others who hadn’t read the Little Prince and they enjoyed the book as well. I haven’t read any of Saint Exupery’s other books either, and that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this one at all.

      Liked by 1 person

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