Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is known universally for the gentle charm of Le Petit Prince, but it is this book, Land of Men - known originally in English as Wind, Sand and Stars - which is his masterpiece. First published in 1939, it documents Saint-Exupéry's life as a pilot in the pioneering days of long-distance flying and in particular his experiences as a pilot transporting mail across countries, across continents.
These courageous pilots took their lives in their hands each time they set out to deliver the mail. It was extremely hazardous, for the aeroplanes were unreliable, precise meteorology was in its infancy, radio communication and maps were relatively primitive and new and long routes were being pioneered over dangerous terrain of all kinds - across the Sahara, over the Andes, even just across the Mediterranean.
But in Land of Men, Saint-Exupéry doesn't just relate tales of derring-do in the clouds, the storms, or what it is like to be lost over thousands of featureless miles above sea or sand. He does speak of the dangers, the risks from bandits and dissidents when landing in a tiny desert outpost and the struggles to keep these basic machines in the air when faced with buffeting winds or flying through dense cloud for hours, without one reassuring sight of a landmark. He recounts his crash in the Sahara, his days of walking without water and his remarkable survival. But all this action is underpinned by reflection, by poetic expression, by camaraderie and by an inner quiet born of those hours spent high in the sky - with the wind, the sand and the stars. It is poignant also, because Saint-Exupéry himself disappeared one day five years after the book's publication, flying over the Mediterranean.
All this, and a rich humanity, makes this a great, great book. It has been an international favourite since it first appeared and is now presented in Bill Homewood's vibrant new translation of Terre des Hommes, more faithful to and representative of Saint-Exupéry's original. This recording, narrated with intimacy and care by Nicholas Boulton, will be one you will never forget.
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