1930s Books in Translation Novella

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Southern Mail / Night Flight (Penguin Modern Classics)  Translated from the French by Curtis Cate

Five words from the blurb: adventurer, aviation, risks, airmail, courage

I have a fear of flying so was surprised to see The Novel Cure recommend a book about an air crash as a potential solution to my problem. I was dubious (and scared!) but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and see if it would help me. Having finished the book I’m not sure it has allayed any of my fears, but it is a much better suggestion than I first thought.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a pilot in the early days of the French airmail service. He risked his life transporting mail over the Andes and the Sahara and used his experiences to write several books. He is said to have produced some of the best aviation novels in existence, but I’m afraid I don’t think “aviation-lit” is for me.

Night Flight is a short book (just 63 pages) that tells the story of Fabian, a pilot delivering mail in Argentina. His boss, Rivière, instructs Fabian to continue flying, despite the dangerous thunderstorm approaching. The book highlights the dilemma of whether or not you should follow orders that put you at risk and shows the vulnerability of those who took part in early air travel. I was worried that the book would give me more reason to fear flying, but the descriptions were so cold and technical that they didn’t elicit an emotional response.

The writing was fantastic and the descriptions were beautiful, but it was too slow for me and I became bored:

Yet the night was rising, like a dark smoke, and already filling the valleys, which could no longer be distinguished from the plains. The villages were lighting up, greeting each other across the dusk like constellations. With a flick of his finger he blinked his wing-lights in answer.

In retrospect, this is the perfect book to read on a plane – you’ll either be mesmerised by its beauty or sent to sleep by its descriptive prose.


13 replies on “Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery”

Mystica, Yes, there is a lot to think about regarding issues of power at work, but there is no need to worry about scary scenes of fear or plane crashes – it is quite devoid of emotion and for once I can’t decide whether that is a good thing or not!

I’ve read a book he wrote describing some flights and found it interesting even if the descriptions dragged a bit. It was just such a different world of flying back then. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy the aviation novels, though.

Jeane, It sounds as though you’ve already sampled one of his aviation novels. “interesting even if the descriptions dragged a bit. ” is a very good way of putting it!

Honestly, I can’t imagine reading anything about flying that is going to make me feel better about it. Not that I have any major fears or anything, but I try not to think about it too hard. So I can see why you were dubious. (Whatever you do, DON’T read The Night Strangers because it has a horrid crash scene. Just horrid. It almost gave me a phobia!) Anyway, I don’t see much merit in reading a 63 book that would bore me 🙂

I can only think of him in terms of ‘Le Petit Prince’ and hadn’t realised that he had written anything else. I don’t fly anyway for health reasons so perhaps I could read this without any difficulty given that it is never going to be a situation in which i will find myself.

Alex, Stories about plane crashes scare me even when I don’t plan to go in a plane (eg one could drop out of the sky and land on me, or one of my friends/family could be involved in one) as you can see I have a bad case! Luckily this book didn’t make my fears worse so I’m sure you’ll be fine!

I still haven’t read ‘Le Petit Prince’. I should get round to that!

I read this in a two book vol with another bookabout his mail flights ,Irecently found a copy of flight to arras by him in an old penguin for my century of translation project he is a good choice for fear of flying as he loved to fly and that is what came of the page to me ,there was a bbc documentary about his life some years ago ,all the best stu

Stu, Yes – ‘Night Flight’ was in the same book as ‘Southern Mail’ when I got it out of the library. After reading ‘Night Flight’ I didn’t bother to read the second book, but I would be interested to see a documentary about his life – apart from the bit at the end, because doesn’t he die in an air crash?!

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