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The Prince of the Skies by Antonio Iturbe

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

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The Prince of the Skies by Antonio Iturbe is published with Pan Macmillan. Described as ‘a moving tale of love and friendship, war and heroism, and the power of the written word’, it has been excellently translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites.

I have often said that translated work has opened up a whole new world of literature to me and The Prince of the Skies is a perfect example of this. Ashamedly, I have to admit that I have never read The Little Prince. It was just never a book I came across growing up, only really coming into my radar in recent years. I have rectified this though as I have ordered a copy which will very soon be in my hands.

The Prince of the Skies is an utterly fascinating insight into the phenomenal life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Born into an aristocratic family in Lyon in the1900s, Saint-Exupéry developed an early passion for flying. His father passed away when he was young and his mother did her best to raise her five children but money was tight. With his title and his accent, Saint-Exupéry struggled at times to fit in, especially during his years in the military where he completed his compulsory service. Where Saint-Exupéry really fitted in was up in the clouds and in the 1920s, during his military service, he got to finally fulfil his ambition of flying solo and gaining experience. But flying wasn’t his only passion as Saint-Exupéry loved to write. Never alone, with his imagination always active, Saint-Exupéry wanted to convey his words to a greater audience but he was his own biggest critic, always tearing up a huge percentage of his work, never satisfied that it was good enough. He fell deeply in love with Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin but her family never encouraged their relationship. After a flying accident that resulted in him being hospitalised, she gave him an ultimatum – his flying or their relationship. He chose his Lou-Lou, but it was an engagement that was never to last.

Saint-Exupéry sought solace again in flying, becoming part of a brave and extremely courageous group of aviators who worked for Aéropostale, the newly established French air mail service. It was here that he made a lifelong friendship with two pilots, Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet. Antonio Iturbe brings to life the insanity and chaotic nature of the world that these men inhabited. With their lives constantly in danger, the pilots of Aéropostale were adrenalin junkies, fearless, reckless individuals who took daily risks as they opened up new postal routes across continents. Flying in treacherous conditions Saint-Exupéry, Mermoz and Guillaumet shared an extraordinary bond with an equal excitement for pushing the boundaries of flight and being prepared to sacrifice so much for a letter to reach its final destination faster. They were explorers of the sky, heroes all, with a tenacious and gutsy attitude that drove them further every time.

In The Prince of the Skies Antonio Iturbe explores in depth Saint-Exupéry’s relationship with the women he loved, the extravagant lifestyle he lived and his role in the Second World War. Mermoz’s and Guillaumet’s lives are also delved into, giving the reader a real feel for the daring nature of these men. During these years Saint-Exupéry did manage to establish himself as a writer, winning many awards both at home in France and overseas. With the onset of the Second World War, circumstances changed for all three men and eventually too for Aéropostale. With the world in turmoil, all three pilots had different loyalties and views, but their friendship was always strong….until the end.

The Prince of the Skies is primarily written in the present tense which does take time to get your head around but, once you get past this, you will be slowly pulled into this unbelievable tale. There is the most beautiful part in the book where Didier Daurat, the manager of Aéropostale, really encapsulates these brave men in their flying machines –

“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”

From the streets of Paris, to North Africa, South America and beyond The Prince of the Skies is an epic and powerful adventure. Today it is very difficult to comprehend the conditions of flying during the first half of the twentieth century. The dedication of these pioneering aviators, male and female, who took to the skies, constantly pushing the boundaries should never be forgotten. Antonio Iturbe has created a magical piece of writing, one that I highly recommend to all who want to know more about these intrepid adventurers and to also discover more about the man behind that classic tale The Little Prince.

Compelling. Captivating. Spellbinding.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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