When I was a child, one of my favourite books was The Little Prince, the illustrated story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry about a child who leaves his planet to explore the universe and strikes up a conversation with a pilot fixing his broken plane in the desert. Later, when I was travelling in Africa as an adult, I read Wind, Sand and Stars — a semi-autobiographical narrative by the same French author. Published in 1939, it is a deeply magical, evocative account of his years flying mail routes across the Sahara between the First and Second World Wars. The narrative is free-floating, removed from chronology and falls somewhere in the grey area between fact and fiction. He writes about landing on inaccessible plateaus littered with meteorites, and his birds-eye view of humans struggling to fill huge areas of emptiness beneath his plane. Sure it tips here and there into saccharine romanticism, but the book’s sentiment is something I cling to the further from childhood I get. I wish I could fly a small plane. I can’t. Instead I crave those liberating experiences, as a writer and traveller, which have their roots in a place and time but open up into the much wider spaces of the imagination. I will always treasure this book, because it also reminds me to look for the good in things. In a plane crash in the Sahara, Saint-Exupéry’s fellow survivor discovers a single orange in the wreckage:
I lie on my back and suck the fruit, counting the shooting stars
For a moment, my happiness is infinite.
From acclaimed journalist Sophy Roberts, a journey through one of the harshest landscapes on earth—where music reveals the deep humanity and the rich history of Siberia. Click here to buy this book.