Born in Lyon to an aristocratic family, Saint-Exupéry took great interest in the rapidly developing science of flight. He was conscripted at age 21 into the French air force, qualifying as military pilot a year later. He became a commercial pilot in 1926, flying first from France to Morocco and West Africa. His experiences inspired the novel that launched his literary career, Courrier Sud (1929; Southern Mail.) It portrays a pilot’s solitary struggle against the elements and his sense of dedication to his vocation.
During the following years, Saint-Exupéry pursued his flying career, despite several crashes. His Terre des hommes (1939; Wind, Sand and Stars) was a series of poetic essays on the pilot’s meditations on the spiritual aspects of the adventure of flight. It brought Saint-Exupéry to the height of literary fame.
Saint-Exupéry’s other works include the fable Le Petit Prince (1943; The Little Prince,) Citadelle (1948; The Wisdom of the Sands,) and volumes of correspondence and notebook jottings. Le Petit Prince features a little prince who visits earth from his own tiny planet. It is considered a literary classic that examines loneliness, friendship, and philosophy. Saint-Exupéry even did the watercolors for the book. It’s been translated into over 250 languages and dialects, including Braille, and sells 2 million copies annually.
During World War II, even when he was too old to fly, Saint-Exupéry insisted on serving in the air force. He flew his last mission in 1944. It was assumed that his plane had crashed in the Alps; but more than 60 years later, the wreckage was recovered from the Mediterranean seabed near Provence.