Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born into an old French family in 1900.
Despite his father's death in 1904 he had an idyllic childhood, shared
with his brother and three sisters at the family's château near Lyon. He
was educated at a strict Jesuit School in Le Mans and then at the college
of Saint-Jean in Fribourg. Against the wishes of his family he qualified
as a pilot during his national service, and flew in France and North Africa
until his demobilization in 1923. Unsuited to civilian life and deeply hurt
by a failed relationship with the writer Louise de Vilmorin, he returned to
his first love, flying. In 1926 he joined the airline Latécoère, later to become
Aéropostale, as one of its pioneering aviators, charged with opening mail
routes to remote African colonies and to South America with primitive
planes and in dangerous conditions. As airfield manager at the tiny outpost
of Cape Juby in Morocco his duties included rescuing stranded pilots from
rebel tribesmen, and it was there that he wrote Southern Mail, which was
well received on its publication in 1929. From a later posting to Buenos
Aires he bought the manuscript of Night Flight back to France, together
with his fiancée, the beautiful but temperamental Consuelo Suncin.
Night Flight was awarded the Prix Femina in 1931, firmly establishing
his literary reputation. Flying and writing were inseparable elements in
his passionate creativity, but he was not a model pilot; he was nonchalant
about checks, and tended to lapse into reveries at the controls. His career
was chequered with near-fatal crashes and on 30 January 1935 he came
down in the Libyan desert while attempting to break the Paris-Saigon
record. The story of his miraculous survival is told in Wind, Sand, and Stars.
At the outbreak of the WWII he was too old to fly a fighter but flew in a
reconnaissance squadron until the French surrender in the summer of 1940.
In exile in America he wrote the essay Letter to a Hostage and The Little
Prince, the enigmatic children's fable for which he is known worldwide.
Prior to this he had written of his war experiences in Flight to Arras,
which headed the US bestseller list for six months in 1942, and was
banned by the Vichy government in France. However, he refused to
support de Gaulle and as a result was vilified by the General's Free French
supporters. Depressed by this and his troubled marriage, he persuaded
Allied commanders in the Mediterranean to let him fly again, and it was
in July 1944 that he disappeared, almost certainly shot down over the sea
by a German fighter.