Book Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

By Soyeenka Mishra

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

From the looks of it, it appears to be just a children’s book short enough to be a bedtime story. But the content that is inside is enough to blow your mind off for a couple of hours once you complete it. The Little Prince being one of the most popular and widely translated classics of all time, I know I’m beyond fashionably late to the party since I only got around to reading it, but it’s better late than never; I couldn’t be gladder about my timing. Translated into English by Katherine Woods, Le Petit Prince by A. de S.-E. is something you won’t be forgetting for a long, long time, if not ever. I learnt a lot of things and I really appreciate the unique perspective of things I got to witness, thanks to our Little Prince. This book is one of the best reads I’ve had in a while; valuable life-lessons and morals cleverly and intriguingly disguised as frolicking adventure.

This one-hour-read had substance deep enough to almost catapult me into an existential crisis. Though the writing wasn’t that vague that it’d be up for interpretation, I’d like to mention what my personal opinions were.  The book starts off with a childhood memory of the author from when he was six, when he notices how the ‘grown-ups’ are simply just not wise enough to understand things the way he does. That mentality sticks with him as he himself transitions into a grown-up, and I’d even go as far to say he’s still a child at heart. All his thoughts towards the grown-ups have a condescending taste to them, and albeit this book probably comes nowhere near the comedy genre, I found things quite humorous at times. The breaking of the fourth wall made the read very comfortable and amusing as well.

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

I won’t be discussing the plot of this book at length this time, or else there wouldn’t be much stuff new to read in the actual book; this review is gonna be short. The main subject of interest is the Little Prince, the author’s small friend he spends a week and more with, during the time it takes him to repair his aircraft after it crashed in the Sahara. We get to know all about The Little Prince’s intergalactic adventures, and how each once shaped his views and opinions on people, love, trust, and life. We glean invaluable wisdom about friendship and solitude as well. Not only that, I feel the ‘grown-ups’, as they’re referred to here, could really learn a good lot from this book. The narrator does indeed mention that he wouldn’t want his book to be read by careless people who have absolutely no inclination to listen and learn, since it is with great grief and despair he’s written this. It feels like a tribute to his best friend in the entire world, the one who truly felt him, understood him, and made him realise some important truths of life.

As mentioned in the blurb, “…this book is also a deep reflection on human nature.”  Every page, every chapter will give you something to think about, something to contemplate on. Heavy on the symbolism, there are numerous gems of lines that’ll make you go “Aha!” as you realise how deeply and truthfully those resonate within you. The message that the story conveys, is to look beyond the surface level, since “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The key is to go deeper, read between the lines, and use your intuition to sense what the purpose the bigger picture could be serving. It also tells us that we need to move forward no matter what happens. Time heals all wounds, and therefore even though it might take some time, you will get over it, and you have to trudge ahead. Rife with illustrations by the author himself, at no point will it make you feel as if you’re doing some serious heavy reading. It will teach you life lessons as you follow the curious conversations of two unlikely friends: one with a knack for art but only knows how to draw a boa constrictor from the outside and a boa constrictor from the inside, and another inquisitive soul from another planet who never lets go of his questions shall they go unanswered.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

I’ll just mention a little about the ending without spoiling it. It is primarily tragic, but in a way, it doesn’t have to be, y’know? After the narrator and his Little Prince’s story ends, the former has pondered what’d have happened to the latter in these six years that’ve passed since their journey ended. It’s up to the reader to assume if the inevitable truly happened, or if following the flavour of fantasy, the Little Prince truly found his way back home.  It’s up to you to believe if the rose lived after all this time, or the missing leather strap of the muzzle led the sheep into eating the flower. But most of all, the readers need to realise how different the outcomes of each possibility would be, how vast and far-reaching the consequences would be. The narrator is still hopeful and on the optimistic side of the sitch, which is why he has asked the reader to be on the lookout for a little man with golden curls who laughs and doesn’t answer questions; to inform him at the earliest if we do since it’d comfort him.

Before diving headfirst into this small but power-packed bundle of classic literature, I’d advise the readers to be ready for loads of introspection and rumination on the go, all the while reading it from a child’s point of view, rather than a grown-up’s, and not just because it’s a fantasy read. It’s a story about childhood and imagination and losing that innocence of a child upon growing up. Though largely marketed at children with the cartoonish illustrations and the childlike POV of writing, it is meant for the older generation as well, keeping in mind all the adult-issues that have been brought up here. From little kids to adults, perhaps it’ll give you different messages depending on your age and maturity, but in one way or another, I’d say it’ll save you. Me? I was left with the strangest sense of contentment and restless agitation after I finished it, as hours later I still reflect on all the things I read, all the messages I can take away from it.

Find an edited version of this review on The Ruskin Journal!

Image Courtesy: Soyeenka Mishra

Location: Bhubaneswar, India

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