If you're like me, you loved the illustrated book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Perhaps you even read it in French, as I did, when you were in school. This year readers the world over are celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the book's publication by rereading The Little Prince and by learning more about Saint-Ex.
Ania Szado's new novel, Studio Saint-Ex gives us an inside look at the French author's life in New York and the writing of his famous story. Here's a short description from the publicist:
Set in Manhattan and Quebec City in 1943, Studio Saint-Ex is a fictionalized account of the love triangle among Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; his mercurial wife, Consuelo; and a young fashion designer. Mignonne Lachapelle leaves Montreal for New York to make her name but is swept away by the charms of France's greatest living writer. Nothing about their relationship is simple—not Antoine's estranged wife who entangles Mig in her schemes to reclaim her husband, not his turmoil, and certainly not their tempestuous trysts or the blurring boundaries of their artistic pursuits. Yet the greatest complication comes in the form of a deceptively simple manuscript: Antoine's work-in-progress, The Little Prince, a tender tale of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss in the form of a young prince fallen to earth.I have always been fascinated with how a French Air Force pilot came to write such a charming story about a little boy. There is so much I don't know about Saint-Ex and his world, and Szado's novel is calling to me.
Studio Saint-Ex is a deeply evocative love story of a literary giant caught between two talented and mesmerizing women, set in the glittering world of French expatriates in Manhattan during World War II. Reminiscent of The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, and The Rules of Civility, Studio Saint-Ex explores themes of love, passion, and creativity in sophisticated, literary prose.
To tide me over until I read the book, I asked Ania Szado to tell me a few little-known facts about Saint-Ex's life.
True: The Little Prince—the phenomenally best-selling tale of a boy who relates the story of his beloved rose and planet to a pilot on Earth, a mainstay of high school French courses, written by the French author–aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was written entirely in New York. It was published in English first, in 1943.
True: World War II Manhattan was home to the world's largest wealthy, culturally elite group of French expatriates. Artists, filmmakers, and writers . . . and among them, Saint-Ex. Decommissioned from the French Air Force when the Nazis took over, he came to the United States to advise the military on their mission to liberate Europe and to persuade them to take him back into combat. His fiery estranged wife, Consuelo, followed, determined to regain his heart and share his spotlight—for Saint-Ex was a celebrity in America, a winner of the National Book Award, the man the Times relied on to explain the French to WWII America.
True: Early 1940s Manhattan was the cradle of American haute couture. Until this time, all high fashion came from Paris. If you were wealthy, you went to the Continent to shop. And if not? Copies of Parisian fashions filled the local department store racks. There was no homegrown fashion design scene. Then Paris fell, and Mayor LaGuardia and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced that New York would become the new fashion center of the world. Contests were launched. Designers were lauded. The first Fashion Week—then called Press Week—got under way.
Which leads to the lie: In Studio Saint-Ex, Saint-Exupéry is immersed in New York's glittering expat community, scrapping with his wife, aching to return to the war, and writing The Little Prince in friends' studios, including that of an ambitious young fashion designer, the entirely fabricated Mignonne.
In real life, Saint-Ex's girlfriends aspired mainly to save the author from himself. But a woman like Mig could do much more. She could identify with his creative struggles. She could illuminate the complex connection between love and art. Saint-Ex had artistic friends and devoted lovers, but none that came together in one person: There was no real Mig.
To me, that is the most surprising fact of all. She is such an agent of revelation and connection in Studio Saint-Ex. It's through her that we discover the greatest truths.
The Giveaway: Thanks to the publicist and publisher, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. or Canada mailing address a chance to win a copy of Ania Szado's Studio Saint-Ex. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner, using a random number generator, on June 24. After the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information from my computer.
Random House / Knopf, 2013
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