The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This French children's book was a sweet tribute to the magic of imagination that so marks each of our life's beginnings and which the authors laments, is forgotten and put off for 'adult' things much too soon. The book is filled with all the best that is in children-- hope, mystery, simplicity, and faith, and it reminds us that we have much more to learn from children than they do from us.
Interestingly enough, the author chooses as his hero/philosopher a young, alien boy who is both a stranger to earth life and adulthood. Through him, we re-learn the basic truths we once knew as children; that truth lies in the heart and not the eyes, that individual knowledge and discovery comes only through truly knowing and living in the world around us, that imagination will always push us further than reason, and that love is definitively linked with responsibility, for to love is to care enough to be responsible for something or someone.
The tone of the story is often sad, but it is a sadness that is bittersweet. Written while his home country was occupied by Germany, it is no wonder the author sought to tell a story that makes you smile, laugh, cry, think, feel, love, question, and know. A story that hints at the beauty of life, while all the time reminding us of the truth of grief and of death. A story that is, much like life, at once bitter and sweet.
This book is one of the hardest books I've ever read. Let me explain. The book centers on Bone, a girl of illegitimate birth who is officially branded by her birth certificate a 'bastard' child. As she grows up, readers are introduced to an array of family members, all of which are the typical Southern degenerates; there are Bone's alcoholic uncles who are in and out of prison, her cousins who steal cars and break into stores, and her grandma who chews tobacco, is without teeth, and is a blasphemous heathen. All of whom are described in such a funny and loving way as to render their obvious flaws obsolete next to their more redeeming qualities. Through their displays of passionate filial loyalty, Bone's family protects and provides unselfishly for each other, oftentimes to their own physical detriment.
What makes the book so hard to read is that much of the book is filled with Bone's struggles against her stepfather, who abuses her physically, emotionally, and sexually. Even tougher, are the questions the authors poses to readers throughout the family saga: What defines a mother's love? Is love an unconditional emotional response? Which is more necessary-filial love or romantic love? In the end, does love, or at least the things we do for love, engender more evil than good?
The book is poignantly beautiful in a way that is darkly haunting (I'll never forget the ending). It tells of love and family, but in a way that renders both disturbing. It tells of the best and worst in us all, and it tells it uncensored, uninhibited, and unapologetically. Read it. If only to understand the dark, and in that dark, to see brief shades of light.