A Splendid Gift51
A Splendid Gift51
March, 1942: Declared medically unfit to fly while France is beseiged by war, Saint-Exupéry languishes in homesick frustration, unable to aid his country—and unable to write. While his publisher tries in vain to ease the author’s mind, Saint-Exupéry meets the enchanting Silvia Hamilton at a cocktail party. Though they do not share a language, they are nonetheless drawn to each other, and where words fail them they find other forms of communication.
In the proceeding months, Silvia’s warmth and grace give Saint-Exupéry the peace of mind he so desperately needs. And as their love affair flourishes, he finds himself inspired to tell a tale of such simplicity and beauty that a person of any age could find joy and comfort in it. With Silvia as his muse, he works furiously to compose his petite prince.
Praise for the novels of Alyson Richman
“Fans of The Lost Wife will again savor Richman's ability to tell a remarkable story about people who are unforgettable and real.”—Pam Jenoff, International bestselling author of The Other Girl
“Moving, unforgettable and so expertly told, you have to wonder if the author has a gift of time travel—this is storytelling at its very best.”— New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio
“Richman’s fluid writing is filled with historical detail and strong characterization.”—Library Journal
Alyson Richman is the author of The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Memory, The Last Van Gogh, and The Lost Wife. She lives in Long Island with her husband and two children.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Shortly after I finished my latest novel, The Garden of Letters, which contains several plot references to The Little Prince, I learned that the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote his iconic story while shuttling between homes in New York City and Long Island, New York, in the spring and summer of 1942. More interesting to me personally was that he rented the Bevin House, a French-style, twenty-two room mansion situated in Eaton’s Neck, which is a remote area of Asharoken, New York, facing out onto Huntington Harbor. My own home sits directly across from Eaton’s Neck and shares the same mirror view of the harbor. I was immediately struck by the coincidence that Saint-Exupéry looked upon—and was inspired by—the same glimmering bay and rocky shore that I had while I was crafting The Garden of Letters. As I began to further investigate his time on Long Island, I learned that the Frenchman took secret trips to Manhattan to visit a woman who had captured his heart and became the basis for the character of the wise fox in The Little Prince. Much like my character Luca in The Garden of Letters, a bookseller who, during the Italian Resistance, gifts his copy of The Little Prince to his beloved Elodie, Saint-Exupéry believed that even if a couple is separated by distance or even death, true love continues to exist beyond the stars.
New York City
That evening, after she had put her son to bed, peeled off her rollers, and reapplied her lipstick, Silvia was nothing short of a comet as she hailed a taxi, the invitation to the cocktail party fluttering between her fingers.
She read the driver the address and settled against the backseat. The night was damp, and as the wind streamed through the driver’s half-opened window, she considered asking him to roll up the glass in order to protect her hair. But Silvia found the air invigorating, so she untied the scarf around her neck, wrapped it over the top of her head, and tied a small knot underneath her chin. Her very own silk helmet to protect her coiffure. As they barreled down Park Avenue, the New York skyline brilliantly illuminated, she closed her eyes and felt the freedom of the night unfurling before her. With the car’s wheels rolling underneath, she imagined herself taking flight.
She had been told by the hostess that the famous French pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, would be in attendance, and that his publisher was trying to ease both his homesickness and frustration at being classified medically unfit to fly as his country was beset by war. For Silvia, the chance to meet the man who had bravely navigated the skies and written so poetically about it thrilled her.
She had devoured his book Wind, Sand and Stars, and its prose had kept her awake long into the night. She still kept her copy on her nightstand. His words had lifted her from the confines of her small, elegant apartment to skies that were ablaze with the light of the stars. From his descriptions, she had imagined the roar of the engines, the sensation of the controls beneath his fingers, and the sheer ecstasy of flight as his plane soared above the peaks of the Pyrenees or the dunes of Dakar.
She had wondered what it might be like to look down at the world from Saint-Exupéry’s cockpit, her breath merging with the clouds and her body nearly weightless. Just the thought of being given the gift of wings for even a moment was enough to make her dizzy. Warmth flowed through her as she imagined herself coasting in a dark sky, her face misty against the rolling fog.
The hostess slipped Silvia’s coat from her shoulders and offered her a glass of champagne. With her black dress, white throat, and auburn hair, her beauty lit up the room. She saw Saint-Exupéry in the corner smoking a cigarette, his eyes following her as she entered.
Silvia knew Lewis Galantière, the pilot’s translator, who welcomed her with a tight embrace.
“So good of you to come,” he said, kissing her on both cheeks. “Don’t you look as beautiful as the moon. . . .”
She laughed, taking a sip of champagne. As usual, Galantière tried to flirt, but Silvia had no interest in him. She only wanted to meet the famous author himself.
Her eyes darted over to Saint-Exupéry, who was now amusing two women in the corner with a deck of cards.
“Would you like me to introduce you?” Galantière offered, in an obvious attempt to win her over by showing how close he was with the famous pilot.
Silvia’s eyes brightened.
“Does he speak any English?”
“Hardly a word.” Galantière smirked.
“Then can you give him a message for me?” Silvia asked in her sweetest voice, coming closer to the translator’s ear.
“I suppose it depends on the message, my dear girl.” He rolled the ice in his glass like it was dice, then took a deep swallow of gin.
For a moment she considered the different florid declarations and compliments she might bestow on the pilot in order to get his attention, but then decided it was best to be direct in matters of the heart.
“It’s a simple one,” she said, as she batted her eyelashes.
“What’s that?” Galantière asked.
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