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Geneva book fair marks St-Exupéry centenary

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the French author and aviator, Antoine de St-Exupéry, whose book, the Little Prince, has been translated into nearly 120 languages. The International Book Fair in Geneva has been paying tribute.

The exhibition - entitled The Wind, Sand and Stars, the alternative title of his classic Terre des Hommes - is a timely reminder of a remarkable man whose impact extended well beyond the confines of literature and the French language.

One of the reasons for his enduring popularity is that people of all races and ages can relate to his work. But the themes in St-Exupéry's novels are particularly well received by young people.

"His central philosophy was of people from different continents coming together. It's a modern philosophy, and one that young people can relate to," says Frédéric d'Agay, whose grandmother was the writer's sister and who is a leading figure in the St-Exupéry Foundation.

"An American writer described St-Exupéry as 'le philosophe des liens' - that means he believed in bringing people together, " explains d'Agay. The Foundation hopes to buy the former family house at St Maurice de Rénens, near Lyon, to create a centre where children from all around the world can come and learn about the writer and his philosophy - "a place of enlightenment for today's Little Princes".

Already the foundation has organised a peace camp for French, Israeli and Palestinian youngsters.

It's fitting that the exhibition is being shown in Geneva, as in his early life, St-Exupéry came to Switzerland often. For two years, he went to school in Fribourg and his family spent a number of holidays in the Lake Geneva area.

Of course, St-Exupéry was not just a renowned writer; he was also a pilot and adventurer, who famously travelled to the Sahara and South America. He was also a pioneer of airmail. Frédéric d'Agay believes this informed his belief in crossing frontiers and bringing people together

Perhaps fittingly, it was at the controls of his reconnaissance plane that he died in 1944. His final weeks were captured by the American photographer, John Phillips, whose poignant pictures of St-Exupéry are on display at the Book Fair.

by Roy Probert.

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