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Book review: The Return Of The Young Prince

'The Little Prince' returns, but the author clearly can't see the elephant in the boa constrictor

The Return Of The Young Prince: By A.G.Roemmers, Pan Macmillan, 159 pages, Rs199.
The Return Of The Young Prince: By A.G.Roemmers, Pan Macmillan, 159 pages, Rs199.

I was excited to receive a book that recalls Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, especially since its very title and cover flap told me that the Little Prince isn’t so little any more. He is now the “Young Prince", he is drawn taller, wearing thigh-high boots, and his otherworldly cape from so long ago is now a jacket, but his characteristic shock of magnificent blond hair and fly-away long, red scarf remain exactly the same. Everything that the cover was suggesting could have lent this book much potential: How would the Little Prince have aged? Did his childlike, “pure", otherworldly wonder and wisdom age well with him? Or has a bit of earthly teenage angst crept in?

But never has the old axiom about judging books by their cover felt truer.

The Little Prince is back with a “problem", a disappointment that he needs to come to terms with. However, despite the foreword by Bruno d’Agay, legitimizing the story from “a member of the Saint-Exupéry family", A.G. Roemmers’ The Return Of The Young Prince should not be read as a sequel to Saint-Exupéry’s tale. You will set yourself up for tremendous disappointment if you do so.

This “tribute" does little to honour the way that Saint-Exupéry seamlessly connects his childhood recollections, and the fact that he is stranded in the Sahara desert, with the Little Prince’s own disposition and journey to Earth. Though there is a sincerity in Roemmers’ recollections of episodes—it has been six years since Saint-Exupéry “met" the Little Prince, the encounter captured in one of the book’s many memorable lines: “Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies."

Those are large shoes to fill perhaps, and Roemmers tries too hard. The new book’s large paragraphs, couched as dialogue, dropping chunks of heavy-handed posturing and life lessons, make neither a book for world-weary adults, nor for children looking to read a story filled with wondrous characters. Even the Prince himself, and the first hints of his creeping cynicism, seem but superfluous props. Which is a pity, because they are just the perfect trope to reinstate the thrust of Saint-Exupéry’s book—to not leave behind the child inside as we grow up.

The moralistic discourses on life are often just too trite. Take this, for instance: “We talked before about how to solve problems. If you like, we can look at the difficulty you’re in right now. And I say ‘difficulty’ because I know you can overcome it, and even though you don’t believe it, the key is in you." Sigh.

The illustrations by Pietari Posti, though sweetly rendered, cannot match the whimsical charm and substance of Saint-Exupéry’s drawings. And they do not deserve the misplaced explanation that Roemmers provides for them in his introduction: “…I’ve included a few drawings so that you won’t think this story too serious," he says. Saint-Exupéry loved his boa constrictor digesting an elephant. He held it as a tool to vet which adult had kept the child inside him alive and which had been conditioned for the grown-up world. His illustrations added substance to his story. And most importantly, Saint-Exupéry’s illustrations established his first and lasting gesture of friendship and feeling of kinship with the Prince.

Certainly, nothing that tries to pay tribute to thoughts as profound should come with a disclaimer about making things “less serious".

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