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Oct/Nov 2016 Reviews & Interviews

Constellation

Constellation
Adrien Bosc.
Willard Wood, Translator.
Profile Books. 2016. 171 pp.
ISBN 978 178125 536 0.

Review by Ann Skea


Buy now from Amazon! There are many constellations in this book: constellations of stars, of circumstances and coincidences, of related facts, and especially, the constellation of people on the Air France Lockheed Constellation passenger plane F-BAZN which left Paris's Orly Airport bound for New York on October 27,1949, and disappeared five minutes before a scheduled refuelling stop at Santa Maria the Azores.

Forty-eight people were on board. Their 48 "story-fragments" formed, for a short period of time, "the world" of this aircraft, and Adrien Bosc has created a novel, based on fact, from these fragments.

Every person's own story is special, and in such a small group—an elite group travelling on a luxury airliner—some had extraordinary lives. On board F- BAZN were highly experienced pilots who had flown combat missions during the war, a champion boxer known as the "Casablanca Clouter," a renowned young female violinist, an entrepreneur who had lost one empire during the Wall Street crash of 1929 and had then successfully built another for Walt Disney, and a distinguished but eccentric portraitist who had painted Ingrid Bergman for the RKO Picture Jeanne d'Arc and had chivalrously given his seat on an earlier flight to an actress with excess luggage.

Not all the passengers were wealthy. Amongst them, five Basque shepherds emigrating (temporarily) to take up contracts as ranchmen in America's vast grasslands. And a young working-class woman—a poorly paid spool-operator in a textile mill—summoned to America by her wealthy industrialist grandmother who had chosen her to be her sole heir. Marcel Cardan, the boxer, is the lover of the famous French songstress, Edith Piaf, and Bosc re-creates their letters to each other. He brings all these stories to life.

Families and friend are brought into his picture, too, and some of the extraordinary things which happened after the crash. One young woman is buried twice. Part of the valuable and rare Guadagnini violin which the violinist carried with her is found, and 33 years after the crash is presented, live on TV, to the violin maker who, as a novice, had worked on her equally old and valuable Omobono Stradivarius. And an obsessive music fan commits suicide.

Interwoven with these stories is Bosc's re-creation of the search and rescue operation, body identification procedures, various different subsequent funeral and burial rites, and the investigative flight which was designed to discover what went wrong—the black box flight recorder not yet having been invented.

Bosc, too, visits the crash scene, climbing the mountain as the rescuers did, and finding no trace of the aircraft, only a memorial stone (a alminhas—"little soul"), erected by local people in memory of the 48 who died.

This small, lively, and absorbing book, is beautifully bound so that a dark star-filled sky is seen through a round aircraft window in the steel-grey dust-jacket. It has been the well-deserved winner of an Arts Council of England Pen award for literary translations and the Academie Francaise Prize.

 

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