“The Little Prince” gets new perspectives in four languages

By SOPHIE MAIER
Immigrant Services Librarian

The Little Prince in four languages

It all started when Gina Buendia-Cruz, a volunteer with Adelante Hispanic Achievers, recommended Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” for the young people’s summer reading.  Her family in Mexico loved the book and could quote from memory one of its messages – ‘’Sólo con el corazón se puede ver bien. Lo esencial es invisible para los ojos.”  Translation: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Librarian

Gina had read this book back in the ‘70s, about the same time I discovered the story as a young person a world away -- here in Louisville.

I began to wonder what elements had touched both of us in this short novel about a pilot stranded from a plane wreck in the dunes of North Africa who meets a Little Prince from a faraway planet.

As Immigrant Services Librarian, based at the Iroquois branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, I quickly realized that this book held special meaning for many people who have landed here from faraway countries.

So a new project was born: This fall, we ordered book kits for “The Little Prince” in three languages – 12 books each in Spanish, French and Arabic.  The Library already had copies and a book kit in English.

During December, we will have a series of discussions of the book in all four languages at the Iroquois Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library.

The Iroquois branch has already been hosting three ‘’Literary Salons’’ on Saturdays that allow for presentations and conversations in those three languages.

So this was a perfect fit – a chance to explore this book’s themes across cultures while also offering the community foreign- language practice.

“The Little Prince” – published in 1943 -- is a simple tale. Its hero, stranded from Asteroid B-612, initially asks for a drawing of a sheep. That leads to an explanation of his home planet, his reason for leaving, a description of those left behind and the characters he met on his journey to earth.

The community response to ‘’The Little Prince’’ project has already been more than I could have imagined.

When I approached Francisco Juarez to help lead the Spanish Literary Salon, he said he treasured the book’s “childhood vision of the world.”

“Like many people in the current world, the prince traveled to several 'asteroids' … and in his travel he met people with a different way of thinking, and, like many of us, he started bonding.” 

Hermogenes Gamboa, an engineer from Colombia, said he first read the book when he was 9. “The Little Prince gave me lessons of sociology, politics, economy and astronomy, among others …The best thing is that this book teaches the value and the responsibility of being and having a friend.”

Terry Taylor, executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, first read the book in its original French.  He will participate in two of our groups.

His creativity and spirituality have been shaped by the prince’s simple life-view, Terry said.  
“I’m reminded of something that Picasso said about his own creative expression. ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’”

Julie Purcell lived in Egypt for five years and hopes to attend the Arabic Literary Circle.
“I'll be fascinated to see the differences in interpretations between cultures.”

As for me, my aunt introduced me to the story when I was a child.  

Later, as a college student lonely on a large campus, she read me passages once more to encourage and inspire me.

By then, I had become involved with an international students club and made plans to study and teach abroad. And that served as passage to my current job.

Today, at the library, I have the lucky role of celebrating, serving and appreciating our immensely diverse community here in Louisville with projects like this one.  

To join the discussion…

The Louisville Free Public Library Iroquois branch, 601 W. Woodlawn, will host discussions of “The Little Prince” in four languages. Copies are still available.  If interested, call Sophie Maier at 574-1720. After the discussions, book kits will be available to the public.

  • French Circle: French- language discussion of ''Le Petit Prince” led by Charles Pooser (I.U Southeast/ Alliance Française de Louisville) and friends.  Saturday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m. 
  • Spanish Literary Salon: Spanish-language discussion of  “ El Principito  ” led by Gina Buendia-Cruz and Francisco Juarez.  Saturday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m.
  • English Book Discussion: led by Interfaith Paths to Peace director Terry Taylor;  English conversation with Arabic interpreter available: Saturday, Dec. 17, 1 p.m.
  • Arabic Salon: Arabic-language discussion without English interpretation.  Saturday, Dec. 17, 3 p.m.

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Courier-Journal on November 19.

 


Last Updated: 11/23/11