Book review

The follow-up to 'The Little Prince' is a preachy self-help manual (and an insult to the original)

AG Roemmers' adventures with the Prince, now a teenager, is dense with spiritual homilies and utterly lacking in charm.

The beloved Little Prince was the child within all of us. He was the innocence and curiosity most leave behind in pursuit of “matters of consequence”. When he spoke, it was to learn more and scoff at how odd adults really are. The Little Prince didn’t understand achievements, he didn’t understand data, but he did understand the importance of loving a single flower for its uniqueness.

The character created by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1943 wiggled his way into the hearts of millions of readers across the world. The book has since been established as a tale of love, loss, friendship and an allegory for war.

Saint-Exupery’s Prince, who claimed to be from a different planet, was a compelling presence in the life of the stranded pilot who answered one seemingly inane question after another (because obviously The Little Prince never gave up on a question till he got the answer). In the process, the narrator pilot did get in touch with something deep within that he had lost years ago.

Somewhere along the road to “growing up”, he had gone from being a boy who could draw a python that had swallowed an elephant whole to a tired and worried man, desperately trying to fix a plane and ration his water.

Now, almost 73 years later, the Prince finds himself on Earth again and looking for his aviator friend. He is not so little anymore. He is old enough to be called “young” now, but he is a far cry from the Little Prince who with his child-like logic was wiser than most adults. He, in fact, reminded them to never let go of the child within.

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The unbearable heaviness of being

In The Return of the Young Prince, Argentinian businessman-turned-writer Alejandro Guillermo Roemmers’s take-off on the beloved The Little Prince, the Prince is a weary traveller, hitchhiking down a mundane grey strip of road in the desolate landscape of Patagonia in South America. Asking the driver just as many questions and receiving answers that go on for miles.

Playing author and narrator, Roemmers picks up the Young Prince, who is lying unconscious on the side of the road, and as they journey together in his car, they engage in a conversation which becomes deeply philosophical as it progresses. A little too philosophical, in most cases.

The Little Prince had undertaken a tour of the universe many years ago and travelled far and wide, gathering pearls of wisdom from the various animals and creatures he encountered. Now that he is an adolescent, one would imagine him to be slightly more wise. But, on the road once again to visit all the planets accounted for in his universe, the Prince seems to have clung on not only to his curiosity but also to his naivéte, much like Peter Pan.

“How do I grow up without being a serious person?” he asks at one point.

Roemmers refers to some of the people, creatures and places that appear in the previous book – the flower that the Little Prince had loved so much, the sheep that he was afraid would eat his flower, the drunk man he met briefly on his travels who drank to forget, and many others. Those moments are a trip down memory lane for many who still hold The Little Prince dear in their hearts.

On this journey, the two discuss questions like “what’s a problem”, “how do you solve one?” and “how can one retrieve lost joy?” The narrator’s musings on these matters are dense, and spiritual to the point of being too abstract.

Too much author, too little prince

The weakness of The Return Of The Young Prince, which is not without its tender moments, lies in the narrator’s overbearing presence in the book. The dialogue between the two is restricted to one-line questions from the Prince and answers from the narrator spanning several pages. The Young Prince is constantly at the receiving end of sermons which become increasingly tiresome and long as the book progresses.

“When I saw that the boy was listening to me intently, I went straight on. ‘Anything you can do, once you’ve identified the difficulty, is look at it carefully, observe it from different angles, or even break it down into smaller difficulties...

‘Feelings of guilt’, I remarked, ‘paralyse us and keep us from solving a lot of problems. Taking responsibility makes those feelings disappear and allows us to do more positive things, such as making up as far as possible for the harm we’ve done. Or simply moving on and not falling back into the behaviour that made us feel guilty in the first place.’”

The preachy sequel is a far cry from the wonderfully charming original, which allowed time and space for its characters to grow, experience life, and arrive at their own conclusions.

Many will flock to buy The Return Of The Young Prince, wanting to relive the moments when they read the original, but will be disappointed by a book which could very well have been named Chicken Soup for the Little Prince’s Soul. It’s a poor follow-up to a classic, highlighting the fluff and none of the substance.

The Return of the Young Prince, AG Roemmers, Oneworld Publications.

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