Book Review: Constellation by Adrien Bosc (trans. by Willard Wood)

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This book is one of those strange mixes of fiction and non-fiction. Bosc carefully unravels the tragic fate of Air France’s Constellation F-BAZN that was on a routine transatlantic flight from Paris to New York on October 27, 1949. But the flight never made it, having crashed in the Azores and taking with it the lives of 38 passengers and eleven crew members.

The story is told in little vignettes split between the lives of the passengers—the famous violist Ginette Neveu and the boxer Marcel Cerdan; the inventor of the Mickey Mouse watch; five Basque shepherds; a divorcé flying to reconnect with his wife—the flight, the crash and recovery, and the funerals for the victims. Bosc’s writing is poignant and poetic; lyrical and heart-wrenching; humorous and insightful. As to be expected, the lives of the famous and wealthy dominate the chapters, but some of the other side stories have their charm. Readers may not connect with them, and the bouncing around of chapters between character portrait, flight, crash, recovery and aftermath may be a bit off-putting.

Nonetheless, Constellation, a Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française winner, is an intriguing story of the tragedy of fate; how coincidence and chance impacted the lives of the passengers—the rich and poor, famous and commonplace—and a reminder of how those same things impact our lives. More than a book about a plane crash, Bosc’s debut resonates best when he delves into the simplest moments of life.

Review originally appeared in the Historical Novels Review August 2016

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