Surprise, Surprise Readers! I am writing a blog about a book that was written in this century! It is, however, still in my lane of two of my passions: Frenchquest and History!
Constellation, a true-life novel of realism by Adrien Bosc, tells the story of the mysterious plane crash of the final flight of an Air France, transatlantic, plane that was in route from Paris Orly to New York. The Constellation, designed and built by Howard Hughes, crashed into Mount Redondo in the Azores on October 27th, 1949, with no survivors. The F-BAZN was known as “the airplane to the stars”.
The question that author Adrien Bosc asks in this novel is not so much “how”, but “why these thirty-eight passengers, some of world renown, perished in an otherwise routine voyage with good weather conditions, experienced pilots, and sound equipment. Bosc gives a voice to each of the 48 victims and their bereaved families who had initially learned that their loved ones had possibly survived.
I received this book as a gift from WordsandPeace Book Club and was instantly intrigued for several reasons:
- to be introduced to the Adrien Bosc, a French author, who won the prestigious Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française (comparable to our Pulitzer Prize for Literature in the US) for Constellation,
- the title is related to one of my passions, Astronomy,
- the mysterious sequence of events and happenstance that ended the lives of the passengers and crew,
- I was familiar with the story of Marcel Cerdan, a famous boxer from Casablanca who was in a relationship with Edith Piaf and followed her urging to take this flight to New York rather than travel by a transatlantic cruise ship.
This story has many similarities to the tragedy of the Titanic, however, is not as well known-at least not our modern day. The post-war generation would be more familiar the passengers Ginette Neveu, a virtuoso violinist and the head of Disney merchandising, Kay Kamen, as the media focused their attention on the reporting of these celebrities.
Bosc compiled his research through letters of loved ones, newspaper clippings, and insight. He inserts his own first person accounts of researching the book into the narrative and does take several liberties as any author who writes novels based on true events.
Bosc is a master at creating imagery to emote reactions from his reader:
“Near the corpse of a young woman, her crimson dress burned at the armholes, lies an open violin case containing a broken bow. French officers mistakenly identify the body”.
Bosc leaves you on the edge of your seat—the first reports following the crash is that there WERE survivors. The pilots of the rescue planes observed many local villagers looting the crash site and mistakenly believed these were survivors. Even though the book jacket of Constellation reveals the outcome, NO SURVIVORS, I kept expecting Ginette to not have boarded that flight and therefore still be alive. This hope was reinforced by the fact that, as most victims were unrecognizable, the wrong woman was first buried in Ginette’s plot. Ginette’s mother knew this wasn’t her daughter as “her fingernails are much too long, Ginette’s are trimmed short so they won’t interfere when she plays (the violin)”. Ginette was wearing a red dress with beige sleeves. The woman mistakenly buried in her place was wearing green. This would be Amélie, a textile worker from Alsace.
In addition, I appreciate how Bosc follows the story after the crash, connecting us to the families and communities that were directly affected. For example, there was an inevitable pilgrimage to the crash site, where there is a “stone erected by the inhabitants of the nearby village in honor of the forty-eight victims. He gives great detail- dates, times, communication to the airport towers, as a researcher would.
Bosc ends his novel of literary non-fiction with a surprise resurgence in 2013 of Marcel Cerdan’s suitcase which was found on the slopes of the Azore mountainside where the Constellation crashed. The threadbare, leather suitcase bears the initial “E.C.” under a crown. This was the symbol of love between Cerdan and Edith Piaf. This was a hoax. The date on a shipping label was 1946—Cerdan and Piaf did not start their affair until 1948.
I concluded my Constellation journey with Bosc by listening to Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’Amour” written after Cerdan’s death, in which she describes her love and devotion to him. One of the great treasures of France would never be the same after this tragedy.