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Burning the Days: Recollection (Anglais) Broché – 29 septembre 1998

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Flying, like most things of consequence, is method. Though I did not know it then, I was behaving improperly. There were light-lines between cities in those days, like lights on an unseen highway, but much farther apart. By reading their flashed codes you could tell where you were, but I was not bothering with that. I turned south toward Reading. The sky was dark now. Far below, the earth was cooling, giving up the heat of the day. A mist had begun to form. In it the light-lines would fade away and also, almost shyly, the towns. I flew on.

It is a different world at night. The instruments become harder to read; details disappear from the map. After a while I tuned to the Reading frequency and managed to pick up its signal. I had no radio compass, but there was a way of determining, by flying a certain sequence of headings, where in a surrounding quadrant you were. Then, if the signal slowly increased in strength, you were in-bound toward the station. If not and you had to turn up the volume to continue hearing it, you were going away. It was primitive, but it worked.

When the time came, I waited to see if I had passed or was still approaching Reading. The minutes went by. At first I couldn't detect a change, but then the signal seemed to grow weaker. I turned north and flew, watching the clock. Something was wrong, something serious: The signal didn't change. I was lost--not only literally, but in relation to reality. Meanwhile the wind, unseen, fateful, was forcing me farther north.

Among the stars, one was moving. The lights of another plane, perhaps one from the squadron. In any case, wherever it was headed there would be a field. I pushed up the throttle. As I drew closer, on an angle, I began to make out what it was--an airliner, a DC-3. It might be going to St. Louis or Chicago. I had already been flying for what seemed like hours and had begun, weakhearted, a repeated checking of fuel. The gauges were on the floor, one on each side of the seat. I tried not to think of them, but they were like a wound; I could not keep myself from glancing down.

Slowly, the airliner and its lights became more distant. I couldn't keep up with it. I turned northeast, the general direction of home. I had been scribbling illegibly on the page of memory, which way I had gone and for how long. I now had no idea where I was. The occasional lights on the ground of unknown towns, lights blurred and yellowish, meant nothing. Allentown, which should have been somewhere, never appeared. There was a terrible temptation to abandon everything, to give up, as with a hopeless puzzle. I was reciting "Invictus" to myself, "I am the master of my fate . . ." It availed nothing. I had the greatest difficulty not praying, and finally I did, flying in the noisy darkness, desperate for the sight of a city or anything that would give me my position.

In the map case of the airplane was a booklet, What to Do If Lost, and, suddenly remembering, I got it out and with my flashlight began to read. There was a list of half a dozen steps to take in order. My eye skidded down it. The first ones, I had already tried. Others, like tuning in any radio range and orienting yourself on it, I had given up on. Something was wrong with that; it wasn't working. I managed to get the signal from Stewart Field but didn't take up the prescribed heading. I could tell from its faintness--it was indistinct in a thicket of other sounds--that I was far away, and I had lost faith in the procedure. The final advice seemed more practical. If you think you are to the west of Stewart, it said, head east until you come to the Hudson River and then fly north or south; you will eventually come to New York or Albany.

It was past eleven, the sky dense with stars, the earth a void. I had turned east. The dimly lit fuel gauges read twenty-five gallons or so in each wing. The idea slowly growing, of opening the canopy and struggling into the wind, over the side into blackness, tumbling, parachuting down, was not as unthinkable as that of giving the airplane itself up to destruction. I would be washed out, I knew. The anguish was unbearable. I had been flying east for ten minutes, but it seemed like hours. Occasionally, I made out the paltry lights of some small town or group of houses, barely distinguishable, but otherwise nothing. The cities had vanished, sunken to darkness. I looked down again. Twenty gallons.

Suddenly off to the left there was a glimmer that became--I was just able to make it out--a faint string of lights, and then slowly, magically, two parallel lines. It was the bridge at Poughkeepsie. Dazed with relief, I tried to pick out its dark lines and those of the river, turning to keep it in sight, going lower and lower. Then, in the way that all things certain had changed that night, the bridge changed too. At about a thousand feet above them, stricken, I saw I was looking at the streetlights of some town.

The gauges read fifteen gallons. One thing that should never be done--it had been repeated to us often--was to attempt a forced landing at night. But I had no choice. I began to circle, able in the mist to see clearly only what was just beneath. The town was at the edge of some hills; I banked away from them in the blackness. If I went too far from the brightly lit, abandoned main street, I lost my bearings. Dropping even lower, I saw dark roofs everywhere and, amid them, unexpectedly, a blank area like a lake or small park. I had passed it quickly, turned, and lost it. Finally, lower still, I saw it again. It was not big, but there was nothing else. I ducked my head for a moment to look down--the number beneath each index line was wavering slightly: ten gallons; perhaps twelve.

The rule for any strange field was to first fly across at minimum altitude to examine the surface. I was not even sure it was a field; it might be water or a patch of woods. If a park, it might have buildings or fences. I turned onto a downwind leg or what I judged to be one, then a base leg, letting down over swiftly enlarging roofs. I had the canopy open to cut reflection, the ghostly duplication of instruments, the red warning lights. I stared ahead through the wind and noise. I was at a hundred feet or so, flaps down, still descending.

In front, coming fast, was my field. On a panel near my knee were the landing--light switches with balled tips to make them identifiable by feel. I reached for them blindly. The instant the lights came on I knew I'd made a mistake. They blazed like searchlights in the mist; I could see more without them, but the ground was twenty feet beneath me, I was at minimum speed, and dared not bend to turn them off. Something went by on the left. Trees, in the middle of the park. I had barely missed them. No landing here. A moment later, at the far end, more trees. They were higher than I was, and without speed to climb, I banked to get through them. I heard foliage slap the wings as just ahead, shielded, a second rank of trees rose up. There was no time to do anything. Something large struck a wing. It tore away. The plane careened up. It stood poised for an endless moment, one landing light flooding a house, into which, an instant later, it crashed.

Nothing has vanished, not even the stunned first seconds of silence, the torn leaves drifting down. Reflexively, as a slain man might bewilderedly shut a door, I reached to turn off the ignition. I was badly injured, though in what way I did not know. There was no pain. My legs, I realized. I tried to move them. Nothing seemed wrong. My front teeth were loose; I could feel them move as I breathed. In absolute quiet I sat for a few moments, almost at a loss as to what to do, then unbuckled the harness and stepped from the cockpit onto what had been the front porch. The nose of the plane was in the wreckage of a room. The severed wing lay back in the street.

The house, it turned out, belonged to a family that was welcoming home a son who had been a prisoner of war in Germany. They were having a party and had taken the startling noise of the plane as it passed low over town many times to be some sort of military salute and, though it was nearly midnight, had all gone into the street to have a look. I had come in like a meteorite over their heads. The town was Great Barrington. I had to be shown where it was on a map, in Massachusetts, miles to the north and east.

That night I slept in the mayor's house, in a feather bed. I say slept, but in fact I hung endlessly in the tilted darkness, the landing light pouring down at the large frame house. The wing came off countless times. I turned over in bed and began again.

From the Hardcover edition.

Présentation de l'éditeur

In this brilliant book of recollection, one of America's finest writers re-creates people, places, and events spanning some fifty years, bringing to life an entire era through one man's sensibility. Scenes of love and desire, friendship, ambition, life in foreign cities and New York, are unforgettably rendered here in the unique style for which James Salter is widely admired.

Burning the Days captures a singular life, beginning with a Manhattan boyhood and then, satisfying his father's wishes, graduation from West Point, followed by service in the Air Force as a pilot. In some of the most evocative pages ever written about flying, Salter describes the exhilaration and terror of combat as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, scenes that are balanced by haunting pages of love and a young man's passion for women.

After resigning from the Air Force, Salter begins a second life, becoming a writer in the New York of the 1960s. Soon films beckon. There are vivid portraits of actors, directors, and producers--Polanski, Robert Redford, and others. Here also, more important, are writers who were influential, some by their character, like Irwin Shaw, others because of their taste and knowledge.

Ultimately Burning the Days is an illumination of what it is to be a man, and what it means to become a writer.

Only once in a long while--Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory or Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa--does a memoir of such extraordinary clarity and power appear. Unconventional in form, Burning the Days is a stunning achievement by the writer The Washington Post Book World said "inhabits the same rarefied heights as Flannery O'Connor, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and John Cheever" --a rare and unforgettable book.

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Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Biographie originale, plus que le récit d'une vie, celui de la condition humaine. Un homme qui pilote, qui combat sans fanfaronnades et qui courage suprême, lâche sa carrière pour écrire. On croise les caractères les plus divers de Edward White l'astronaute qui a fait les premiers " pas " dans l'espace et les scénaristes et autres producteurs que James Slater a croisés en explorant le mode littéraire et cinématographique.

Un grand livre écrit magnifiquement - dans sa version originale, je n'ai pas lu la traduction - par un écrivain et un homme hors du commun.
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James Salter n'est pas un écrivain conventionnel. Je considère que , dans ce livre, il est surtout grand reporter, très grand reporter; il est dans l'écriture ce que Capa fut en images. Il a le talent de l'émotion, de la beauté inouïe des descriptions, de la compassion, d'un sens très idéaliste de la vie et de ses valeurs. C'est un grand bonhomme, mais son livre n'a pas la construction d'une oeuvre littéraire et, ceci établi , c'est un témoignage passionnant sur ses années passées .... dans l'armée et dans l'armée de l'air.A lire absolument.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5 75 commentaires
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A typical Salter read 7 octobre 2016
Par Pecksniff - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
If you love words as Salter does, crisp or mulled, sipped or drank but never gulped, always from very good casks, you'll enjoy this book. It is filled with so many people and memories that one can only marvel at his memory and the breadth of his life. Besides words, he is addicted to people who were somewhat famous or should have been,and especially to women. It is something of connective tissue to many of the books he's written, most of which I've read, so there's that if you are a devotee, but I think it can stand on its own.
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A clinic on writing autobiography 17 mai 2006
Par T.M. Reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I love Salter's fiction. After reading "Burning the Days", his autobiography (memoirs if your prefer), I'm not sure that I like the man - but the book review should have nothing to do with that personal opinion.

Salter's writing style is unusual. The syntax often makes one stop and reconstruct, thus stop and think. On rare occasions it's nonsensical. I particularly was annoyed with the confusion of general pronouns among mixed proper pronouns, the result being that I couldn't figure out who he was talking about. That said, his use of the language is superb. It's there in all of his work. And he's a wonderful "observer and describer" of people and things.

His life story is, of course, fascinating. Raised in privilege in NYC. West Point. Combat jet fighter pilot. Author. Director. Screeenwriter. Literary socialite. World traveler.

His singularly candid recounting of his years at West Point was excellent in quality and style. He gives West Point to us warts and all. And his internal struggles. Loathing it, living it, finally loving it.

The tales of flight are absolutely riveting. Nobody does it better. True storytelling that sometimes touches your heart, and sometimes raises your heartrate with the tension. In reading these memoirs I found that as I had suspected, his first novel, "The Hunters", was largely autobiographical. For me, this only adds to the greatness of that work.

The writing years seemed to be a little slower reading. At least for me. And I can't decide whether Salter was indulging in a little "name dropping". In any case, he travels in high company. He is loyal to and generous to his friends. Plenty of saucy tales, no vulgarity. Well done.

I do not share his love for Paris. Salter breathes it. Perhaps it rejected me, as Salter claims Rome rejected him. No matter - Salter is an accomplished individual, in a wordly way, and travels in circles far above the heads of most of us. He does not claim to be atheist, but his overtures toward God (or gods) are tenuous and ambiguous. As I wrote earlier, I'm not sure I like him - but I savour his work.

This is an unusual autobiography of rare quality. Generally, Salter presents himself as he often presents his fictional characters. If you've read any of his novels, you understand what I mean.

This autobiography is not for the People magazine crowd. It is thoughtful and broad in scope, spanning an accomplished man's life. I recommend it.
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Well written book for pliots or former pilots 8 octobre 2016
Par Donald L. Phillips - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
A Superior lifetime recollections book. The part about flying is superior and pilots or former pilots will throughly enjoy the read.
4 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 You can't do better... 26 février 2001
Par D. C. Carrad - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
...than this talented but neglected author's autobiography. Missing from other reviews is a comment on the depth of feeling Salter has for military life. Perhaps only someone who has been in the service and left can understand his love for his comrades, how poignant his departure from what he thought would be his career and his life, and the vacuum afterward and how he coped with it. A perfectly-written and enlightening autobiography; worth 10,000 self-esteem books ... if you want to reflect on what it means to live your life properly.
12 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been 26 août 2010
Par Eric Treanor - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
You either burn the days or you're burned by them, I suppose--although at some point the wood becomes the fire, the fire the wood, and attempting a distinction is futile. That futility might be what we mean by aging, if we're lucky.

James Salter certainly has burned through his days, as this oddly structured, intensely lyrical memoir demonstrates. He's best known (properly) as the author of two of my favorite post-war novels--A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years. He wrote the screenplay for the icy, piercing Downhill Racer, one of Robert Redford's best films. Before becoming a writer, he graduated West Point and fought in the Korean War as an Air Force fighter pilot.

Also, to his credit, he embraced the post-war possibilities open to an American man: see (and rule) the world; educate yourself as a world citizen; help re-construct, if only by your love, Western Europe; and never cease to admire our country's incomparable landscapes and coincident opportunities.

By all appearances, Salter has known power--been close to it--but never allowed that closeness to ruin him as an artist. He evokes the circles of power, the famous faces, with their fantastic, distorted personalities, with intriguing delicacy. He's also had the good sense to fall in love a few times. Anyone who has picked up A Sport and a Pastime already knows how precisely, how lethally he records the burning choreography of love.

I don't know if it's still possible for an American man to burn the days as Salter did. There are obstacles on all sides--foremost among them our post-Reagan isolationism and moralistic fervor, our proud Crawford stupidity, our decadent laziness. Reading this book, I couldn't help but lament what we're becoming (which is probably another way of saying, What I'm becoming). This book allows us the secondary pleasure of envying Salter--which is an important pleasure, as it means that something essential is not yet forgotten.
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