Monday, May 13, 2013
A Passion in the Desert by Honoré de Balzac
Beautiful imagery, unexceptional plot
A Passion in the Desert is a short story by Honoré de Balzac. Originally published in 1830, it is one of the earliest pieces in his large body of work known as La Comédie Humaine, and one of only two works included under the category Scenes of Military Life. Unlike most of Balzac’s work, this story does not deal with the complexities of French society, but instead tells a rather simple tale of man and nature. Though Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt is mentioned briefly in the beginning, reading this story requires no prior knowledge of French history. As a result of its brevity and accessibility, A Passion in the Desert is one of Balzac’s more widely read stories.
An unnamed soldier from Provence travels to Egypt on a French military campaign. There he is taken prisoner by the Maugrabins (North African Arabs), and forced to march across the desert. He escapes from his captors, fleeing across the barren wasteland until he stumbles upon an isolated oasis. A castaway on this island of life amid the sand, the soldier presumes himself doomed to a life of solitude, until he comes to form an unexpected friendship with a wild animal.
The best qualities of this story are its memorable premise and its exotic setting. The plot, however, doesn’t really live up to the possibilities of either, and is not particularly exciting or compelling. The unsurprising ending leaves the reader rather disappointed and wanting more. Overall, it is a tale high on atmosphere but low on substance. Balzac is a great writer who rarely writes a bad story. A Passion in the Desert definitely qualifies as not bad, but it by no means stands out among Balzac’s awesome body of work. If you are a Balzac fan, you can’t go wrong spending a brief half hour reading any of his stories, but the overall effect left by this piece may be one of ambivalence. Casual readers unfamiliar with this master’s work will likewise find this an easy and brisk read, but it is in no way indicative of the style and subjects typical of Balzac’s writing.
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.