Henry James, Proust, and James Joyce considered Honore Balzac (1799 to 1850) the greatest novelist of all time. He certainly was among the most productive with upwards of 100 novels to his credit. Every time I read a work by him, I tell myself I must read more Balzac then a year plus goes by before I read another one. If I were younger I would set myself as a long term reading project his La Comedie Humaine, a collection of 41 or so novels in which he tried to capture all of human experience.
It is easy to see "The Passion of the Desert" as the perfect mini-Balzac. It is set in Paris but through the memories of a French Army veteran we travel over much of the empire and Europe. Vast aspects of history can be found in this story. The soldier begins to tell a passerby a story of his time fighting in an African desert. He finds himself cut off from his unit, with little food. He falls asleep by a small oasis. He awakes to see bright yellow eyes peering at him through the darkness. He soon discovers it is a panther and of course he is terribly frightened. The story is really entertaining as a friendship, really a passion develops between the soldier and the big cat. Balzac does a wonderful job of letting us see the cat in the panther. I really enjoyed seeing their unlikely bond develop and we have to accept that the man can never really let his guard down. The soldier also talks about his European experiences.
If you look you can probably find this story online. In the edition I read, in Great Masters of the Short Story, there is no translator credit.
This is my third year as a participant in the Paris in July Reading Event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. I find this a very interesting and creative event of the sort that helps build the book blog community. You will find lots of reading ideas on the host blogs. I am greatly enjoying participating in this event. It has motivated me to revisit the work of some of the true giants of European literature, Marcel Proust, Andre Gide, Honore Balzac and coming soon Emile Zola.