The Atheist's Mass by Honoré de Balzac
A stunning pair of short stories about faith and sacrificial love.
Both of these little stories are absolutely gorgeous and so important. Both were steeped in compassion, both told of the kind of devotion we have for those who aren't our lover, both were incredibly clever.
The Atheist's Mass tells of a surgeon who scorns all idea of religion, yet who is observed going to Mass four times a year. This seems entirely suspicious to the spectator, who asks questions of the surgeon on his apparent piousness. The story that unfolds afterwards is touching, thought-provoking, and completely understandable. Balzac explains the idea of an atheist respecting religion, and the faith of others, and the idea that just maybe, the atheist wishes he had something like religion to hold on to.
The Conscript is a much different story, yet all the more heartbreaking. Balzac shows us life during the French Revolution through the eyes of a mother waiting for her son to return home. The suspense created during this short story was masterful, with the ending utterly devastating.
Balzac has weaved so much into these two small tales; I wasn't expecting to be as touched as I was. They were raw, honest, and felt almost pure to read. Absolutely wonderful work.