This is a compelling short novel. Only about 15 years after the event, Balzac has presented the despairing and disordered retreat of Napoleon's army from Russia in his story; the reader is spared little--soldiers so focused on their most basic needs and urges that they cut up and roast an officer's horse instead of continuing across the bridge on the Berezina. When the bridge is blown up, the French stragglers find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the river with the Russian army coming up. In this every-man-for-himself situation, a young officer tries to rescue his beautiful and beloved mistress. When they are separated, the woman (Stephanie), though she makes it to the other side, loses her mind. Unbelievably enough, Stephanie and her officer meet again several years later--though she is no longer capable of recognizing her lover... To say more would be to spoil the effect of a remarkable story.