Book Review: The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

The Winter SoldierAbout the Book

Vienna, 1914. Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War I explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, expecting a position at a well-organized field hospital. But when he arrives, at a commandeered church tucked away high in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains, he finds a freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. The other doctors have fled, and only a single, mysterious nurse named Sister Margarete remains.

But Lucius has never lifted a surgeon’s scalpel. And as the war rages across the winter landscape, he finds himself falling in love with the woman from whom he must learn a brutal, makeshift medicine. Then one day, an unconscious soldier is brought in from the snow, his uniform stuffed with strange drawings. He seems beyond rescue, until Lucius makes a fateful decision that will change the lives of doctor, patient, and nurse forever.

From the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Vienna to the frozen forests of the Eastern Front; from hardscrabble operating rooms to battlefields thundering with Cossack cavalry, The Winter Soldier is the story of war and medicine, of family, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and finally, of the mistakes we make, and the precious opportunities to atone.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (336 pp.)    Publisher: Pan Macmillan/Mantle
Published: 20th September 2018 (ebook)   Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance

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My Review

The reader witnesses in brutal detail Lucius’ struggle to do his best for the soldiers in his care, many of whom have suffered terrible injuries that challenge his medical knowledge and surgical skills.  His task is made more difficult by the basic conditions in the makeshift field hospital to which he has been posted, the lack of food and medical supplies and the long, cold winters.

Along with a few orderlies, Lucius, and the hospital’s only nurse, Sister Margarete, care for the patients as best they can, battling not only the injuries themselves but the scourge of infection and disease.  Before long, the mutual dependence between Lucius and Margarete grows into a forbidden intimacy.

Although Lucius tries to fulfil the principle of ‘do no harm’, this conflicts with his military oath to ‘patch and send’; to return soldiers as quickly as possible back to the front to fight.  This dilemma becomes personified in the case of one patient.  What follows will have far-reaching consequences for Lucius and others.

I don’t really ‘do’ romance in novels, especially if it’s at all soppy or sentimental, but I’ll freely admit I was slightly tearful at the end of The Winter Soldier.    It made me think of Dr. Zhivago, albeit David Lean’s marvellous film version rather than the original novel by Boris Pasternak.

The Winter Soldier is a beautifully written novel that depicts the bonds formed through shared experiences in the worst of situations.  It’s a story of people thrown together by war, of separation and reunion, of love and loss.  I thought it was fantastic.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Pan Macmillan/Mantle and NetGalley.

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In three words: Epic, intense, emotional

Try something similar…The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford (read my review here)

Daniel MasonAbout the Author

Daniel Mason is the author of The Piano Tuner (2002), A Far Country (2007), and The Winter Soldier (2018). His writing has been translated into 28 languages, adapted for opera and stage and shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Northern California Book Award. His short stories and essays have appeared in Harper’s, Zoetrope: All Story and Lapham’s Quarterly, and have been awarded a Pushcart Prize, and a National Magazine Award.  In 2014, he was a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A Clinical Assistant Professor in the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry, his research interests include the subjective experience of mental illness and the influence of literature, history, and culture on the practice of medicine.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

  1. I have a copy of this and you’ve made me think twice about it, Cathy. It looked a litlte on the romantic side to me, too, but sounds as if there’s much more of a bite to it. Your comparison between the film and original Doctor Zhivago mae me smile. I remember being shocked by the book when I read it after seeing the film when I was a teenager.

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