Time marches on, taking with it alliances and allegiances both political and personal. With a physician’s precision and an artist’s eye, author Daniel Mason (The Piano Tuner) captures the emotional and physical upheaval wrought by war. Right from the start, his new novel, The Winter Soldier, thrums with tension, whisking the reader into the fray.
Amid the disorientation and displacement of World War I, Lucius, a barely trained young medical student, reports to a remote church requisitioned as a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains. There, he meets the enigmatic Sister Margarete, a nurse who has been the main medical provider with a few orderlies since the previous doctors deserted or died along with her fellow sisters. Quick, witty and knowledgeable, Margarete becomes Lucius’ teacher, while a more than collegial relationship stirs beneath the surface.
As the front advances around them, churning out the wounded, Lucius and Margarete toil side by side in their “patch and send” hospital. Amputations, nervous shock, skulls caved in, typhus, rats and lice—it’s exhausting to imagine the onslaught of it all, but Mason deftly renders every scene in vivid detail. Winter’s inevitable descent looms over them constantly, ready to take the lives they struggle to save. Yet even in winter, to paraphrase Camus, an invincible summer lies within. Hope, love, desire, laughter, even beauty exist alongside the blood and mayhem.
The arrival of a wrecked shell of a soldier, trapped in both body and mind, brings a reckoning. Choices made by both nurse and doctor shape the young soldier’s life for good and for ill, reverberating until the novel’s final page. Through Vienna, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Galicia, The Winter Soldier roams from battlefields and hospitals to villages and ballrooms, never losing the thread between Lucius and Margarete.
With striking prose and an unencumbered pace, The Winter Soldier makes for a uniquely compelling read.