The Winter Soldier
By: Daniel Mason
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
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.
The main character is a medical student, the story is set in Central Europe during World War One? Count me in! I actually brought this book with me when I travelled to Central Europe back in early January, to put me in the mood 🙂
The historical and medicine aspects of the novel had to be my favorite parts. It was interesting to read what was known at the time, what was considered to be cutting edge technology, new advancements in the field, what the education was like. I recently realised that European medicine was a little ahead of North American medicine and medical training, so in retrospect that comparison is interesting to consider. It’s also nice to read a book featuring a nurse character, reading about what their role was like back then, the challenges they faced, how they were treated. Even then you can see how different their role was compared to the doctors, how different their priorities are (an ongoing comparison these days when in nursing school).
Plot-wise, the story was pretty predictable, actually: the love story, Lucius’ struggles to carve his own identity and his own life and pursue his own interests that was separate from his family’s expectations, the tragedy with his love life and the events that followed. The family dynamics was interesting, but I wasn’t too engrossed by it. I could see what was going to happen a kilometre away.
Nonetheless I enjoyed reading this book. The setting was unique, as was elements of the story, especially when it came to the historical setting and details and about the medicine of the time. If you’re into historical fiction, books featuring medicine, and Central Europe, it’s worth checking out.