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The Winter Soldier

by Daniel Mason

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason X
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
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  • Published:
    Sep 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Catherine O

Get Lost in The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier transports the reader back one hundred years to war torn Eastern Europe. We see events through the eyes of a young medical student being trained in Vienna who is suddenly delivered to a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains as their only 'doctor'. The novel is rich in characters. The descriptions of the geography and buildings make you feel part of the action.

I read dozens of books each year to chose the selections that our book club reads. This is exactly the type of novel we love. Told from a doctor's point of view, it is very different from any historical fiction I have read about war in Europe. It is not surprising that the author is a Clinical Psychiatrist as he portrays such believable characters.

I think any reader would enjoy getting lost in The Winter Soldier.

The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is a beautifully nuanced novel set as World War I begins to fester within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Daniel Mason draws the reader into Lucius Kzeleweski’s psyche, the angst, and alienation this bashful, sensitive 22 year old suffers amidst the milieu of his aristocratic bourgeois family in what was then Poland. His solace is medical school where he is able to immerse himself and excel in the academic world, expressing his love of learning.
As War becomes evident, peer pressure draws Lucius to enlist. Mason comically describes Lucius father, a blustering throwback to previous wars, who heretofore ignored Lucius. Lucius finds himself dumfounded with his father’s pomp and attention to prepare him for the forthcoming war.
With exquisite attention to detail Daniel Mason brings the reader through an empire ripped to shreds to his posting at a remote battered church in the Carpathian Mountains. Here, he finds Margarete, a nun left to operate alone and care for hordes of wounded patients.
Lucius insecurities arise once again, as he registers his incompetence at surgery, comparing himself to the self-taught nun, Sister Margarete, who has become adept in primitive conditions. Patiently, she teaches Lucius without criticism and they fall in love. As Lucius gains confidence, a marauding band of soldiers arrives claiming a wounded mute, patient Horvath. He and Margarete argue, he wishes to keep Horvath and Margarete’s believes he should travel with the soldiers with the hopes they will find Horvath better care. As they argue a soldier impatiently drags Horvath into the courtyard and lashes him until he falls to the ground, leaving Horvath senseless and impaired. Lucius finds himself haunted by guilt, and plagued by images of Horvath for years to come.
Daniel Mason artfully takes the reader full circle with the war coming to a close, the two lovers separated, and Lucius returning to his parents’ home in Vienna where they have moved. He finds himself tormented with his sense of failure as a doctor, hopelessly in love with Margarete, and attempting to find penance for his treatment of Horvath.
After an ill-fated marriage, Lucius finds himself driven to find Sister Margarete. Despite the anarchy and chaos into which the Austro-Hungarian Empire has descended, Lucius puts himself at risk in this search. Once he finds Margarete, she reluctantly tells him she has married Horvath and has cared for the wounded soldier. Tearfully, she also reluctantly discloses, that she and Horvath are raising the daughter Lucius has fathered.
Absolution overrides Lucius sadness, and he now feels a newfound clarity and the freedom to pursue his own life.
The Winter Solder is a work of art, and one of the best novels of the year.
Deborah Miller
Christine Schaefer

This had everything and more
I really really loved this book. It was thoughtfully and poetically written about the difficult times in a makeshift hospital during WWI. Each couple of pages had a vignette that helped deepen the understanding of what the people went through - choices that were made, ethics, emotions, human frailties, love, mystery, heartache during wartime. I rated it the very best....but the vocabulary was difficult...even with Google, Alexa, dictionary and my friends explaining some words. Just didn't want to miss a thing. Bravo!
Deborah M

WW1 from an Eastern European POV
When World War I breaks out, Lucius Krzelewski, only son of a Polish aristocrat, is a second year medical student. His father, a former cavalry man, wants to use his connections to get his son a glory-seeking position at the front, but Lucius instead enlists in the medical corps, hoping to gain some hands-on experience. He finds himself assigned to a remote village--as the only doctor on staff. The hospital is run by a young nun, Sister Margrete, whose practical education under the last doctor has taught her more than Lucius could imagine, including how to amputate limbs and drain pressure on the brain. Determined to help and protect injured men, he soon learns that his task is to heal them just enough to send them back to the front lines.

Mason does a fine job of recreating the horrors of war and the physical and mental toll it takes on the soldiers. Lucius is particularly haunted by one man, a Hungarian named Horvath who produces beautiful drawings but can't speak; instead, he produces a loud, constant hum. The characters are very well developed, including the resourceful and independent Margrete, her orderlies, and the hospital cook, as well as Lucius and his patients. I was a bit put off by the love story that dominates the second half of the book. Then again, I can imagine that in such an environment, young men were happy to cling to any hope of a better world. Like many of them, Lucius is haunted by people and events from his war experience that he just cannot shake.

Although I did enjoy this book, I feel that The Piano Tuner was better. Still, a recommended read for those interested in World War I from an Eastern European standpoint who are not too squeamish.
Power Reviewer
Sandi W.

Starts slow and builds up speed....
I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. I felt it read like a foreign dictionary. I was disappointed. I so liked Mason's book The Piano Tuner and was excited to get a chance to read this one. I had so much trouble starting this novel that I almost set it aside. I realize now that having done that would have been a loss for me.

Lucius, dreams of being a surgeon. Much to his Mothers disappointment he enters the military during WW1. He ends up in an abandoned church being used as a field hospital in Lemnowice, in the Carpathian Mountains. He expects his training to continue, but instead finds himself as the only surgeon there, a surgeon unsure of himself and thoroughly inexperienced. Under deplorable conditions he finds Sister Margarete in charge. Under her tutelage, Lucius learns quickly and takes over his role as surgeon.

Shattering presence, heart wrenching, unconscionable pain and suffering, all vivid for the reader to visualize. This story is plot-driven, is full of action, springs forth with brutal detail, and may not end as you desire. However, it truly has the mark of Mason, excellence.
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Beyond the Book:
  Medicine and World War I

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