The Winter Soldier: A Tale of Growing Up, Love, and Tragedy as a Doctor in WWI
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
Last year on Christmas Eve, I got a notice on the Kindle that there was a huge sale on that year’s top sellers. So I checked it out and it had crazy good deals. Brand new bestsellers were $.99 which was amazing. So I got a lot of books that night. And through the year I have been returning to this virtual book stock often. And recently I decided to read one of those books. The book is The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason.
In the story follows Lucias, an Austrian young man who is born to wealthy parents, but is not accepting of his parent’s expectations and wants nothing more than to be medical doctor. Much to his parent’s dismay, he becomes a medical student at a school in Vienna. But even there, he begins to feel bored and is told by others he is not being is used to his full potential. So when World War I breaks out, he joins the military as a medical officer. Much to his surprise, he is not sent to a hospital with medical equipment. He is sent to a middle of nowhere country town of Lemnowice where church is being used as medical station. The doctor that are supposed be there ran off or are dead. And the nuns are holding the operations together are doing medical work and amputations. Lucius was a medical student meant to be an assistant to these doctors, but he instead is the unqualified man put in charge as the doctor.
He is at first overwhelmed being book smart but not experienced. Night and day, its patient after patient and he learns as much as he can from a nun, Nurse Margaret who seems to be the one with the most medical expertise there. It’s hard, backbreaking, and absolute chaos, but somehow over time, he learns to grow close to the people around him and calls the place home. They become a family and he even falls for Nurse Margaret. But sadly things in war are always changing and nothing is meant to last.
The good? This book is the sort of historical fiction I like. The setting is great, unique and the author does a fantastic job of placing the reader there. The horrors of war is reflected in every patient that comes through the church. Also Lucius has a great arc. At the beginning he hates his parents and wants to be a doctor. He’s not very sociable and often isolates himself in studies. He’s a dry boring character who seemed to not even have empathy for others. Then as he’s thrown into Lemnowice away from the high society he doesn’t care much for, he grows as a person. He becomes passionate toward others and seems to find a purpose in his life that he cares for. It’s really amazing how he’s so unlikable at the beginning and just lovable toward the end. The book also explores various themes and plot lines. There’s the fantastically told love story. The growing of a boy to a man. The exploration of a new illness born of war, PSTD. This is something Lucius becomes fascinated with and wants to desperately cure. Then there’s the sad acceptance and hate toward his own army, for the fact that if his patients are patched up enough to barely walk, they are required to go back to the front where they’ll likely be killed. There’s a lot of great things explored in this novel.
The bad? One thing this book does well, is imitate life. The reader is following Lucius for years and he makes noble choices and the incredibly stupid ones, because he is very human and it is true to his personality. But even though I love this slice of life story telling, it does become a fault for the book, leaving an ending that is divisive to say the least. The end is not what most readers would call a happy ending, yet at the same time it gives the post war time closure Lucius needs and he can make peace with all that happened. It’s not the ending the reader wants, but chances are in reality if this were to happen, something like this is likely to happen. It sticks to this realistic life like tone up to the end. Also once Lucius gets his closure the book ends abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder what to become of him as he knows he no longer feels like he has a home in Vienna or in Lemnowice. It just seemed the ending needed just a little more to tie things up.
Overall, I love this. It’s was charming in parts and I nearly cried in others. It’s tragic and hopeful. It explores such great themes and an intriguing part of war that we often don’t see in any media. So in my opinion this is a must read. It may be boring at first but stay with it and it will develop into a fascinating tale.
4 smoothies out of four.
Overall Rating: A Tale of Growing Up, Love, and Tragedy as a Doctor in WWI