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The Winter Soldier
Daniel Mason
Reviewed by Phil

The Winter Soldier begins with the protagonist, Lucius, climbing down from a train at an isolated railway station in the Carpathian Mountains of eastern Europe. It is 1915, and World War 1 has engulfed the continent. Lucius, a medical student, has been assigned as an orderly to a remote field station near the front line. It is a two-day journey on horseback from the railway station to his posting.

Lucius finally arrives at the field station, a shell-damaged church in the village of Lemnowice, expecting to work under the supervision of the resident doctor. Instead, he is met by a nursing sister in a grey habit and armed with a rifle.

“The doctor?” she asks in response to Lucius’s question about his supervisor. “Didn’t you just say you are him?”

Margarete, the nursing sister, shows Lucius around, introducing him to all the patients and summarizing their medical needs. She quickly realizes that Lucius has no experience – he has in fact only ever treated two patients – and takes him under her wing. Working side-by-side in grueling conditions for long hours each day, they develop a strong bond, which slowly evolves into love.

One day, a peasant arrives pushing a wheelbarrow, loaded with a comatose soldier, the winter soldier of the novel’s title. Lucius and Margarete examine the patient, but can find no sign of physical injury. They diagnose nervous shock, a new disease sweeping the continent in the footsteps of the war. Lucius and Margarete’s care and treatment of Horvath, the winter soldier, have a profound effect on all of their lives.

The Winter Soldier is a masterpiece. Mason’s writing is so evocative that the reader is drawn into the world he creates, seeming to stand right there beside Lucius and Margarete as they tend to their patients in the little church in Lemnowice. This is a very satisfying novel.

Daniel Mason has written two previous novels, The Piano Tuner and A Far Country. He wrote The Piano Tuner while still a medical student. Mason is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

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