For some reason as we get older, in much the same way our taste buds find previously unsavory foods suddenly appealing, we tend to find more appreciation for different genres of books than we had in our youth; for me I think I may have gone in the opposite direction of most, spending the first half of my life engrossed with non-fiction, biographies, and theology. Now that I am working towards the latter half of my life, I seem to be picking up and enjoying more fiction. Specifically, Historical Fiction as it seems to quench my thirst for history while providing a story in a setting that interests me and that can spawn subsequent Wikipedia searches into maps, events, etc.
Which brings me to “The Winter Soldier” by Daniel Mason. The story revolves around a young medical student, Lucius Krzelewski, who through world events and familial interference ends up being transported from his Medical School in Vienna to a makeshift hospital run out of a chapel in Lemnowice, in the Carpathian Mountains (the Ruthenian region which this fictional field hospital sits in is designated in light green in the map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire below). Lucius, while being the narrator of the story doesn’t really shine in the early portions of the book. His character and medical expertise develop throughout that early period. The real stars of these early chapters are his cast of orderlies, each with their own oddball traits and his nurse, Sister Margarete, who provides Lucius with his medical training, along with some great dialogue along the way.
The story is at times violent and begins to lay the rudimentary groundwork and study of war sicknesses that we would later classify as PTSD. Mason spends a lot of time describing scenes so beautifully you could imagine yourself there, from the foothills of the Carpathians to Vienna at its Imperial height. Personally, I feel the Great War is glossed over in so many history books and classes, making way for its successor, WWII. Even when I have read books about either of these wars they are often told through the eyes of Western Europe or America. Both the eyes through which the war is framed (Central Powers) and the Eastern theater were refreshing to see, especially by a Western author.
This book is a page-turner, primitive and violent at times but utterly stimulating with from enchanting landscapes, love stories, false identities, charging Calvary, and zeppelins floating through the sky. Pick it up if you get an opportunity if you like the genre you will not be disappointed!