‘The Winter Soldier’ by Daniel Mason – Romance in a Makeshift Hospital During World War I

 

‘The Winter Soldier’ by Daniel Mason (2018) – 318 pages

Most of the novels we get here in the United States which take place during World War I involve the Western Front. ‘The Winter Soldier’ is only the second novel I’ve read which takes place on the Eastern Front in the battles between the Austrian Empire and Russia. The first Eastern Front novel I read was the uproarious anti-war masterpiece by Czech writer Juroslav Hasek, ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’. When the Russian government collapsed with the February Revolution of 1917, Russia left the war so there was no longer an Eastern Front.

‘The Winter Soldier’ is about a young Austrian medical student named Lucius. The fighting during World War I was particularly gruesome for the soldiers, and a lot of doctors were needed to treat the soldiers’ horrific injuries. Thus Lucius becomes an army doctor even before he has had any practical experience whatsoever. He is assigned to a makeshift army hospital in a church in a remote valley of the Carpathian Mountains which I believe is somewhere in Poland.

When he arrives, the nurses are happy to see him because there hasn’t been a doctor there for three months. One of the young nurses Margarete who is also a nun has been doing all the necessary amputations and other severe surgeries herself. Lucius tries unsuccessfully to hide his inexperience and all-around incompetence from Margarete.

Margarete is such a strong and likable figure that the reader misses her when she is not in the story. ‘The Winter Soldier’ develops into a romance between Lucius and Margarete.

I found this to be a somewhat unusual subject for a United States novelist to tackle. ‘The Winter Soldier’ is very moving and well done. You will laugh, you will cry. This is substantial real literature that will last.

World War I was probably the most horrific war for the soldiers not only due to the trench fighting but also due to the close combat in other situations. Reading about these soldiers with these dreadful battle injuries, one can’t help but wonder why humans do such terrible things to each other periodically in the name of war. Not only were these war wounds severe, but also the treatment for infections was still primitive then, so there were many amputations due to infected wounds.

Not all of the injuries that the soldiers get are physical. Some are suffering from severe shell shock which can result in catatonia or uncontrollable tremors. However the army sends patrols around to the hospitals, and when they see someone with no obvious injuries, they roust these soldiers up and make them return to battle.

The scenes that take place at this makeshift hospital are definitely the strongest in the novel. Later the war ends and Lucius loses track of Margarete, so the story becomes a search for her. As I said before, the reader longs for Margarete when she is not in the story.

 

Grade :    A-

 

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. It sounds interesting – but why, I wonder, are authors so fascinated by that war, after all this time? The literature written by soldiers who had experienced it is powerful (All Quiet on the Western Front etc) but why are authors (and publishers) still going on about it, when there are other contemporary issues – including war – that could be of interest to today’s readers?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      I suppose some of the fascination with World War I is that it still was a somewhat “personal” war. In World War II, what can you write about a bomb dropped from an airplane that kills 100,000 people? World War III will be even more impersonal and horrific. Sadly our leaders today now seem to be forgetting the terrible devastation of World War II.

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