Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Mason’

‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ by Daniel Mason – An Engaging Wide Variety of Stories

 

‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’, stories by Daniel Mason (2020) – 231 pages

In my never-ending quest to find good fiction to read, I sometimes peruse lists like ‘Best Books of Summer 2020’ or ‘Your Summer Reading List 2020’ or, even worse, ‘Best Summer Beach Reads of 2020’. Of all the lists that I looked at, not one of them mentioned ‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ by Daniel Mason, a collection of fascinating stories that has recently come out. Perhaps I should swear off these ridiculous lists.

Daniel Mason’s goal is to produce some fine fiction, not to make some point about our world today. His goals are old-fashioned literary goals.

Nearly all his stories in this collection take place in a time and place that are remote from today.

The collection starts with a gruesome exciting wrestling match in Ireland, Jacob Burke vs Blindman McGraw, in 1824.

Then we have a story about Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-1800s, who came up with the theory of survival of the fittest even before Charles Darwin, but was so captivated with the joy of finding new species in Indonesia that instead of formally presenting his ideas wrote them in a letter to Charles Darwin who put them in his book ‘Origin of Species’ and thus got all the credit for Wallace’s ideas.

A story about a widow deeply worried about her asthmatic young son in early 19th century London follows. Then there is a story about an uncle who immigrated to California as a child with his family from Poland who for some unusual reason participates in US Civil War re-enactments. And there are more stories.

As you can see, these stories cover a lot of territory and a wide variety of subjects. The endings of most of the stories tend to be open-ended and inconclusive which allows the readers to draw their own conclusions.

I really believe that a book that displays this much engaging variety and writerly talent should have received much more publicity and reviews than it has. I was lucky to find a good review of ‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ in The Guardian (by John Self!), the online version to which I subscribe.

 

Grade:    A-

 

 

‘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-

 

 

%d bloggers like this: