I can’t decide what I liked more about this novel – the narration or the characters. The Winter Soldier drew me into a theatre of World War I that I knew little about.
Lucius Krzelewski, a promising medical student from a wealthy Polish family, finds himself back in kindergarten when he arrives at a makeshift hospital on the Eastern Front. Nothing at the university has prepared him for the grim task of patching up badly-wounded soldiers, or the obscenity of sending many of them back into battle despite dangerous infections and amputated limbs.
That brings us to Margarete, a sister of some unknown religious order with a mysterious background. She demonstrates a depth of fortitude that leaves the reader in awe. She seems to have been put on Earth specifically to bear the twin burdens of triage nurse and nanny to a neophyte doctor. Ironically, Margarete’s heroic actions propel her and Lucius to a series of fateful decisions that will shape both their futures.
Then there’s József Horváth, a patient whose condition is so severe that he becomes an obsession for Lucius. His fate serves as a reminder that each time we humans leap into the abyss of war, it’s the hapless soldiers who bear the consequences. You can’t help wondering what other paths these three characters might have followed had war not engulfed them.
Daniel Mason’s narration is smooth-flowing and compelling. The book contains only a couple of scatological words and a few mild sex scenes.