Picador September 2018 (Hardback) 3rd October 2019 (Paperback)
Vienna, 1914. Lucius is a twenty-two-year-old medical student when World War 1 explodes across Europe. Enraptured by romantic tales of battlefield surgery, he enlists, only to find himself posted to a remote field-hospital ravaged by typhus. Supplies have all but run out, the other doctors have fled, and only a single nurse remains, from whom he must learn a brutal, makeshift medicine.
Then one day, an unconscious soldier is brought in from the snow, his uniform stuffed with strange drawings. He seems beyond rescue, until Lucius makes a fateful decision that will change the course of his life.
From the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Vienna to the frozen forests of the Eastern Front, The Winter Soldier is the story of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and of the mistakes we make and the precious opportunities to atone.
Thank you firstly to Camilla Elworthy at Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this beautiful book. The synopsis really does tell you what you need to know so I will try not to focus too much on the storyline here.
World War 1 provides a harrowing backdrop to the story and the writing vividly captures both the hard conditions and the trauma. For me the predominant story is a love story but it may be that, that was just my favourite aspect, because actually this is the story of Lucius, never quite fitting in with his upper class family and driven to study medicine, he learns his trade on the job in a field hospital. The agony of war is truly evident here in terms of the physical injuries sustained but also the emergence of the emotional traumas experienced, previously unrecognised but becoming noted across Europe as soldiers and others struggle to process their experiences. It came as no surprise to me to learn the author is a physician working in psychiatry.
Sitting writing this review, having just read this book I know there is so much more to this story than the love aspect, but actually I think for Lucius it remains such a significant part of his life that it continues to be central to the story, after he has returned to Vienna and his family. That said the plot never went where I expected it to particularly and while this book is not especially a mystery, Lucian is searching and what he finds is often not what he (or I) expected.
This is a beautifully written book, capturing the range of emotions experienced, from the profound loss of loved ones whose whereabouts is unknown to the happiness and joy that can be experienced in the most difficult of circumstances. There is a hard lesson in this book and aspects of the story are hard to read, particularly when trying to do the right thing goes so badly wrong. There are also violent details, consistent to wartime that are desperately sad.
Personally I enjoy historical fiction set in Wartime, I think simply because they so often are stories that emphasise the good and positive aspects of humanity, the relationships and the kindness. And this book delivers in all areas. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure I think, as issues of loss and redemption are explored.
A highly recommended read.
About the Author
Daniel Mason is a physician and author of the novels The Piano Tuner and A Far Country. His work has a been translated into twenty-eight languages and adapted for opera and theatre. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, where he teaches courses in the humanities and medicine. He lives in the Bay Area with his family.