Skip to main content

The Winter Soldier

Review

The Winter Soldier

“How far will we go?” This is one of the pivotal questions posed in almost all war stories. How far will we go to get what we want? How far will we go when it comes to the lives of others? How far will we go to find absolution? In the case of Daniel Mason’s THE WINTER SOLDIER, we explore these prickly inquiries through the eyes of one Lucius Krzelewski, a young Polish medical student-turned-field doctor in the midst of World War I. So, this may be a war story, but not one that chronicles great battles thundering across the landscape. No, this is the tale of the people behind the lines --- those who not only watch the atrocities of war unfold, but whose job it is to deal with them after they do.

To say the least, then, this is not a book for the queasy or lighthearted. It’s more than just a gore fest, of course --- much more --- but as a student of medicine himself, Mason doesn’t flinch when it comes to detailing all the soldiers’ various afflictions, physical and mental. This immersive approach is at once frightening and fascinating, making you cringe as often as it piques your curiosity for the grotesque. You may often find yourself asking how it can get any worse, until you remember that Lucius is there and you’re not.

"This story of love, war and medicine can be called nothing less than a modern achievement in excellent character-building."

Lucius is 22 (my age) when he enlists and heads off to the war-ravaged countryside --- a reminder of the different times in which we live. And yet, faced with the perils of the unknown, he is just as human as the rest of us. A man with hopes and dreams --- some fulfilled, some snatched right from under him, some squandered by his own hand. A man who faces sharp learning curves, both in what he chooses to do for a living and who he chooses to do it with. A man who can’t help but feel the things he’s feeling, unable to ever completely bury what’s behind or peer over what’s in front of him to see what lies ahead.

And along with him is Margarete, the real star of THE WINTER SOLDIER. Present or absent, you are as acutely aware of her aura --- her lingering energy --- as Lucius is. She is genuinely one of the most well-written characters I have ever encountered in my literary travels. Just when you think you have a bead on her, she’s always three steps ahead. I won’t say any more about her to avoid revealing critical aspects; it’s best that you discover her endless secrets and facets on your own. Sure, there are plenty of characters in Mason’s wartime epic, but none even come close to Lucius and Margarete (which is okay, honestly).

However, for as beautiful as Mason’s prose consistently is, describing everything from faces to trees in the most exquisite manner, it does clog up the story at certain points. His writing is very heavy and symbolic, which I can absolutely appreciate, but when a description of a scene gets in the way of what could have been a scene through-and-through, it doesn’t sit well with me. THE WINTER SOLDIER spans years, which obviously doesn’t leave time for every change of underwear, and so his authorial choices are understandable, if not preferable. If Jane Austen-level description is your cup of tea, though, then sit right down, because you’re in for a treat.

Regardless, I won’t lie and tell you that Mason didn’t have me entranced for the many hours I spent with Lucius and Margarete. World War I is often overshadowed by its later, greater cousin, but with THE WINTER SOLDIER, a lot of minds are going to change. This story of love, war and medicine can be called nothing less than a modern achievement in excellent character-building.

Reviewed by Benny Regalbuto on September 14, 2018

The Winter Soldier
by Daniel Mason

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316477605
  • ISBN-13: 9780316477604