Lucius Krzelewski was born into a wealthy Polish family that moved to Vienna to chase down even more economic opportunity. He never fit into his mother’s version of society; awkward and stammering, he found social events a form of torture more than anything else. Instead, Lucius found comfort and confidence in the realm of science. As a young adult he headed to medical school to become a doctor.
Midway through his education, World War I broke out. Austria joined the fighting, and eventually Lucius enlisted, hoping to treat real patients rather than just learning about them. But he got more than he bargained for. Sent to the Carpathian Mountains on the former border of Hungary and Poland—currently Ukraine—Lucius thinks he’ll be on a team of doctors in a hospital. What he finds instead is a hospital run by a nun volunteering as a nurse with a supporting team of orderlies.
With time, experience, and Sister Margarete’s instruction, he becomes the war doctor the military expected him to be, finding a whole new community among the people working at the hospital. He falls in love and begins to feel that he has become who he was meant to be. When a soldier with some unusual needs comes through, Lucius believes he is the only one who can help him and makes a decision that haunts him for years to come.
Medicine, war, and romance (some sexuality included) come together in a multilayered novel that explores the shifting borders of countries, the shifting alliances of war, and the shifting understanding of self. Lucius, lonely and heartbroken, drowns himself in work while desperately longing for forgiveness and atonement.
The Winter Soldier is a well-written, absorbing novel that delves into the motivations for what we do and our limited ability to understand them, showing empathy to both Lucius and that aspect of the human condition in all of us. It also addresses the painful emotional effects of war, describing PTSD in characters who have never heard of such a condition. (Little, Brown & Co.)