Winter Station
by Shields, Jody

An aristocratic Russian doctor stationed in the railway outpost city of Kharbin in Manchuria races to contain a deadly plague before it spreads to the rest of the world.

Jody Shields is the author of two novels, the bestselling novel The Fig Eater and The Crimson Portrait. Formerly Design Editor of the New York Times magazine and a Contributing Editor of American Vogue, Shields is also a screenwriter and a collected artist. She is a resident of New York City.

Set in the railway outpost of Kharbin, Manchuria, several stories play out against the frigid landscape: the uneasy power play between China, Russia, and Japan in 1910; changing mores necessitated by social proximity; and a devastating epidemic faced by a radically divided medical team. These aspects alone form an interesting study. Added to them are elaborately described cultural traditions involving the tea ceremony, calligraphy, and musings on vodka, which sometimes overshadow the central mystery of a killer disease and disappearing bodies. As in her previous novels (including The Crimson Portrait, 2006), Shields ably evokes the delicate psychological gray area between imagined horrors and a stark, scary reality, gradually introducing readers to a little-known slice of history and then constructing an increasingly nightmarish scenario around it. Unfortunately, the race for solutions to the mystery slows somewhat, as if the narrative flow is trapped in both the snowy setting and the excessive posturing of the characters. Readers focused on the main story line may be frustrated, but others will be captivated by the atmosphere and the various, essay-like ruminations, which evoke Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993). Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

In 1910 Manchuria, a doctor is baffled by a deadly epidemic.Shields (The Crimson Portrait, 2006, etc.) may be the first novelist to tackle the mysterious plague that overtook Manchuria early in the last century. In Kharbin, a railroad hub under the joint control of Czarist Russia and the Chinese empire, Russian physician Baron von Budberg, the city's chief medical examiner,, is frustrated when two corpses found near the railway station are spirited away before he can ascertain the cause of death. Soon, such deaths and disappearances are mounting exponentially, both in the hovels of the Chinese laborers and the mansions of the privileged Russian sector. As frigid winter descends, it becomes clear to the Baron and his hospital colleagues that a highly infectious plague has gripped Kharbin. The malady presents initially with mild symptoms, racing pulse and elevated temperature, followed within hours by wracking cough, hemorrhage, and death. The chief difficulty here is that Shie lds has trouble meshing the disease-thriller aspect of this novel with her almost worshipful character study of the Baron, a humanist equally at home with his Chinese wife, Li Ju, calligraphy lessons, and tea ceremonies as he is with vodka and caviar. Many colorful—or so they are clearly intended—characters cross the Baron's path, including his venal boss, Gen. Khorvat, and his confidants Andreev, a fixer and smuggler, and the dwarf Chang, a tea master. Although his loyalty to less raffish friends as well as his meditative calligraphy practice may lend gravitas to the Baron's persona, he remains a cipher. The depiction of the epidemic hews closely to the known facts: the discarded, frozen bodies, the brutal quarantine methods, and the initially scattershot official response. Unfortunately, though, the narrative is nearly devoid of forward momentum. Rather than do battle, the Baron seems content to ruefully observe the plague's inevitable advance. Potential confli c ts, like the Baron's incipient rivalry with a Dr. Wu, whom he views as a young upstart, are never developed. A Manchurian Hot Zone this is not. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Terms of Use   ©Copyright 2018 Follett School Solutions