The Winter Station

Written by Jody Shields
Review by Susan McDuffie

1910: As winter approaches, two frozen bodies are found near the railroad station in the city of Kharbin, a Russian outpost in northern Manchuria. The Baron, a Russian aristocrat and the city’s medical commissioner, is, surprisingly, not officially informed of these deaths and he investigates. Other mysterious deaths occur. It is soon apparent that the city is in the grip of plague, caused by bacillus pestis.

Wrapped in clumsy cotton masks and drenched in antiseptic, the Baron and an international team of doctors battle the epidemic. How is the contagion transmitted? What might slow or stop it? In the bitter cold of a frigid Manchurian winter, corpses are abandoned in the city streets, quickly covered by drifts of snow.

The Baron finds solace from the increasing horror with his Chinese wife, his calligraphy classes, and the companionship of his friend Messonier, who has unexpectedly found love. But can any human relationships survive this massive epidemic?

This striking novel is based on a little-known outbreak of pneumonic plague in 1910. Human courage, tenacity, and love confront overwhelming mortality. Like a delicate calligraphy, Jody Shields paints a starkly moving picture of our elusive humanity, as ephemeral and beautiful as snowflakes falling from a frozen sky. The images are unforgettable, and the book highly recommended.