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feet, knobby knees, a body that completely lacks the graceful lines of the classical ideal. His greatest dancing achievement is performing the role of the prince in a Rockford, Illinois, community production of The Nutcracker , while his naturally talented best friends, Susan and Mitch, dance in a prestigious Chicago version of the same ballet. Alternating between Walter's adult and childhood voices, Jane Hamilton's generous, tender novel The Short History ofa Princetells of the heartache of being second best, whether at dancing or at living. As if childhood disappointment in his limited talent were not enough, Walter's olderbrother, Daniel, a champion swimmer, is dying of cancer. Susan, attracted by the drama of the dying boy, falls in love with him. She neglects her friendship with Walter and without explanation stops seeing Mitch, uniting Mitch and Walter in anger. Walter wants Mitch's affection more than he wants to dance with the New York City Ballet, and, for a brief time anyway, he receives it. Walter's adult life is as unsatisfying as his childhood. After years in New York City, working at a dollhouse shop selling miniature furniture and flitting from one meaningless relationship to another, Walter, nearing middle age, accepts a job as an English teacher in Orten, Wisconsin, a small town without another openly gay man, let alone a ballet troupe, opera company or art museum. In order to face his indifferent students, he must motivate himself each morning by repeating, "Be not afraid. . . . You are funny, Mr. McCloud, and insightful." He finds an outlet for his creativity in directing a high school production of South Pacific, performed on a rickety stage in the gym. Hamilton's precise prose and endearing small-town characters make The Short History ofa Prince extraordinarily good reading. FoUowing her award-winning The Book ofRuth and her international bestseller A Map of the World, this novel establishes Hamilton as one of the better novelists writing today. (KS) A Soldier's Book by Joanna Higgins Permanent Press, 1998, 189 pp., $24 During the Civil War, Andersonville , Georgia, became the site of a prison for captured Union troops. Much as Auschwitz came to symbol- •ize the inhumanity of the twentieth century, Andersonville would eventually enter the popular lexicon as a defining horror of the Civil War. Survivors' accounts of Ufe within the prison revealed a helUsh world of pestilence and starvation. Photographs of men like walking skeletons deUvered even more frightening images to support the stories. So great was their impact that Uving conditions in AndersonviUe were one of the immediate causes for the establishment of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners. Joanna Higgins' A Soldier's Book draws on the history of the notorious prison to tell the story of Ira Stevens, a recently captured Union soldier. The result is a mixture of the ghastly and the transcendent. Ira and his companions encounter a chaotic system in which securing food and clothing is a Herculean task; in which the only shelter to be had is in holes burrowed in the ground; and in The Missouri Review · 205 which disease can claim anyone at any time. Through Ira's first-person narration, the reader observes his feUow prisoners sickening and dying, stealing food from others and vainly digging wells in attempts to avoid using the fetid stream flowing through the center of camp. Ira's greatest solace is the Soldier's Bookfor Leisure Moments, a volume of selected passages and quotation that offers him ancient reflections on the trials he faces. By the time he is sent to the prison, the existing prisonerexchange system has broken down, and the hope of making it back to Unionlines seems dismal. "Exchange," a word whose echoes are heard repeatedly among the prisoners, is only possible for those who cross the "dead Une" and have their suffering ended by a sentry's bullet. Every day the prisoners must make the ultimate existential choice: to battle for survival or to give up and cross the dead line. In surprising, hallucinatory twists, this novel becomes more than a POW chronicle. Higgins has written a book about guilt, conscience, love and ultimately hope rather than despair. A Soldier...


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