1999 New York Public Library's Book for the Teen Age List
WORDSCAPE Magazine Best Books of 1998 List (Nancy Pearl)
Michael Shaara Award of the U.S. Civil War Center: Best Novel Finalist
Ira Cahill Stevens, a young Union soldier taken captive by Confederates during the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864, finds himself fighting a new battle as the novel opens. One waged within the head and heart against "the dead nothingness of despair."It’s a bad time to be a prisoner-of-war. The long and acrimonious debate over prisoner exchanges has come to a stalemate, and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant has halted all exchanges in order to prevent released Confederates from immediately returning to their regiments. As a result, prison camps are desperately overcrowded and conditions fatally dire often tantamount to a death sentence.
With Ira is Gus, a seasoned soldier and religious man who believes U.S. Grant synonymous with the Almighty; Marinus, cynical, learned, and brooding, who appears to have some tragic secret; Louis, a practical and unscrupulous man of action; and Willy, a boy who escaped from an orphanage to enlist, hoping for better food in the Army of the Potomac. Together they make up a "family" in a world that becomes increasingly absurd and barbaric, one in which rumors of imminent exchange and the threat of death wreak as much havoc on the psyche as starvation, filth, overcrowding, and brutality do on the body.Most of the characters are fictional, but the details, and many of the events, are accurately historical. The prison camps, with their notorious "dead lines,"create a kind of extreme metaphor for our own times. Even in the most grim and circumscribed of situations, there is choice.
A SOLDIER’S BOOK is about choice, about becoming, and above all, about the possibility and revivifying force of love.
JOANNA HIGGINS lives with her husband Jerry in the hills of northeast Pennsylvania. She has taught literature and writing at colleges and universities in Michigan, England, Pennsylvania, New York, and Hawaii. Her fiction and plays have received recognition and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Of her debut work, a collection of short fiction, The Importance of High Places, Kirkus said: "fascinating tales of spiritual transcendence . . . a memorable experience. . . a writer to watch." This is her first novel.