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July 24, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

MESSENGER BIRD by Dan McCall (Harcourt Brace: $9.95; 208 pp.). McCall's understated novel rings with the honesty of a silver dollar on a barroom table. After completing medical school, Jim, the narrator, agrees to serve for two years in a neglected hospital on an Apache reservation in New Mexico. Despite his skill at repairing the effects of accidents, brawls and binges, he remains outside the lives of the people he serves--until he meets Annie Messenger Bird. The gentle, resilient Annie shows Jim the battles her people constantly wage against rampant alcoholism and the brutal theft of their identity. In exchange for his services, Jim receives the rare gift of compassion.

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