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June 25, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

MY OWN COUNTRY: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese (Vintage: $13; 432 pp.) and HIV-NEGATIVE: How the Uninfected Are Affected by AIDS by William I. Johnston (Insight Books: $14.95; 332 pp., paperback original). Born in Ethiopia to expatriate Indian parents, Verghese came to the U.S. to study medicine. In 1985, he began working in the seemingly peaceful town of Johnson City, Tenn.: "You viewed the town with a certain satisfaction, a reassuring sense of being insulated from all the foolishness you saw on TV: subway vigilantes, mass murders, drive-by shootings, AIDS." But Verghese discovered that many of his patients were infected with HIV. As he treated them, he learned how the insidious virus can destroy family bonds, as well as immune systems. Johnston focuses on healthy, urban gay men who have seen friends and lovers wither like premature autumn leaves. He argues that the need to funnel precious resources to the infected has led to the emotional neglect of these survivors: "What HIV-negative gay men face now, however, is a kind of continuous and unremitting grief. Not content with one sweep through us--causing one great round of loss--HIV seems intent on plaguing us without end, and its cussedness in foiling our attempts to fight it is daunting." The affable Verghese occasionally looses the thread of his story in a welter of family anecdotes, while Johnston tells the reader too little about his personal experiences. Together, the authors make it clear that as the 20th Century crumbles to its conclusion, no one remains unaffected by AIDS.

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