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A PRIVATE BATTLE by Cornelius & Kathryn Morgan Ryan Ryan Kirkus Star



Pub Date: June 7th, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

In 1970 when the verdict was cancer (adenocarcinoma/prostate), Cornelius Ryan took to unburdening himself on tape. The record of his private battle does for cancer what his accounts of the siege of the individual soldier (The Longest Day, etc.) do for war. By letting us in, Ryan tells us more--other--than we knew before, and more than his wife tells in her umbrella-reconstruction of how he lived with, and in spite of, a gaining enemy for four years. She was his best friend, in an army of spectacularly good ones, but the loneliness of cancer yields to no outsider. Nothing mutes the sadness of the reading: Ryan's stubborn counterattacks were doomed, his satisfactions ineluctably tainted. But at least there were satisfactions. He accomplished A Bridge Too Far--the third and, he knew, the last of his five projected WW II histories. Early on, beating the clock had come to mean humbly borrowing the time to finish it; now, it looked like his best work. ""It would be ironic if my writing was improving just when I might not live to see if I can do any better""; yet, ""Oddly enough, . . . I wouldn't change places with any man."" When Ryan received the Legion of Honor, he renounced wheel chair and incontinency apparatus for good. But by the time he was elected Fellow of the Society of American Historians--a long-coveted recognition--corticoid drugs had all but obscured his features: ""I'm going to end up a damned freak. . . . It's monstrous for Katie and the children to have to live with this."" It was. But Katie kept the faith, except in the horrible moment when she caught sight of him from a distance and the sight repulsed her--and he saw her revulsion. Ryan would probably be proud to know that, as she honors him in death, he comes across like his own hero, the ordinary soldier at his best.