A grim, terse, often moving first novel about a young Union soldier who comes of age in the waning days of the Civil War. Captured in 1864, Ira Stevens is sent to the South’s most notorious military prison, Andersonville. In a stockade enclosing some 20 acres, many thousands of ill and grotesquely undernourished prisoners struggle to maintain some sense of humanity and to preserve a fragile hope that they may be exchanged for Confederate p.o.w.’s before disease or starvation claims them. A few, including Ira and a small band of his friends, attempt repeatedly without success to tunnel beneath the stockade. The horrors of Andersonville have been depicted before, most notably in MacKinlay Kantor’s epic novel Andersonville. But Higgins (stories: The Importance of High Places, 1993) sets her story apart by offering a concentrated study of how the experience of captivity either corrodes or fosters character. Her portrait of Ira and his friends--the tough, soldierly Gus; the dour, brilliant Marinus; and the amoral Louis--is complex and penetrating. Without overplaying it, she demonstrates a convincing grasp of the language, attitudes, and morality of the period, and the emergence of Ira’s character and beliefs in the midst of degradation is both subtle and believable. The degradation, it should be noted, is considerable: The camp’s only drinking water is contaminated by human waste, starvation ravages bodies and minds, disease of every sort is rampant. Frantic to survive, some sink into violence. Ira tends the ill, watches his friends die, escapes only to be recaptured and tortured, and escapes again. An impressive debut, and a notable contribution to the recent flood of Civil War novels.