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`WIDOW’ TELLS ALL ABOUT CIVIL WAR

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OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL; By Allan Gurganus; Knopf; 718 pages; $21.95.

Imagine living through the Civil War and surviving until the latter part of this century. History has no better spokesman than the common man - or woman, in this case.And, technically, Lucy Marsden, born 1885, didn't live through the Civil War herself, but she married a man who took to war at 13, saw his best friend killed and came home a Confederate hero, living out his long life as a public figure - even when he had no idea what was going on.

Allan Gurganus has made Lucy an American Everywoman in his lengthy and detailed saga of her life in the South, from her marriage to The Captain when she was a mere 15, through her nine children, more wars, disasters left and right, until she is settled, at age 99, in a charity home.

Age doesn't dim Lucy's irascible self, which comes through in her ungrammatical, sometimes wandering, but nonetheless determined recounting of her life.

The Civil War was her war because it was The Captain's, and she tells his sad story as if it were her own. Her own life has always taken a backseat to his, until his own life becomes a shadow of living and Lucy proves her own strength without having to hide behind matrimonial courtesy.

"Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" is a funny, sharp and often touching tale told with all the eccentricities of its heroine neatly intact. - By M.R. Aig (AP).