BOOKS: 72 Churches -- And Also AIDS

A doctor tells of treating the disease in a Bible Belt town

When a 32-year-old man suddenly died in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1985, the local medics assumed the cause to be pneumonia. After they found out it was AIDS, some of them made tasteless jokes about the man's sexuality and others suggested they bury his respirator. It was not that they were ill-intentioned, as Abraham Verghese points out in My Own Country (Simon & Schuster; 347 pages; $23); it was simply that AIDS, to say nothing of homosexuality, was something that happened somewhere else. For a quiet Bible Belt town of dance halls and churches (72 of them), the disease was an...

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