January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

by Janice A. Burns

Their doctor called them Ping and Pong because they took turns getting sick. Janice and Bill Burns of Yonkers, N.Y., had been married two years when he and then his wife were each diagnosed with the HIV virus. Hearing their death sentences in 1987, the two began a tragic journey, not knowing who would live longer. She was 23; he was 22.

By the time Bill died in 1994, the couple had endured delirium, deafness, blistering fevers, lesions and lumps, and the sure knowledge that they would never be parents to Sarah, the daughter they longed for but never had. Among the last words Bill uttered were to an attending nurse: “Marrying Janice,” he said, “was the smartest thing I ever did.”

Perhaps one of the smartest things Janice did was to have kept this extraordinary journal during the past nine years. Tracking the inexorable path to death (the couple believed that Bill was infected during an experimental homosexual liaison before their marriage), Janice as diarist is brutally specific, working through rage and terror, bitterness and acceptance. Most of all, Janice, who is being treated for fullblown AIDS, rejoices in a love she says will have no end. In the literature of loss, Sarah’s Song stands apart, with a resounding message: Live life now. (Warner, $21.95)

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