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Great war novels inevitably follow great wars, and in literary circles following World War II, everyone was wondering what would be the successors to “A Farewell to Arms” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” — and who would write them. But when John Horne Burns, age 29, in his small dormitory suite at the Loomis School in Windsor, Conn., on the night of April 23, 1946 (Shakespeare’s birthday, at that), finished “The Gallery” — “I fell across my Underwood and wept my heart out,” he later recalled — he was convinced he had done just that, and more. “ ‘The Gallery,’ I fear, is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century,” he wrote a friend.

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