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Book Report: Breaking barriers on many stages

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Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when most black women worked as domestics, scrub ladies and washerwomen, one young black woman born in 1895 in Washington, D.C. would spend her life on the world political and cultural stage.

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It wasn't all beer and skittles, however, when her lawyer father died young and her mother had to work as a beautician.

But that didn't stop the daughter, Eslanda Cardozo Goode, from making acquaintance with a wide variety of world leaders.

"Blacks" like Jomo Kenyatta and Patrice Lumumba. "Browns" like Jawaharal Nehru and Indiria Ghandi and a bevy of "white" leftists like Emma Goldman and Max Eastman.

Eslanda starred in movies, wrote plays, novels and magazine articles and stood up against racism, colonialism, anti-Semitism. She traveled to 40 countries crossed the ocean 30 times.

She also suffered the slings and arrows of the Joe McCarthy witch hunt. You don't hear much about her these days, only about her husband, Paul Robeson, with whom she was married for 44 years.

Read all about her in "Eslanda," by Barbara Ransby (Yale University Pr, n.p.).

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Wisconsin's treatment of the insane has probably received as much notice as more populous states.

Back in the 1970s Michael Lesey wrote "Wisconsin Death Trip," which purported to explain the late 19th century economic crisis that overtook our country by examining Black River Falls and environs.

BRF natives didn't take kindly to many of the assertions, nor, as a neighbor, did I. But one set of facts still sticks with me.

When a Yankee tradesman went broke, in most cases, he committed suicide. But when a Norwegian-American farmer went belly up, he usually was sent to Mendota.

There's a new book out from the University of Iowa Press, "The Best Specimen of a Tyrant," by Thomas Doherty ($20 paper).

After reading it, I came to the conclusion that the Yankees probably made the right decision. Because one Yankee in this meticulously written history chose the mental hospital route.

He was a preacher, Romulus Oscar Kellogg, and he was insane. His brother committed him to Wisconsin's first mental hospital in 1865 and he didn't get out of it alive.

The rest of the book is devoted to the institution's first supervisor, one Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand, whose life would make one fabulous movie -- think of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

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Award-winning Minnesota poet Kate Hallett Dayton is out with a new book of poems from Nodin Press ($16, paper). "Salt Heart" deals with basic elements of life, including salt:

"'She's the salt

of the earth,' some say, hard

working, unpretentious.

Not the same as a Salty Dog,

an experienced sailor

or a libidinous man.

In the mission movie

prepubescent girls

marry old men, carry babies,

salt sweat streaming down

their stomachs and backs

and a little boy,

belly distended,

stands in the light

of an open door,

refrigerator empty.

The body needs salt

to tighten muscles,

especially the heart."

Dave Wood is a past-vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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