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Book report: 'Eslanda' tells of success, suffering

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.

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 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 and 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, with whom she was married for 44 years -- Paul Robeson. Read all about her in "Eslanda," by Barbara Ransby (Yale University Pr, n.p.)

Going insane

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 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."

Literature briefs

Book group reads 'The Magic Room'

Red Wing Book Club will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday June 11 at the Red Wing Public Library. People will discuss "The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We With for Our Daughters" by Jeffrey Zaslow.

Anyone interested in hearing about books others have enjoyed is welcome to attend. For information, contact Judy Rausch at 651-388-5759.

Book Club for Women

Join in for conversation about "The Dinner" by Herman Koch when the Book Club for Women meets at 10:30 a.m. Friday June 7 in the Red Wing Senior Center. The group is facilitated by Jane Whiteside.