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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 1, 2009

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If you happened to catch the recent PBS series about World War II, or even better if you missed it, you'll probably want to run out and purchase "World War II Behind Closed Doors," Laurence Rees (Pantheon, $35).

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Reese, winner of the British Book Award for History Book of the Year, was the producer of the PBS offering and now he's out with a companion book full of detail that didn't make it to the screen.

His treatment of the Russians' murder of the Polish officer corps in the Katyn forest is chilling, but no more than his account of the ubiquity of rape after the Russians drove the Germans out of Budapest.

Even more disappointing is the British failure to let their Polish allies march in the London victory parade after those same Poles led by Gen. Wladyslaw Anders gave their lives in the taking of Monte Cassino.

Ever since I saw Laurence Tierney as John Dillinger in the movie of the same name when I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the gangster, as were many of his contemporaries, who lionized, but until I read "Dillinger"s Wild Ride," by Elliot Gorn (Oxford, $24.95) I had very few of the solid details that bring Dillinger to life.

In the old movie, Dillinger fashions a pistol out of a bar of soap, dyes it black with shoe polish and busts out of prison.

Not so says Gorn. The pistol was carved out of wood.

More important is his detailed account of his gang's trip to Mercer, Wis., where they stay at Little Bohemia, where his compadre, Baby Face Nelson holes up with a native American couple, who must have been awed by Nelson's custom-made clothing.

And then there's the FBI and Melvin Purvis and how they screwed up the capture of Dillinger and his men at Little Bohemia, how they killed two innocent customers at the lodge, but failed in their attempt to nail Public Enemy Number One.

"Zebra," by Nadine St. Louis (Marsh River Editions, M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, Wis., 54449, $12 paper) rang a bell in this reader's belfry.

Not so long ago my wife was a cancer patient. We spent lots of time in waiting rooms, scared stiff.

She's in remission now and so it was good to read St. Louis's poems about her own battle with cancer. There are so many of them that strike zero to the bone. I'll opt for a humorous one, to demonstrate St. Louis's sprightly vitality. It's called "Pretending to be Sinead O'Connor:"

'Helping me take back control, Faith

shaved my head. The hair

had only begun to fall, but we filled

the house with a power of women,

raised toasts in champagne, and dropped

tress upon tress into a handmade bowl

marked with the Chinese character

for voluptuous. In a magic circle

we sang songs, read poems, told

our stories in the old way.

We tried on wigs and scarves,

cried a little, and laughed,

then scattered to our separate lives.

The heavy metal that did in my hair

still sings off key through my veins

but now I'm discovering the freedom

of transformation: for formal occasions

I wear the Rosie Clooney wig, ash blonde

with just a hint of frost; for casual

I have the scarves, gypsy knotted,

urban wrapped. When I feel

like insurrection, though,

I bypass all those and show the world

bare reality: I dare

to startle, shock, unnerve.

I do not hide the naked truth.'

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.

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