‘The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight’s Cross,’ by Albrecht Wacker -review

Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight's CrossSniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight’s Cross by Albrecht Wacker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many books on Germany during the Second World War are written in a victor’s perspective. In the context of regarding the objectivity of the events, the point of views in which books on the Third Reich are written is oftentimes biased toward the perpetrators of the war without regard for the underlings, such as foot soldiers compulsorily drafted to the fronts who want to voice out for themselves. This tendency betrays ancient Athenian historian and general Thucydides’ definition of historical record as the ultimate objective to provide the most accurate record of the events “by recognizing certain commonalities, free from bias and embellishment”. One must also listen to the other side’s story to transcend the subjectivity of times and to balance objective equilibrium, wherefore my choice of this true story about the Eastern Front by a former Wehrmacht’s prime sniper was an act of impartial treatment of the history so overflown by untamed populist opinions on the volatile subject.

The narrator of the book is Josef “Sepp” Allerberger, the second most successful sniper of the German Wehrmacht and an awardee of the Knight’s Cross as a private soldier. Originally from Austria as a son of a humble carpenter, he was conscripted to the Wehrmacht as a machine gunner in the Russian Front in 1942. Allerberger’s fitness in marksmanship soon shone through and was forthwith selected as his regiment’s only sniper specialist thanks to his commendable traits of disciplined mind and bravery in the battlefield.

In his blatantly frank discourse of what he experienced and witnessed in the Russian campaign, it is unlikely to feel sympathy toward the Red Army soldiers and partisans who were as equally cruel and violent as their invaders. No German Prisoners of War were guaranteed to live once they were captured by the Soviets and the partisans alike. Instead, they were met with the most atrocious way of being tortured and executed against the Geneva Conventions. As a result, the whole scenery of the Eastern Front was the killing field of humanity, perhaps even more bloodstained and catastrophic than that of Trojan War.

Allerberger is not apologetic nor sentimental about his actions as a German sniper. Nevertheless, his narrative is honest without adding any lyrical adjectives or warm recollections of comradeship shared with a Red Army soldier as often depicted in movies and fictional stories. The book resulted from a series of interviews with Allerberger by the author Albrecht Wacker, who was also Austrian feeling a need of transcribing them and publishing the account of the veteran as a book. This telltale narrative is worth being read as a historical artifact that is important to understand what it was like to be a soldier in a war that he and his country knew was losing but tried to fight until the end with valor and might for their country and battle buddies in the face of the utmost atrocity.

 

‘The Open Boat,’ by Stephen Crane – review

The Open Boat and Other StoriesThe Open Boat by Stephen Crane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four men in a dinghy adrift on a sea for 30 hours. The tempest of waves and a great shark occasionally circling around the perimeter of the boat. And the men rowing endlessly as if it were their only tangible way of protesting against their fates. It all happened in reality because the author Stephen Crane himself experienced the ordeal as one of the four men from the sunk SS Commodore off the coast of Florida en route to Cuba, where Crane had been sent as a war correspondent. The short story of the Open Boat is as realistic as it can be based upon a factual event the author himself was fatefully partaken in.

The four survivors of the vessel were aggregates in a dinghy bound by a remote hope of finding a rescue crew in the middle of the ocean that moved them with terrible grace of waves. The men were a captain, a cook, an oiler, and a correspondent, who was the author himself. There was a subtle brotherhood of men built in the boat who took care of each other. Crane surmised that the captain’s heartfelt devotion to the safety of the motley crew resulted in comradeship, which the author himself had always regarded as a hypocritical concept of men until then.

There were indeed moments of despair as their drifting became protracted, and the author saw this as nature not regarding human as important. He would jeer at any signs of nature in any deity form because thinking of the captain and the two other seamen who had worked so hard on the sea in such distress was the abominable injustice.

Stephen Crane was a great American realist writer who later influenced Ernest Hemingway. Born in 1871 as a ninth child of Protestant Methodist parents in Newark, NJ, his literary talent began when he wrote his first poem at the age of eight. Although brilliant, Crane was not academically inclined, so he left University of Syracuse and became a kind of itinerant writer. It is said that Crane was a naturalist writer who emphasized observation in the portrayal of reality based on scientific principles of objectivity and detachment applied to the story of human characteristics. However, in my opinion, he was more of a realist writer who focused on objective, truthful presentations of details of the ordinary lives influenced by Gustave Flaubert and George Eliot. In this story, Crane’s use of vocabulary was pithy and straightforward with elegant expressions of emotions and feelings that so appropriately described the situations in which the characters were trapped.

After Crane’s untimely death at the age of twenty-eight in a Black Forest sanitorium in Germany, Crane’s works began to gain their long overdue acclaim, one of which was this story of the sunk vessel and his own experience thereof. Stephen Crane’s works should deserve wider readership because he’s the first and foremost American writer in Realism literary movement who paid attention to the lives of the ordinary by being the experience of living among the ordinary and writing the existential presentations of the ordinary lives.

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When I was little

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Anne Shirley and Matthew Cuthbert from “Anne of Green Gables”

Thus declared Oxford-graduated Dyer as if American writers had been his only sovereign muses, and no one else. Maybe his temperament and literary taste were congenial to economic wits and individualism of American writing.

In my case, the very first novel that I fell head over heels was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Then came The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which was a birthday present from my father. Thenceforth, Anne Of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery spread thru my mind and lingered in my heart.

I still love all of the aforesaid books, and I think it’s the standard of taste and reason that makes us drawn to our preferences. For this reason, I am always drawn to writers whose writing styles are evocative of sentiments as well as intelligent of reason, so riveting and impressive that a sense of emulation springs forth from the well of my mind.

 

 

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Kinship of Aeneas, George Orwell, and J.K. Rowling

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I see them almost every day with carts chockablock with their haggard belongings at a coffeeshop in the morning. They come in disheveled, reeking of abandonment of hygiene, but they seem past caring of it, let alone resigned to unwelcome glances of strangers. They are no less than Mendicants, Vagabonds, Tramps, Panhandlers, Beggars, or the Homeless themselves, defying the laws of social evolution and Marxist dialectic changes. You see,  they have withstood epochal changes.

It was one Monday morning while I was perking up my spirit still under the spell of weekend reverie with a cup of coffee in my regular Starbucks shop nearby my workplace when a homeless woman approached me and cadged for money to buy coffee. I conceded her plea because her forlorn spirit manifesting in her once beautiful face evoked pathos, which would have stung me with a pang of conscience if I had let it foregone. Besides, the fact that she was a woman living in the street, where all foreseeable and unforeseeable risks were lurking to violate her dignity as a fair sex, vexed my mind and heart. It was all too a fortiori opportune to read the article with the lethargic face of the homeless woman still fresh on my mind.

Never mind piousness, didacticism, and self-righteousness. It goes against the grain to decry poverty at the door of the poor themselves, which is always easy and convenient to pin down based on personal faults, but that would attest superciliousness of being not one of the unfortunate kinds. That is to say, the homeless is the result of addiction to substances, laziness, and careless ways of modus vivendi; therefore, the homeless are unworthy of sympathy nor empathy.

As a matter of fact, the liberals wade in with their de rigueur weary blaming of the heartless conservatives for their preferential treatment of the given, the fortunate, the haves, while the conservatives lambast the cry babies’ importuning their sorry states as a tendency of the cossetted dependency substratum. Both of the parties do nothing but grandstanding against one another for their voting rights that exclude these “marginals” of society they could not care less. However, the causes of homelessness are one collective social evil comprising many a factor; it’s a complex one involving mental health issues for sure, skyrocketing rent fees as a result of rampant trend of gentrification, prevalent lay-offs and unresolved unemployment rates, low wages, integration of families, and a variety of personal elements that are oftentimes looked on with insignificance as trifles. George Orwell, whose brief period of impecuniousness upon returning from Paris to London forced him to live as a tramp as plainly narrated in his empirical Down and out in Paris and London, conceded: “… if they [the homeless] are worse than other people, it is the result and not the cause of their way of life.” That is to say, no one wants to be homeless with a will.

Come to think of it, our human conditions are precarious and many times operated outside the boundary of planned stratagem, for human life is woven by unexpected variables and vicissitudes that befall any one like you never know. Aeneas, a royal Trojan hero in Virgil’s Aeneid, became homeless in the wake of the fall of Troy and found himself and his homeless followers dependent upon the kindness of Dido, the queen of Carthage and her people. The great Russian writer Maxim Gorki and the American Jack London were once homeless. And there is J.K Rowling, who lived a life of near-homelessness with her infant daughter without a job before the first book of the Harry Potter series was published. Woe betides anyone who patronized them for the want of the gumption before they became somebody.

Whether or not we like it, the caste of the homeless will most likely to proliferate unless political leaders stop pontificating about their party ideologies that lose touch with the realistic world of everyday life of the ordinary people. They say the extravagant lifestyles of the aristocracy and their haughty treatment of the poor were the sine qua non of the French Revolution, which was the radical reconstruction of the class system that excluded the welfare of the poor. Then why do I yoke the images of the haughty aristocrats to those of the present-day politicians who seem to thrust the issues of rising homelessness into the bottom of a filing bin and to keep pointing fingers at the homeless for their misfortune? Maybe in an irony of fates, if these politicians wake up one morning and find themselves in the shoes of the unfortunate, they might understand it, but I hope it will not be too late then.

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Musee d’orsay in Paris – review

Musée d'Orsay in Paris - a travel guide and tour as with the best local guide (Paris Travel Stories Book 4)Musée d’Orsay in Paris – a travel guide and tour as with the best local guide by Wander Stories

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the world famous museums, my favorite is Musee d’Orsay in Paris because it possesses most of the paintings of Impressionism, to which I am partial because of its prevalent portrayal of ordinary life of people with simple but innovative techniques of using color and light like never before. In fact, I enjoyed a virtual tour of this lovely museum with a guide of Musée d’Orsay in Paris by Wander Stories, a wonderful reference book on this lovely museum with rich information on the history of the museum, biographies of artists, let alone the backgrounds of their paintings they created, all of which beautifully presented in a wealth of rich color photos and illustrations to conjure up the vivaciousness of life right before your eyes in the comfort of wherever you may be.

The birth of Musee d’Orsay starts with the zeitgeist of our modern era when the spirit of liberty and expressionism was born out of a pyrrhic victory over the antediluvian customs and dogmas upheld by a few select. Originally, the land surrounding the museum was part of a private garden belonging to Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI. In the 19th century, the Palais d’Orsay was used for the Court of Accounts, most of which were burned down to the ground during the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871. Then in 1897 the government decided to build a new railway station to facilitate transportation of passengers to the center of Paris directly, preparatory to the upcoming 100 World Fair. During WWII, the station was used as a mailing center to send packages and letters to prisoners of the war and to receive them after the war. Finally, the station was re-born as Musee d’Orsay exhibiting all the arts from the second half of the 19th century with a presidential blessing of Francois Mitterrand in December 1986.

Musee d’Orsay embodies individualism freed from the rigid status quo of the old academics in the French arts scenes. It houses famous impressionist and post impressionist paintings of the 19th by Gustave Courbet, Eduard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and so forth. All of these painters were revolutionary vanguards of Impressionism, a new genre depicting everyday life of the ordinary not of mythological or even loyal figures and the simple beauty of nature in the most artistically innovative methods of painting that had not been seen in the paintings of previous eras.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Siesta” in the museum deserves a special recognition both by its artistic merit and personal background of the painting. It was painted when Gogh was a patient in a mental asylum. Initially beginning his career as a preacher, Gogh was soon disillusioned with arid rigidity of Christianism, and turned himself to the word of painting in attempt to find a solace for his restless soul. He often copied the works of Jean Francois Millet and thought more highly of him than of Manet. Gogh’s use of vibrantly contrasting colors, such as blue and yellow, violet and organic, Gogh portrayed rural France at its most vividness dynamically.

As with many creative artists, Gogh lived a difficult life of being let down by his low self-worth. To illustrate, Gogh had a drunken brawl with Paul Gaughin, in which Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor then fled a local brothel, where he ended up cutting off the lower part of his let ear lobe. Moving from one asylum to another, Gogh’s creative ingeniousness was recognized and encouraged by Dr. Gachet, an Impressionist enthusiast who drove this extraordinary patient of his to creative indulgence, leading Gogh to create 70 more paintings in 70 days, although he sold only two paintings in his lifetime. The last day of Gogh was just like another working day, for he shot himself in the chest while painting in a wheat field. Notwithstanding the tragic end and life wrinkled in anguishes and distresses, Gogh’s resilient spirit driven by his creative madness is enshrined in his paintings that have stood the test of times all around the world, canonizing him as a key figure in transformation from Impressionism to modern art in art history.

Musée d’Orsay in Paris by Wander Stones is a lively reference book about the museum and the oeuvres of the aforesaid and other famous painters with beautifully displayed photos and detailed information on the paintings and the painters in easy language. This is also a lovely book to be viewed on a Kindle Fire with easy references to pages and stunningly colorful photos effortlessly downloaded on the device to enjoy the tour of the museum anywhere, magically transporting you in front of each of the paintings in the museum. Or if you plan to visit the museum, then reading this book will prepare you with arms of information. All in all, the knowledge from the book will help you appreciate the beauty of the arts at their best because as defined by Sir Edmund Burke the standard of reason and beauty is all the more appreciated by the faculty of the mind affected with the works of imagination and the elegant arts, which is universal in all humans and of sentiment common to all mankind.