‘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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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.

‘Essays in Aesthetics’, by Jean Paul Sartre – review

Essays in AestheticsEssays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean Paul Sartre was something of a celebrity in the European Intelligentsia in the Swinging Sixties; despite his rather homely exterior equipped with a pair of thick horn-rimmed spectacles covering the squint eyes, Sartre was brought into celebratory limelight with a panoply of illustrious epithets- L’Enfant Terrible of the European intelligentsia, a precursor of modern existentialism, and husband of Simone de Beauvoir, a trailblazer of modern feminism – The truth of the matter is that Sartre loved the attentions bestowed upon him. In fact, he thrived on it. On a question of fame relating to his celebratory statue as an intellectual, Sartre answered with forthrightness: “Fame is good, even at forty or fifty is desirable; there is happiness, an intense enjoyment, in pushing one’s way into the spotlight like this.” It is this unusual, feisty frankness in conjunction with his audacious existentialism vis-a-vis Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy that inspired me to find out more about the man’s school of thought in this book written by Sartre himself.

This light volume of essay collection draws on Sartre’s exceptional knowledge of the arts and the creators and yokes it to the tenets of existentialism, which means that the reader should have at least rudimentary knowledge about existentialism. The substratum of existentialism is the experience, the action taken by himself, which constitutes a man’s identity in the world. This might sound materialistic and even bathetic at first blush. However, do we not tend to judge our own self or other people based upon the manifested achievements or deeds, regardless of the character, personality, and/or other planes of circumstances pushing the doer into such actions? With every one of our actions, we particularize our self, thus creating a ‘self’. It is this realization of the abstract self existing as an abstract essence that results in the following dictum: Experience precedes our essence, establishing our own self identity in society.

In terms of existential analysis of a meaning of life or a sense of purpose in life, our actions becoming our experience make us responsible for our own lives, including our missteps and achievements. In other words, this explication of existence shows us how we look and what we are like as the touchstone of our existential selves in everyday life, as the Russian writer Anton Chekhov once said: “”Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” In this regard, existentialism coincides with Logotheraphy, which identifies a meaning of life, freedom of will, and will to meaning with fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks, to achieve ego qua meaningfulness.

In sum, Sartre’s existentialism strikes the zeitgeist of our time convoluted with reality shows, fake news, selfies, social media approbation, and grand collapsed narratives in which we often find ourselves uprooted in the midst of inflated self-aggrandization, however overtly and incorrectly exalted. Sartre tells us: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself in the midst of his infinite possibilities without help.” That is, the purpose of our life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost by actualizing our purposes amid our daily lives, for we are what we do and create our own reality of the world by acting out our ideation. This book will be a good primer on more in-depth world of Sartre’s existentialism with his no-nonsense perspectives on the nature of humanity and proverbial touchy-feely approaches to the real world and a man’s place as a human being therein, all marked in his literary craftsmanship that is all the more enjoyable to the reader.

The etymology of black friday

black-friday-space-for-rent

There were long lines of people everywhere today here in this otherwise peaceful sunny Californian city. As I swiveled my head in wonderment to figure out possible causes for the formation of the lines, my eyes directed me to a sign posted on a window of one of the outlet stores bearing “Black Friday Sale.” Hmm, so it was that time again. In fact, the word ‘Black Friday’, I think, always renders me an ambiance of Dystophia where desperate citizens resulting from a carnage of  wars and great famine are hell bent on looting stores for a paucity of goods. Besides, it is named so very dull, tawdry, and crude that the very sound of the name boasts a lack of cultural sophistication of its obscure name-giver who seems to me nothing but a philistine following a cult of Mammon.

That being said, to come upon an article about the origin of this consumerist feast day from a magazine seemed pat in the paradoxical sense of animosity colluding with curiosity on this whimsically leisurely Black Friday. It’s rather unsurprising to discover that the etymology of the term ‘Black Friday’ is ambivalent  in origin. There are four a posterior grounds of the birth of the term as follows:

  • Black Friday was the day when financial markets collapsed on September 24th, 1869, as a result of the disclosure of a Wall Street conspiracy to raise the gold price.
  • It was the day after Thanksgiving Day when police in 1950’s Philadelphia, having sacrificed their holiday leave, concentrated the force on the cresting influx of shoppers and American football fans into the city.
  • In 1961 retailers in the selfsame city foresaw the potential to galvanize business by choosing the term “Black Friday” as a catchy-phrase.
  • The retailers saw it as the day by which they could have procured sufficient revenue for the year, so that they could move their accounts written in red to black, finalizing a profit for the year.

black-friday-pros-and-cons-cartoonIn my opinion, the third postulation seems the most plausible, which logically constitutes the fourth one as a basis for the etymology. It’s always this mercantile ingenuity that prompted cults of consumerism, such as Valentines Day, White Day, and Christmas Day. Inevitably, in our modern capitalistic society such promotional encouragement of spending money on consumer products is the grist to the mill of market economy and greases the wheel of monetary circulation for the behoof of the vivaciousness of societal atmosphere in general. Yet, the hustling and bustling of the mindless shopping spree blindly egged on by the media prompting to buy things that you really do not need in frenzy appears to live beyond the principle of the Golden Mean, the virtuous moderation of restraining yourself from indulging in lavish expenditure, as advocated by Plato in corporation with the inscription written on the terrace at Delphi, “Nothing in Excess,” which chimes the bell of our ethos embroidering on conspicuous consumption.

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