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Archive for October, 2012

For the past fourteenth years the Clarion University Chapter of APSCURF, The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Retired Faculty, has awarded scholarships through Clarion University Foundation honoring their deceased colleagues.  At their Fall Dinner and Meeting on October 23rd the tradition continued for its fifteenth year.  The Memorial Resolution is as follows.

Whereas, The Clarion University Chapter of APSCURF approved on April 21, 2005, two annual memorial scholarships of $1,000 each;

Resolved, That the 2012-13 scholarships be designated memorials for our deceased colleagues

Frank Battista 01/03/12 Education

Dolph O. Cook 07/28/12 Biology

Alastair T. Crawford 04/02/12 History

Robert E. Crawford 07/14/12 Geography

Kenneth F. Emerick 11/24/11 Library

John W. Hach Jr 02/19/12 Mathematics

Nancy Shaw McKee 01/15/12

John Mellon 04/06/12 English

Lawrence L. Penny o3/23/12 Psychology

Donald Wilson 02/10/12 English

Robert M. Yoho Sr 12/06/11 Education

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If you still have the luxury of a walk-in bookstore, you may on rare occasion feel you want something different from your usual fare; if so, do I ever have the book for you.  Try The Hunger Angel, by Herta Muller.  No, don’t ask questions as to what it is about; if you want something different, then you have to accept a few unknowns.

The author is the 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.  She lives in Berlin, so it is highly unlikely you have seen her on any early morning news show.  The book, ah the book, is masterfully written, bringing prose to the edge of poetry.  Originally published in German, the translator, Philip Boehm, makes it seem to come from the choir of a venerable English cathedral.  The physical book in your hand emits a chill of its own.  Now, I have told you enough.  Charles Marlin

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As World War II was coming to a close, twenty-four U.S. soldiers crashed into the New Guinea mountains while on a sightseeing excursion.  Curiously enough, the plane was on its way to fly over a recently discovered hidden valley untouched by the modern world.  The twenty-one men and women who were killed included nine Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members.  One of those, Laura Earline Besley, was a local Pennsylvania woman from Shippenville.

On May 13, 1945, Ms Besley was one of only four not to perish in the actual crash, but sadly she died the next day from what were probably internal injuries.  Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchell Zuckoff, details that experience and the ongoing story of the three survivors, who faced severe burns, the harsh conditions of a mountain jungle, and indigenous people thought to be violent and dangerous.  The book goes on to recount one of the most interesting and unusual rescue missions of World War II.

I was inspired to read Lost in Shangri-La because of the local connection to Laura Besley.  If one is looking to learn about her and her demise this book is a good place to start.  The Clarion County Historical Society has an informative display for anyone interested in the particulars of this story as they pertain to Ms Besley.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the way the author depicted the cultural clash and misunderstandings among the soldiers, the rescuers, and the natives.  The book informs and entertains with rich anthropological details about the Dani, a supposedly war mongering people who were completely isolated from the rest of the world.

At first, the author emphasized the potential brutality of Stone Age cannibals who smear their bodies in pig grease and wear genital gourds.  As I am sensitive to the stereotypes towards native people, I found this depiction to be jarring, but over the course of the story I came to believe the author portrays the Dani in a fair and interesting way.

The author’s language can be stark, but it is meant to represent the attitudes and ideals of the times, capturing a period of transition in how we in the modern West imagine the exotic cultures in the hidden corners of the world.  On the other hand, the author’s sympathetic portrayal of the Phillipino-American soldiers who volunteered for the rescue mission is somewhat less telling about the attitudes of the times.

One should not underestimate the research behind these kinds of historical accounts, and I applaud the author for his devotion to historical accuracy.  On occasion, however, I wished for a more literary interpretation of the events.  There were times when the writing felt too much like a no-nonsense account from a field reporter.

No matter if one is a lover of history, or simply enjoys a good adventure story, Lost in Shangri-La does not disappoint.  This kind of creative non-fiction writing is an enjoyable way to access the richness of history.  Joe Occhipinti

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