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The Hare with Amber Eyes

IMG_0051The Hare with Amber Eyes was the sixth book read in my book club this school year.  When I voted for it I thought the book was going to be about something completely different.  On the onset I was a bit put off and disappointed.  I really wanted to know more about netsuke.  Netsuke are small Japanese figurines made of wood and ivory that were used to close the obi on Japanese traditional garments.  They represented animals, people, and mythical characters.  I believed the story was about netsuke, but they were nothing more that a vehicle for Edmund De Waal to explore his fascinating Jewish family.  When Edmund De Waal received the large collection of netsuke as an inheritance from his great-uncle Iggie who was living in Japan, he felt compelled to research his extraordinary family.

The story begins in Odessa, Russia and we as readers follow the family as it grows and expands and travels throughout Europe.  There are fascinating tales and detailed descriptions of various family members throughout the 350 pages.  Now I have to be honest I had some problems with various sections of this book.  I found some parts extremely slow and dry.  I really had to keep my eyes open.  I managed to read the book in about 4 days but was struggling to find that special thing that was going to grip me to the story. I was afraid to put it down to long.

As I soldiered on, around about page 200-225 something clicked and I started to find the story more interesting.  The writing lightened up and De Waal’s writing style seemed to develop into a more detached tone that was more acceptable to me.  His constant interjections into the story bothered me a bit earlier in the story, even though I enjoyed his erudite and sometimes humoristic commentary.

Discussing this book on Saturday with my book club proved very enlightening.  Firstly I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a little boring at times.  I’d read many reviews where it seemed everyone loved it.  I kept wondering if there was something wrong with me.  I wasn’t alone.  A few people hadn’t finished it.  They still had the last stretch of 100 pages.  The parts that I preferred.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is one of those books that you either love or hate, even though I’ve fallen smack in the middle (liked it). I gave it 3 stars because it is such an incredible family history.  The book is a mixture of history, art history, and family saga.  Those are definitely ingredients for an engrossing story.  It’s the fourth non-fiction I’ve read this year and for me that’s a lot, since I have a specific preference for literary fiction.  In spite of not loving The Hare with Amber Eyes immensely, I’m still happy to have read it and learned some new things through others’ eyes.  Not through the hare’s eyes though since it wasn’t about him or the netsuke.  I wonder why they chose that title.  We discussed that on Saturday and we weren’t so sure.  I and a few others felt the title was slightly misleading and then someone said it continues a certain mystery something hidden that’s lurking to be discovered.  The netsuke are there through it all.  They survive through all the good times, tragedy, and will continue to exist, going from generation to generation.

Below is a link to the video I watched after finishing the book.  As I listened to De Waal I regretted that I hadn’t picked The Hare with Amber Eyes up on audiobook.  Suddenly his work came to life for me, as I listened to him read parts of the book, along side the giant pictures on-screen.  The pictures that just appeared to be too small and dark in the book.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-504RbknCNo

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Book Club, Book Reviews

 

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Americanah

Chimamanda! Chimamanda! Did I say Chimamanda! Ah Americanah swept me off my feet and has had meIMG_0117 deep in reflection for the past 3 weeks.  That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time after finishing a book.  I found myself rereading passages after I’d finished it. I couldn’t get enough.

Americanah is Adichie’s third successful novel.  It’s the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are Nigerian and they meet and fall in love instantly at school.  It’s the story of their love, their growth, and their immigration stories.  The central character of the novel is Ifemelu who is young opinionated and intelligent.  We follow her from Nigeria where she leaves the love of her life, Obinze,  and her parents to immigrate to America and live with her Aunt Uju and cousin Dike.  There the ups and downs and harsh reality of life in America, for immigrants, shape the story as well as Ifemelu’s character.  She develops with each new situation and new character she meets.  She slowly shapes into a woman with each relationship she has.  For with each boyfriend comes new lessons to learn.  It was wonderful to watch her grow and make mistakes.

Readers may feel that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story is non-existent, however their love story is non-conventional but oh so passionate and runs deep.  Adichie constructs the novel to contain themes that are pertinent and that have not as yet been dealt with in such an outright way.  Race, immigration, natural hair, and blogging are the central themes that drive the story.  You’re probably thinking race and that you know what she’s going to say. Wrong! You don’t and frankly you’ll be a little surprised at times, happily surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable.  Adichie deals thoroughly with all the different sides to race.  You get the points of view of the Africans, the African immigrants (Americanahs), the African-Americans, the white Americans, and other races.  Some may not appreciate her African-American view and feel as if she’s slighting us but I had to admit that I know African-Americans that I’ve heard saying a lot of the things she writes in the book.  Adichie’s views may at times come off as semi-rants but the context in which she writes them are fitting.

The novel was written in third person, which is lively and amiable, just like a good friend accompanying you throughout the 477 pages.  At times the third person was Ifemelu speaking and Obinze but most of the time I felt it was Adichie expressing her personnel opinions.  All in all, I loved that because those passages were filled with the most stimulating and thought-provoking lines.  To aid in telling this story Adichie uses blog entries which Ifemelu writes while in the United States to talk about race.  Through these strategically placed blog entries Adichie examines all the uncomfortable angles around the subject of race.  At times they made me laugh aloud, smile, or just say a subtle yes.  I hadn’t thought so much about race from an African’s point of view, much less an African’s view of race in the United States.

Immigration was the next ubiquitous theme.  The heart-rendering immigration stories of Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England paralleling each other depicted the difficulties they were going through, while showing their growth as people – lack of money, being homesick, looking for jobs, being illegal, dealing with unsavoury characters, and constantly searching and not finding.  It was funny that through all the difficulty of immigration they both had, they always  seemed to turn to reading or books for comfort, which I found astounding.  The books mentioned in Americanah are A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama.  Each book mentioned has ideas relevant to the scenes where they are mentioned in Americanah.  Adichie is trying to reinforce her ideas through the recurring accepted ideas of an old British classic, a story about an Indian living in Central Africa, a highly respected classical African work, and a novel written by an African-American president who had an African father.  I love the way The Heart of a Matter is mentioned in the beginning by Obinze’s mother and how things come full circle at the end when Ifemelu says how much she likes The Heart of a Matter and how much the story means to her.

Amongst these two real subjects, natural hair is wedged in throughout the story here and there.  The novel opens with Ifemelu in a salon getting her hair braided.  This was a symbol of many things – African-American women being a slave to their hair and trying to tame it at all costs to fit into American society, the workplace, etc., It’s also a place where one is meant to open up and exchange stories about themselves and often be judged, and a place which has a lot of cultural value in the African-American community for getting women together and getting men together.   The hair salon is like a meeting of cultural similarities for Africans and African-Americans.  We see Ifemelu struggle with accepting her hair when she is forced to stop relaxing it because her hair is falling out.  So she has her hair cut to a short afro.  She doesn’t accept her short kinky hair at all so she calls in sick two days because she’s apprehensive about the way she will be perceived.  As the story went on, it seemed as if Ifememlu got more radical as her her afro grew.  Is natural hair political? Is it just hair?  Those are two questions that are debated incessantly these days as the the natural hair movement spreads in the African-American community.  Acceptance of one’s appearance, actions, and ideas is one of the first steps to accepting and knowing one’s self.  This Ifemelu and Obinze both learned the long and hard way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977.  She has a successful list of works starting with Purple Hibiscus which was her first novel written in 2003 and followed by Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006, which is set during the Biafran War.  The Thing Around Your Neck was a short story collection written in 2009. “My writing comes from melancholy, from rage, from curiosity, from hope.” (quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  during a lecture at Princeton University, 20 October 2010 – The Writer as Two Selves:  Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship)  That is very clear in her writing.  That’s what makes it sincere and palpable.  I urge you all to give Americanah a try and to check out the video below of Adichie speaking about the dangers of the single story on TEDTalks. Brilliant!

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks

I bought this tiny book of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems about a year and a half ago. I picked it up and read two orIMG_0114 three poems and put it down.  Why?  I have no unearthly idea!   Insanity! What was I thinking?!  So when I was rummaging through the books on my shelves looking for something different to read for Black History month, I fell immediately on The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks and a eureka came out on contact.

I read the entire book of poems in about three hours.  I surely could have read it faster but I really wanted to soak up the rich language and ideas conveyed in them.  I remember having heard Maya Angelou recite We Real Cool when I was a teenager.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of studying Brooks’ poems in high school or at university.  While reading I wondered why that could have been.  How could such lyrical, moving, opulent, and culturally informative poetry be in essence left to the side?

Brooks’ poems speak about racism and African-American life.  She mainly wrote about what surrounded her.  She said,  “If you wanted a poem, you only had to look out of a window.  There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.” (The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, p. xvii)  Brooks wrote about 75 published poems by the time she turned sixteen years old.  So she never stopped trying to perfect her craft as a poet there after, while in turn writing poetry that reflected the times.  With tremendous passion, she was ingenious in writing her poetry in all types styles – blues, sonnets, jazz, ballads, free verse, and even enjambed like in her ever famous poem We Real Cool.

We Real Cool

The Pool Players. 
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon. 

Gwendolyn Brooks
What a wonderful way to celebrate Women Writers month by sneaking a peek at poems written by the first African-American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950.  So do you like to read poetry? If so, what are some of your favourites?  Let me know if you’ll be reading some novels or poetry written by women this month to honour women writer.
Check out this fantastic clip of Gwendolyn Brooks where she shares her thoughts on her writing, race, poetry, African-American women writers, etc.
 
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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Book Reviews, Bookish Stuff

 

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Ladies Coupé

1122258Ladies Coupé is the story of Akhila and six other women that she meets on the train.  Akhila is searching for the answer to the question ‘Can she live alone?’  Traditionally in Indian culture women are supposed to get married and if that doesn’t happen their only other alternative is to live with family.   Akhila has been the breadwinner of her family since the death of her father when she was in her early twenties.  She worked providing financial support to her mother, younger brothers and sister as they grew up.  All the while Akhila was forsaking her life to respect her duties to her family.  One day gets an idea into her head to live alone but doesn’t know if it’s really possible for her. or for in other woman for the matter  So she invents a work trip to get away to reflect on her future as maybe a woman living alone.

Once she arrives in the train, six different women enter the car.  They are different ages and are living completely different lives and social statuses.  Each one recounts openly the story of their lives.  Meanwhile Akhila is using this time to reflect on her dilemma.  Ladies Coupé is a succession of stories of women starting life fresh, wide-eyed and energetic but are slowly but surely faced with the harsh realities of being a woman in modern-day India.  Each story is personalised, saddening, and  sometimes disturbing.  They almost all ring with a sense of frightening reality.

As I was reading I found the chapters to be very long and sometimes difficult to read quickly.  The chapters are full of information, names that aren’t so easy to remember either and it’s difficult to stop before the end of one.  The story is told changing from third to first person frequently, making identifying with the characters a difficult task.  Sometimes I wonder if it was just difficult to relate to them because of the cultural difference.  There were times when I just wanted to fling my book across the room in frustration with what was happening to the women.  I guess that could be considered a sort of relating to the characters.  As I approached the end I was anxious to see how Anita Nair would tie this story up.  Unfortunately she disappointed me because she didn’t have the courage to deal with the ending head on.  She coped out and that was really what made me give it 3 stars over on Goodreads.  As a reader, I needed a concrete ending to match the concrete stories of these women.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to read and discovering a new female Indian author was enlightening.

Anita Nair is a popular Indian writer and has written several novels and children’s stories.  Ladies Coupé, her Anita-nair-portrait-wikipediasecond novel, has been translated into 21+ languages along with her first novel The Better Man, which was published in 2000.  Ladies coupé was rated one of the top five books of the year 2002.  Nair also wrote a collection of poems and a poetry workshop anthology through the British Council.  Some of her other novels are Adventures of Nonu, the Skating Squirrel, Living Next door to Alise, Mistress, and Magical Indian Myths.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Book Club, Book Reviews

 

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Russian Literature 2014

As I’ve tried to read more diversely and of course make up for the disaster of not reading very many classics last year, I’ve jus decided to take part in the The Russian Literature Challenge.  I’ve been dying to read Russian novels, however the closest I’ve gotten to that is Lolita, and technically that doesn’t count since Nabokov wrote it in English. So here I am signing on the dotted line to complete level 1 of the challenge which is to read 1-3 Russian novels.  Here are the other levels for those who might be interested in joining the challenge:

  • Level one: 1 – 3 books
  • Level two: 4 – 6 books
  • Level three: 7 – 12 books
  • Level four: 12 + books

Now as far as Russian novels go, I’d love to commit to War and Peace but let’s be serious.  That might be just a bit more than I can chew for a first Russian read. Although, it’s been on my TBR since I was in college (a long time ago!).  One day….  After giving it a thought, I’ve decided to read something or all of the following if possible:

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If any of you have read these let me know where I should go after Crime & Punishment.  Let me know what you thought of any of these and what I should look out for.  I know Russian Literature is challenging but I’m up for it! Classics are cool right?!  If you’d like to join in this challenge head over to  Behold the Stars book blog for more details.  You don’t have to be a blogger to join in.  There will be other interesting book bloggers participating and posting after each completed novel.  This should keep me on the straight and narrow, hopefully.  So what Russian novels have you read and loved?  What Russian novel would you love to pick up this year?

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Bookish Stuff

 

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The Best Books of 2013

Well now that we’ve started 2014 and I’ve had the time to really reflect on my reading experience of 2013, I feel that it was pretty darn mediocre.  I’d hoped to read more books that would wow me but that wasn’t the case.  It was if I chose my books because they just fell in my lap.  That’s not how I want to proceed with my book choices this year.  You’ve already seen a select few of the big books I plan on reading this year, but just know that there will be more engaging and thought-provoking titles added to that list.

My reading goals of 2013 comprised:

1. reading more works of people of color

2. reading more classics

3. reading graphic novels

4. reading out of my comfort zone

I guess two out of four ain’t bad.  I managed to do one and three, but only really read one book that was a little out of my comfort zone.  So I know now what I need to concentrate on this year.  I’d like to have a well-rounded reading year but most of all I want to read more books that really speak to me, move me.  2014 is the year of quality! I hope.

So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my top ten best books of 2013:

Firstly we have the books by authors of colour or about people of color:

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Well as you can see that’s half of my favourites list.  All I can say is these five books really stuck with me and enlightened my reading experience as well as taught me some things.  I was taken aback by the passages in Black Like Me.  The descriptions written by John Howard Griffin, a white man who was just being a black man for a few months struck me to my core.                                   If Beale 

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Street Could Talk weighed on me heavily as well reading about the injustices of the seventies, while in the back of my mind knowing these situations are still happening today.  Cutting for Stone was that epic African novel that surprised me at every page.  I really couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next or where the author was leading me.  I felt like I’d traveled stretches of kilometres to Africa to  meet and follow Marion and Shiva from their beginnings to adulthood.  That was a rich and informative reading experience that taught me a lot about Ethiopia, a country that I almost visited over sixteen years ago.  Kindred took me back to the days of slavery, filling me with fear and disorienting me in a world where the codes didn’t correspond to me or Dana the main character.  Lastly, but not least The Cutting Season brought me back to my home state of Louisiana. The story brought out anticipation and fear of the unknown – who killed that young woman on the plantation grounds called Belle Vie?  I could feel the heat, the humidity, and smell the earth.  Darkness engulfed me and Caren the main character.  Running through it for fear of what she might find or worse what or who might be waiting for her.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the only classic I read last year.  That is if you don’t count Harry Potter and the Philosopher’ Stone and If Beale Street Could Talk.  Those two could technically be considered modern classics.  Ok enough of me trying to stretch my non-existent list of read classics.  In spite of it all,  I can thank my 56034book club for choosing this one.  For without them, I’m not really sure when I would have read it, in spite of it being on my physical and mental TBR for aeons.  I could also place this one under number four of my reading goals because it definitely got me out of my comfort zone.  In the beginning I didn’t think I’d make it through, but at the halfway mark something changed.  I became more invested in the story, not to mention that the writing style changed for the better.  I also started to get used to those omniscient footnotes that lead me through the story that was going on above like a dog on a leash.  Undeterred by it all I finished and loved it!  Now that doesn’t often happen to me.  I usually give up if I can’t get into a book by page 150.  It was a worthwhile reading experience and I persevered to the end!  So I definitely have to read more classics this year.

1261125351GiFItYmkLThe next two novels were my comic relief of the year.  I don’t often pick up comical books and that’s probably because it’s not a genre that I’m really familiar with.  I was compelled to pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette  since everybody was talking about it in the blogosphere and about its unorthodox style of being written in email and letter form.  I like epistolary so I thought why not.  It turned out to be a great choice.  I read it in one afternoon and laughed out loud a bit.  Oh Bernadette! She was a mess!  I liked her though.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal was the same.  It took me longer to read but boy did I have some laughs.  The wittiness of that novel is just simply brilliant!  It’s a must read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

Now you know I’m not that over the moon about Young Adult novels and any time I read one it’s so that I can41WvR8-CBUL suggest it to the students I tutor in English or to my daughters, and of course because I suspect it might be good.  I ran across Speak because I saw a couple of bloggers talking about it.  I read it in one sitting and fell in love with the way the story was told but most of all with Melinda’s voice.  Superb!  A reader couldn’t ask for a better narrator, especially a young adult reader.

12280827Last but not least, my absolute favourite and best read of 2013 was The Sense of an Ending.  What a fantastic way to talk about memory!  I got so much from this little tiny 150-page book.  Unbelievable! There are so many themes packed into this book.  I was asking myself what took me so long to pick up a novel by Julian Barnes.  Nevertheless, I finally did and it was also thanks to my book club.  Book clubs can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in one’s reading however in my experience it’s been great at 100%.  Check out this wonderfully woven story of middle-aged Tony after school, marriage, children, and divorce.  Memory can be deceiving after the fact and at times spot on…

Well that’s my wrap up of my top ten books of 2013.  I hope you enjoyed reviewing some of them with me.  Clicking the titles will take you to the reviews.  So how about you guys?  Was your reading year a 3.0-3.5 like mine or better?  Let me know below and don’t forget to include your favourite books of the year.  I love getting recommendations from you!  Happy reading y’all!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Bookish Stuff

 

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Osacar Wao

Entering the world of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was like going for a ride on that extremely high and  swirling roller coaster ride at a theme park.  As the roller coaster bumps, grinds, and plunges us to the depth of fear, we recuperate while wanting more.  That’s the same intensity I felt while reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

So who is this Oscar character? Well he is a likeable, naive, obese, Latino nerd who’s looking for the purist love out there.  He just wants to be 4961777loved and to love someone else. His exterior doesn’t help find it in the beginning of the story, but true love can’t be someone loving you for your body and good looks only, right?  This is starting to sound like a fairytale, but it isn’t.  It ‘s almost reality.  Oscar spend his time playing video games, reading sic-fi and fantasy novels and writing them.  It’s almost as if he delves into fantasy and sic-fi to forget his own reality.  It’s like a sanctuary.

The novel centers mainly around Oscar, his sister and mother.  These three characters are developed from adolescence to adulthood and this is an astounding character development because usually as readers we aren’t allowed to see so many characters develop to such a degree.  In doing so, the reader is catapulted into the complex harsh reality of Oscar’s family.  I say reality because the story is structured in that way.  In spite of the novel being fiction, Diaz has the story be recounted by several narrators with one of the narrator’s telling the majority of the story.  Not only that but the usage of footnotes through the story gives it an overall look of a non-fiction book.  These footnotes give us a lot on the Dominican Republic history and is sometimes just funny.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is very similar to having sneaked a peak into someone’s diary.  This may also explain the heavy usage of Spanish throughout the novel.  This technique may put off the readers that aren’t Spanish speakers because understanding some scenes of the book are difficult if you don’t speak Spanish.  However, for me personally not speaking Spanish, it didn’t bother me one bit.  I just went with the flow.  The Spanish parts just made me realise I was no longer in my world but in Oscar’s and that I was just going to have to contend with it.  Everything in his world was colourful, intense, and genuine.

Besides the characters of Beli, Oscar’s mother and Lola, his sister, there are an array of other characters who revolve around them that give the story movement and layers.  The settings added to this as well.  We switch between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic and the juxtaposition of the two provides the reader with many cultural differences.  The Dominican Republic is passionate, free, colourful, and dangerous.  New Jersey is contained, regulated, almost predictable.  The men in this book are detestable and either commit violent acts and/or treat women disrespectfully.  Some may even say that Diaz’s male characters are mere stereotypes.  I think these are men that represent maybe men from Diaz’s life or people he may have had contact with throughout his life.  If he made them all nice he would have been accused of making unrealistic male characters for such a setting.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has a variety of themes and levels to it that it’s hard to believe it only has 335 pages.  Some of the themes running through the novel are love, racism, superstition, sex, and foreignness among others, all wrapped up with a hint of magical realism.  It’s almost a perfect book.  Diaz took lots of risk structuring the book the way he did.  It could have been a disaster adding so many different storytelling elements together but it was the perfect combination.  So, if you’re looking for something different to read,  a new sort of American novel, pick up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It’s a worthwhile reading experience, will make you think about many things, and ill stay with you for a while.  Moreover, Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.  Now if that doesn’t convince you to pick it up maybe this clip of Diaz talking about the book will.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Book Club, Book Reviews

 

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