Category Archives: Uncategorized

Love and Other Inconveniences

Incredibly readable romantic poetry from Trinidad and Tobago

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

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“Love and Other Inconveniences” by Rhea Arielle is a collection of poetry that traces the life cycle of an intoxicating but doomed romance. Divided into three Acts, the book walks the reader through infatuation, heartbreak and self-love.

I started reading this book while waiting for the bus, and I was so engrossed I had finished it by the time I arrived at work. As is probably pretty apparent from this blog, I am not a huge consumer of poetry but there was something about Arielle’s incredibly unique and tactile way of writing that was very arresting. Her poems are very brief and very poignant and I love the way she handles space and time. I don’t often share quotes from books I read, but here are two that I particularly loved:

There are no locks on your future
so why do you knock at the door
Let yourself in.

When your lips
part to speak
the winds shimmer
under your voice
and carry music
to my waiting ear.

Romantic poetry is certainly not for everyone, and the themes in this book are very familiar. However, Arielle brings a freshness to a topic that most people can relate to.

This is the kind of poetry that even people who don’t normally enjoy poetry can enjoy. I liked it so much I bought a copy for my friend.

Love and Other Inconveniences

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No Country Woman

Carefully-considered memoir about race, belonging and growing up in Australia

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, however I have been looking forward to it for a long time ever since I found out the editor of Feminartsy (a journal I write for occasionally) was working on it. I also interviewed her in the most recent episode of my book podcast Lost the Plot.

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“No Country Woman” by Zoya Patel is a memoir about growing up as a third culture kid with a Fijian-Indian background in Australia. Divided into loose thematic chapters, Patel blends personal experience and social theory to reflect on what it means to belong somewhere and the colonial and economic drivers behind generational migration.

This book is an excellent insight into what it is like to navigate two cultures. Patel has a crisp, cool writing style and patiently and piercingly walks the reader through issues such as racism, poverty and identity. She unpacks the theme of belonging in exacting detail and examines what it means to look the same, sound the same, share the same cultural identity and share the same beliefs as people in Fiji, Australia, India and Scotland.

I particularly enjoyed Patel’s words on economic inequality, and her chapter on poverty in India. I think that examination of class is often absent in other memoirs I’ve written, however Patel is forced to confront issues of privilege on a family visit to India as a child and the stark comparison between the lives of family who left and family who stayed. I was also really fascinated by Patel’s experience with language, and the complexities around language, identity and belonging. In a country where the number of people learning a second language in school is on the decline, I was interested to read about the role of language in belonging and the interrelationship with cultural identity.

I think it needs to be said that this is not a book about overcoming adversity in the same way as other women of colour like Maxine Beneba Clarke‘s horrendous high school bullying experience and Roxane Gay‘s trauma as a teenage girl. It certainly isn’t filled with the same rage and hyperbole as Clementine Ford‘s book either. Patel’s family are tight-knit, resilient and entrepreneurial, and are the backdrop rather than the focus of the book. While this book is certainly very personal in many parts, Patel has a measure of reserve that sets this book apart from other memoirs.

While sometimes it can be incredibly engaging to read something that seems entirely unfiltered, I think that Patel’s memoir serves a different purpose. Rather than being an exposé of self, it is an exposé of systems, and provides an academic lens through which to examine personal experiences. While some people connect with the ultra-personal, I think that this style of memoir is particularly effective and I think most readers would find it hard to argue with or minimise Patel’s points.

Memoir is a growing genre in Australia and is an excellent way to explore different perspectives. This book is a particularly sharp look at the realities of race and migration in Australia, but more importantly the diversity of those experiences.

No Country Woman: A memoir of not belonging

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The Rain Never Came

Post-apocalyptic Australian fiction

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

“The Rain Never Came” by Lachlan Walter is post-apocalyptic fiction set in a not-too-distant future Australia plagued by drought. Bill and Tobe are best mates who live in a derelict town that has been all but abandoned. They spend their empty days drinking at the local pub. However, when the pub’s bore runs out and they see some mysterious lights on the horizon, Bill agrees to leave town with Tobe.

Australia really lends itself to desert dystopian stories and the premise of this one was interesting. Set around Western Victoria, I enjoyed imagining the hot Victorian summers I grew up with taken to their extreme. I was intrigued by the mysterious ruling entity that decreed that everyone had to be moved to northern regions where there was still rain. This is an action-packed book and once Bill and Tobe are on the road, the action is non-stop.

There were some things that were a bit difficult about this book though. Walters writing style is very active and his characters are constantly doing things like walking, looking, smiling and laughing. Although as the story progresses, we learn a little more about Bill and Tobe’s past, what I really wanted to learn more about was the world they lived in. It wasn’t completely clear why people were being forced to leave the towns, and I would have liked to have had some more reveals about what led to this situation and what the purpose of the mass removal was.

A compelling idea, but I would have liked more world-building and character development.

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The City of Brass

Middle Eastern fantasy that I can’t stop thinking about

This was a set book for my feminist fantasy book club, and after dipping our toes into making themed food for our previous book, my friend went all out and made an absolute extravaganza.

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I was a bit slow getting started on this book because my last one took so long, so when it came to buy a copy I couldn’t find one locally at short notice. Instead, I bought a copy for my Kobo.

Cover image - The City of Brass

“The City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty is a fantasy novel and the first in “The Daevabad Trilogy”. Nahri is a young woman who lives on the streets of the sprawling city of 18th century Cairo with nothing but her smarts. Surviving on a number of hustles, Nahri has a real aptitude for languages and, to a lesser extent, healing. However, when an improvised healing ritual for cash goes awry, Nahri finds herself beset by monsters and whisked away by a mysterious djinn.

I can’t stop thinking about this book. I keep getting random flashes back to different scenes weeks after I’ve read it. Often a really good book is really good in a particular way: the writing is beautiful, the characters are compelling, the plot is surprising, or the ideas are unique. However this book is good in a different way. The thing that makes this book excellent is its balance. Like a line of dominoes, as soon as you start reading they all start toppling and click, click, click – everything falls into place in the most satisfying way. Chakraborty keeps a perfect amount of tension throughout the book, and the story never grows stale. One criticism I often have of modern fantasy is that it’s often not very imaginative and draws on well-trodden tropes like elves and orcs and angels and demons. This book instead draws on Middle Eastern and African mythology and Chakraborty’s own experiences studying in Egypt and the history and culture of the region seep into the story and make it rich and convincing.

I’ve been trying to think about what I didn’t like about this book, and I’m really struggling to come up with anything at all to be honest. Probably the only thing that I found a bit hard was the complex politics of the city of Daevabad and keeping track of the different districts, factions, djinn and shafit – part human, part djinn. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the Daeva, one race of djinn, claim the name of djinn for themselves, further confusing things for the reader.

Nevertheless, this story was a great read and ended up being one of those book club books where everyone agrees it’s great and runs out of things to talk about. Luckily we were kept busy with some incredible food. If you’re looking for some very engrossing fantasy that is definitely not run-of-the-mill, look no further.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The City of Brass

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Lost the Plot – Episode 28 – Memoir

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Show Notes
Future Library
Website
Handover ceremony of Elif Shafak’s book
Han Kang announced as 5th author

Love Your Bookshop Day
Facebook page

Love your bookshop 1Love your bookshop 2Love your bookshop 3Love your bookshop day 4

Zoya Patel’s book launch of “No Country Woman”

Zoya Patel

National Library of Australia’s 50th birthday

NLA 50th birthday

Feminist Fairy Tales Kickstarter
Episode 18 – Feminist Fairy Tales
Kickstarter link
Erin-Claire’s website

Capital Yarns Volume 2
Episode 25 – Short Stories
Pozible link
Sean’s website

Street Library stolen from Franklin
Facebook post

Hugo Awards 2018
TOR media release
My review of “The Stone Sky” by winner N. K. Jemisin

Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2018 – Shortlist
Readings website

“The Lucky Galah” by Tracey Sorensen
My review

2018 Miles Franklin Award
Perpetual website
The Guardian article

Ancient library discovered in Germany
The Guardian article

Title Quest 2018
Atlas Obscura Article
New York Public Library blog post
/r/whatsthatbook

Shakespeare’s Library
ABC Radio National article
ABC News articles

New covers for Georgette Heyer novels
EW article
Romance Reads

“Ball Lightening” by Cixin Liu
Harper Collins webpage

“His Name Was Walter” by Emily Rodda
Harper Collins webpage
ABC News article

“The Barefoot Investor for Families” by Scott Pape
News.com.au article

Adaptation of “The Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger
Deadline article

Who Magazine’s list of 2018 films based on books
Who article

The phonics controversy continues
The Australian article (if you can even access it)

John Marsden wouldn’t write the Tomorrow Series
ABC News article
QANDA Youtube video
“The Rabbits” by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

“Bear Finds a Voice”
The ABC’s interactive story
The ABC’s analysis of top 100 kids books

Should Book Week be banned?
The Mercury article
Facebook discussion

Chinese crime writer who based his books on his own murders
NY Post article
All That’s Interesting article

Librarian steals public money to pay for mobile game
CNBC article
HJ News article
“A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”

Quizzic Alley
Her Canberra article
The RiotACT article

Inquiry into ACT Libraries
Terms of Reference

$60M funding for NSW libraries
SMH Article

Dream book job in the Maldives
The Guardian article
First The Bookseller article
Second The Bookseller article

“No Country Woman” by Zoya Patel
Zoya’s website
Gaysia” by Benjamin Law
The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Hunger” by Roxane Gay
Feminartsy website

August Reads
“Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson
“No Country Woman” by Zoya Patel
“City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty
“Cicada” by Shaun Tan
“Love and Other Inconveniences” by Rhea Arielle

 

 

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Sydney Writers’ Festival – SWF Gala: Power

Content warning: language, queer issues, adult themes

This was my first time attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival and it was an absolutely epic weekend. I had tickets to 7 events over 3 days and I travelled up to Sydney with my friend Kendall with a bag full of books to get signed. I’ll be sharing more about the trip as a whole later this week, but for now I’ll be blogging about each event I went to.

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The first event I went to was SWF Gala: Power, the big Friday night event at the Sydney Town Hall. This was also my first time at the Town Hall and it is an imposing venue. The perfect place to really get into the nitty-gritty of what power means.

The panel was hosted by Jamila Rizvi who opened the evening with a meditation on the subject of power from a great Australian poet:

“This time, we know we all can stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing we can make it better

Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son, oh
Give a look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make the noise and make it clear, oh-o-o-o, woah-o-o-o
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear, oh-o-o-o, woah-o-o-o”

Farno

The audience was pretty warmed up with that introduction, and each of the panelists took a turn talking about their understanding of power.

Aminatou Sow

Sow, who hosts the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” said that she was just trying to make Oprah proud. She said the first book she read in English was “Feminism is for Everybody”, which was simply about seeking an end to sexism and the successes and failures of feminism. She said it was 140 pages that changed her life and gave her a vocabulary to put into words what she had felt all along and what she didn’t have the models or the words to explain it in her native language, French.

Sow was the queen of one-liners and said, “I do not drink from the koolaid of women’s empowerment”. She said that if activism is fun, you’re probably not doing the work. She said that it’s easy to spot someone who has no skin in the game – they do not read books.

Sow stressed the importance of giving credit to those who have shaped your ideas. She said, don’t just call yourself an activist – DO activism. She told people to “read books and find the language to end oppression”.

Masha Gessen

Gessen is an author of a number of books including “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” and “The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin“. 

Gessen reflected that at a Sydney Writers’ Festival some years ago, she said something that got her into so much trouble that she was driven out of Russia. Prior to the Australian marriage equality vote, she had made comments about the institution of marriage. A conservative newspaper published a story along the lines of “Homosexual activist reveals true goal of LGBTIQ movement”, the story was published in Russian, and her life was changed.

Gessen said that she was interested in the power of uncertainty. Uncertainty, she explained, was at odds with journalism and writing with certainty: the certainty of certainty that we see in Trump’s America, and even the certainty of experience.

Gessen asked the audience to imagine a post-war world where people value each other for being human and their different ways of learning. At this point, the audience clapped (which the Auslan interpreter also signed). Gessen then asked the audience to imagine a world without borders, architects who can build buildings with no set entrances and that can be taken apart, political parties with no platform.

Gessen ended on a discussion of uncertainty of gender and said that when people ask about preferred pronouns, Gessen says “I have no preferred pronoun. There is no reason to use third person pronouns in my presence”. On androgyny, Gessen said that at the airport, there was a question of who should pat her down: the male security guard, or the female security guard. Gessen simply said, “I don’t care”, and removed embarrassment in a tiny island of uncertainty.

Sally Rugg

Rugg was a campaign director at GetUp! for the marriage equality campaign and began her talk with statement that power was how the country won marriage equality.

Rugg first realised she was gay at the age of 19 when she had a penny drop moment. She said at the time it felt like cancer, something she didn’t want and that she couldn’t control in a world suddenly hostile towards her.

She talked about the first same sex kiss on Australian TV and Lloyd Grosse’s HIV activism, and said that every inch of LGBTIQ progress has been fought for with stories. She said that queer couples would haul their children to parliament so they could look MPs in the eye and beg for their families not to be put to a vote.

Rugg explained the power of stories to make political change, but noted the pressure on marginalised groups to be perfect. She said the story she told about being gay feeling like having cancer, she didn’t tell the other parts of realising her sexuality and the stories of losing her virginity or making out with girls in nightclubs. Rugg said that when marginalised communities are forced to sanitise their stories so that they appear worthy and look like the powerful, then it is not true equality.

She said that the stories must not just be preserved for the audiences we are trying to persuade.

Tanya Plibesek

Now, Plibersek’s talk was good, but Jamila Rizvi’s introduction was amazing. She introduced Plibersek like a character from Game of Thrones: Tanya Plibesek, of the House on the Hill, first of her name. Plibersek is the deputy leader of the Labor Party and an MP in Australia’s Parliament.

Plibersek also opened with a reference to music, however she went with John Lennon’s “Power to the People”. She noted that power is not bestowed by divine right, it lives in the people and it belongs to them. It remains the people’s gift to bestow and withdraw. Her talk was focused on the power and value of democracy.

Plibersek paraphrased Winston Churchill, who said

“…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The audience was a bit slow to warm to Plibersek.

Plibersek told the audience that this is the 12th consecutive year of global decline in freedom. There has been a decline in the support of democracy, particularly in among millennials. She said that the best way to support democracy is to broaden the circle of people it applies to.

Plibersek said that the price of democracy around the world is high, and we dishonour the people who fight for it by taking it for granted. She implored people to reject cynicism and jump into the fray. She said that democracy means engagement in civil society and things like memberships in unions and a free and diverse press.

Plibersek warned that Australia’s level of media concentration is one of the highest in the world and it is getting worse with fake news and social media echo chambers. Plibersek says that the is a proponent for free speech. Not the pretend kind, the kind that gives you the right to be a bigot, but the ability to criticise government.

Tayari Jones

Author Tayari Jones spoke next, and she said that she had been apprehensive to speak about power. As a woman of colour, she often felt like her conversations about power involved necessary discussion about being excluded from power and she just didn’t want to have to go through it all again.

She said that she could talk about the impact of police violence on her community, all the way to the fact the microphone doesn’t match her face.

Jones instead decided to tell a story about how she managed to regain some power. She had already had two books published and was writing her third when her publisher decided not to run it. Her publisher had bought some software called BookScan – and I tell you now, the way that Jones said the word BookScan was utterly compelling – and BookScan told the publisher that she hadn’t sold enough books. Her publisher decided not to run the book, and even though she kept working on the book and tried to live by the lessons she taught her students – don’t write what you think will get you published, but try to get published what you want to write – nobody else would publish the book either.

Some time later, Jones was invited to a writers’ festival. She was the only black woman invited, however she didn’t want to go because of how ashamed she was of the impact BookScan had had on her writing career. However, she nevertheless felt obligated to go because of the fear that if she didn’t, they wouldn’t invite other black women.

She got a call from the festival saying they couldn’t find any copies of her books to sell. It turned out that not only had her publishers cancelled her third book, but they had put her first two books out of print. Jones was mortified, and had no idea what to do. Shortly afterwards, she got another call saying that they had found four books for her to sign at the event. It turned out her dad had sent through the two copies and had hit her uncle up for two more.

Jones spoke to her dad and asked, what would she do when she ran out of the four books she had? Her dad said, if you run out, just smile and tell them you’ve sold out.

So Jones went to the event, she signed her four books, and sure enough a fifth person came along. Jones smiled, and told her that she had sold out. However, the woman said that she had heard Jones was out of print. More than that, she had heard that Jones couldn’t get a publisher. Jones said she was so embarrassed.

The woman took her hand, led her across the foyer, and literally put her hand in the hand of a publisher. One that had already rejected her third book. She and the publisher chatted for a bit, and then the publisher turned to her and asked how she knew Judy.

Jones was confused, and said I don’t know a Judy. The publisher said, you know, the woman you came over with, Judy Blume! Jones said it was like her nerdy childhood had come to rescue her in the time of need. However when she turned to where Judy had been, she had disappeared like a magical fairy godmother.

Jones said that her hard work had intersected with Judy Blume and her generosity and power, and finished by concluding that art will always find a way.

Warwick Thornton

Aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton was up next.

He started out by reminiscing about how when he was 6 years old, he lived on the kind of street that all towns have – where the kids are hungry, the mums are working and the dads are full of shit. He said that he had a best friend called David, and by sheer coincidence, he became a camera assistant and David became a boom swinger.

They had adventures together on sets all around Australia. They got older and uglier and they moved from documentaries to features. They worked together on the film The Sapphires, and his friend told him that he had a great idea for a movie.

Now, Thornton said that he hears that a lot, and usually says to them go ahead and write it. He said, 99% of the time he never hears from them about it again. However, this time, when he met David up in Arnham land on a project, David told him he had written the film.

Thornton was torn: he wanted to be a good mate, but what was he going to do if he read it and it was terrible? He’d have to tell him it was bad. He put it off and put it off but then he finally read it: it was terrible, but it was also brilliant because David had something to say.

He had written it from the heart. It didn’t have any structure, but Thornton said that he had been unable to recognise its brilliance when he first read it due to elitist crap. He told David what he thought, and that it needed a lot of work. David told him that he understood: he had just wanted to tell his grandfather’s story.

David had told the truth about his grandfather. Thornton said that history was told by the coloniser, and that it had been told with a lead pencil and an eraser. Thornton said that he had lost his connection and had been too busy focusing on what Hollywood expected. So he hooked David up with a screenwriter called Stephen, and together they made a film called Sweet Country.

Wesley Morris

The last speaker of the day was Wesley Morris, a journalist and critic with the New York Times.

Morris began by saying that he was feeling very literal today. He hadn’t gone to therapy this week, and he hadn’t really prepared a talk, so he wanted to talk about something that had happened to him recently.

He said that he had been dumped about a week ago. It was a plutonic dumping, they weren’t romantically involved, but the person had been in his life since he was about 17 years old.

He actually hadn’t heard from him for about 9 months, and after a few unanswered messages, the friend finally agreed to talk to him about what had happened. Morris got slotted into a 10:00am to 10:40am timeframe, and so he knew it wasn’t going to be a long, in-depth conversation.

He said that he had worked with his friend for about 2 years, and his friend told him that the reason they weren’t speaking anymore is because that he apparently did not help his friend at a moment when he needed help. Morris said that he had no idea his friend needed help. His friend said that Morris had the power to help him and chose not to use it: he could have used whatever clout he had in his position to speak on his friend’s behalf.

Morris was taken aback by this. He said that he had never though of himself as really having any power to help others like that.

Morris said that one factor in this equation was that he is black and his friend is white. He doesn’t carry himself through the world thinking about the power he has, but his friend does think, when moving through a space, about the power he carries. Morris said he doesn’t even know what that looks like because he simply doesn’t believe he has that power.

He said that his friend has the power – he gets himself into nightclubs, and can get people to call him back.

Morris realised that this is a fundamental difference between them. When his friend goes to work, he takes his family and his day-to-day life with him. When Morris goes to work, he takes 400 years of people working so that he has the right to go to work every day. He doesn’t have time to think about the power he has and how he can use it on people. He doesn’t think of himself as having institutional power.

This was a curiously intimate discussion, and Morris clarified he wasn’t looking for a response. He said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen with his friend, but he asked the audience to think about the power they do have and how they use it.

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Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Like many fanciful young girls who spend too much time daydreaming, I loved “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll when I was a kid. So of course when I saw Muse was going to be running a high tea event themed on the Mad Hatter’s tea party, I knew I must attend. I received an email a few days beforehand asking that we dress up and that we bring some of our favourite editions of “Alice in Wonderland” to share with the other attendees. Nobody every has to tell me twice to dress up! Of course, given my love of bunnies, I had to go as the March Hare.

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When I arrived on 22 April 2018, I was very relieved to see that this wasn’t the kind of party where I was the only one who bothered to dress up (having been to one just the day before), and there was a Tweedle (unclear which), the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, an Alice and someone who hadn’t dressed up specifically as a character but who had the most incredible Disney Alice in Wonderland skirt.

The long table was beautifully decorated with playing cards, tea pots and little signs saying “Eat Me” and “Drink Me”. Everyone received a copy of “Mad Hatters and March Hares“, a collection of short stories inspired by Lewis Caroll’s works, and we were joined by local authors Kaaron Warren (who also has a story in the anthology) and Robert Hood (an Alice enthusiast and extremely knowledgeable about the life and times of Lewis Carroll). In the background, a projector was playing the Disney version of the story.

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This was an absolutely lovely way to spend an afternoon. When I had arrived, it had just started drizzling which made it feel extra English. Paul got us all started with a glass of champagne (of which, owing to my over-enthusiasm the previous night, I only took half) then took our tea and coffee orders. Dan brought around the most amazing little cakes and sandwiches on tiered stands, and then the scones with fresh cream and jam came out as well.

Unlike your everyday book event, this one was very participatory. All the guests took turns introducing themselves and sharing some memories about how they first fell in love with the Alice stories. Kaaron told everyone about her story, and her horror writing generally. Robert shared fascinating tidbits about some of the more adult jokes disguised within the children’s books. Then we all got to talk about the editions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that we brought along, and I was very pleased to talk about the copy that my mum used to read to me when I was a kid and some of the fancier new editions I have.

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This really was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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