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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 September 2009

1 September: Tibetan literature | Mario Bellatín interview | New Review of Contemporary Fiction | German critics' list
2 September: Indonesian classics | 2666 in paperback (and Spanish) | New Words without Borders | Geoff Wisner interview | Arnon Grunberg reviews
3 September: Logicomix | September/fall issues | Left behind books
4 September: Goytisolo praise | Resurrection resurrected | French debuts | Blood Safari review | Site outages
5 September: Sijo enthusiasm ? | Indonesian studies in Australia
6 September: Summertime review | Not so global literature ? | Donald Keene interview | Publishing vocabulary
7 September: Bahaa Taher profile | The litblog as we once knew it: 'dead, dead, dead' ? | Dan Brown fix
8 September: The Satanic Verses (not) in India | New The Quarterly Conversation | Zakaria Tamer reviews
9 September: Man Booker Prize shortlist | international literature festival
10 September: Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature to Bensalem Himmich | Hwang Sok-yong's The Old Garden | Marion Boyars winding down ? | Jerusalem review

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10 September 2009 - Thursday

Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature to Bensalem Himmich
Hwang Sok-yong's The Old Garden | Marion Boyars winding down ? | Jerusalem review

       Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature to Bensalem Himmich

       They announced this a couple of weeks ago, but now, as Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse report, Morocco's Bensalem Himmich receives 2009 Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature. (This is not to be confused with the (probably more prestigious) AUC Press' Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature .....)
The Union of Egyptian Writers awarded Tuesday evening the 2009 Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature to Moroccan writer Bensalem Himmich for the whole of his work.
       Two of his novels are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Hwang Sok-yong's The Old Garden

       Hwang Sok-yong's The Old Garden is now out from Seven Stories Press: see their publicity page, and get your copy at or; they're serializing part of it too.
       A leading South Korean author, his The Guest is already under review at the complete review, and I'm looking forward to covering this one as well (a copy is in the mail ...).
       Meanwhile, it is actually (and admirably) being reviewed in this weekend's issue of The New York Times Book Review -- and since for some reason they've been posting the reviews from this issue really early, that review is actually already available online.
       Impressively, too, they got B.R.Myers to review it -- yes, the Myers of A Reader's Manifesto, but also (much more relevantly) the Myers of Han Sorya and North Korean Literature -- who really is the obvious person to cover this title.
       Unfortunately, Myers finds:
although Hwang Sok-yong's Old Garden was written south of the 38th parallel, it resembles a North Korean narrative in structural as in ideological ways. This is not a good thing.
       He also thinks:
Jay Oh's translation is basically functional, but it feels too youthful and distinctly American.
       Ah, well. I'm still going to have a go at it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Marion Boyars winding down ?

       ReadySteadyBlog -- finally back in action -- reports the shocking news that publisher Marion Boyars is apparently packing it in:
Penguin have bought 38 titles from us and once we have completed our autumn program we will concentrate solely on the remainder of the backlist whilst operations wind down.
       Disappointing, indeed -- over the years they've been responsible for some very fine stuff.

       (Updated): Alison Flood now reports in The Guardian that Publisher Marion Boyars driven out of business, while in The Bookseller Catherine Neilan reports that Kilgarriff blames Boyars closure on 'discounts'.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Jerusalem review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gonçalo M. Tavares' Jerusalem.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

9 September 2009 - Wednesday

Man Booker Prize shortlist | international literature festival

       Man Booker Prize shortlist

       They've announced this year's Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2009 shortlist.
       The only shortlisted title under review at the complete review is Summertime, by J.M.Coetzee, -- but there are also review-overviews of the not-yet-available-in-the-US novels The Children's Book (by A.S.Byatt) and Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel). (The other finalists are: The Quickening Maze (by Adam Foulds), The Glass Room (by Simon Mawer), and The Little Stranger (by Sarah Waters).)

       For early reactions, see, for example:        For those who want to wager on the outcome, check out the odds at:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       international literature festival

       The international literature festival in Berlin starts tomorrow and runs through the 20th.
       A pretty awesome list of authors -- and there's even an Oulipo-contingent.

       (Updated - 11 September): See also the Deutsche Welle report, Berlin Literature Festival welcomes bookworms from around the world.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

8 September 2009 - Tuesday

The Satanic Verses (not) in India | New The Quarterly Conversation
Zakaria Tamer reviews

       The Satanic Verses (not) in India

       In the Business Standard Nilanjana S. Roy asks a question I did not realize was (still) open: Should we lift the Satanic Verses ban?
       Yes, apparently Salman Rushdie's novel is still banned in India -- and Roy notes:
But while the Satanic Verses controversy has remained alive in people's memories, we haven't yet had a serious debate, citizens-to-state, on a key question: should the ban on the Satanic Verses be challenged and lifted today?
       (Get your copy of The Satanic Verses (and send it to India ?) at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       New The Quarterly Conversation

       Issue 17 of The Quarterly Conversation is now available -- lots of good material.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Zakaria Tamer reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two recently translated collections by Syrian author Zakaria Tamer:        Despite being widely recognized as one of the leading Arabic writers -- and living in the UK for the past quarter of a century -- neither of these titles has attracted much attention. And this at a time when Arabic fiction is ostensibly getting more attention in the English-speaking world .....
       This would barely rate a mention -- it's par for the lack-of-foreign-fiction-covering course, after all -- were it not for the fact that back in 1985 when Tamer's collection Tigers on the Tenth Day was published (by Quartet -- i.e. pretty low profile, at least in the US) it was reviewed in, of all places, The New York Times Book Review (22/9/1985). There Michael Beard found:
Zakaria Tamer's stories start on the streets of Damascus, but the reward of reading him is watching him evade the rules of the local colorist, improvising in a space somewhere between social satire and the modernist parable.
       Obviously, the review dates from long before Sam Tanenhaus had anything to do with the NYTBR ..... (Sure, he'll hop on the Bolaño bandwagon, now that it is unstoppable (and Bolaño is, after all, his favorite kind of foreign-language-writing author: dead), but authors like Tamer (and especially Tamer back in 1985: even less well-known, with nothing else available in translation, writing in a language from which barely anything is translated into English, etc.) hardly stand a chance of being noticed by the NYTBR nowadays.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

7 September 2009 - Monday

Bahaa Taher profile | The litblog as we once knew it: 'dead, dead, dead' ?
Dan Brown fix

       Bahaa Taher profile

       In Politics and prose in The National John O'Connell profiles Bahaa Taher, whose award-winning Sunset Oasis is now out in the UK (get your copy at, or pre-order your copy from
       See also the complete review review of Taher's As Doha Said.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The litblog as we once knew it: 'dead, dead, dead' ?

       In the Denver Post David Milofsky wonders how the steps newspapers and online media might take -- raising paywalls, in particular -- might affect literary coverage on the Internet, in Who will write the future?
       Among the quotes he got:
Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) has a somewhat different take. "The litblog as we once knew it is dead, dead, dead," she wrote in an e-mail. "And what's emerged in its wake are sites that veer more toward producing original content than outright linking. So now is the time to be an entrepreneur, to figure out if there's money to be made from our respective websites and what form that will take . . .

"Stories behind a paywall stand less chance of being talked about. If newspapers can determine how to balance that paradox, they'll hit the proverbial goldmine."
       I haven't really noticed a shift towards producing more original content; yes, there's been a proliferation of sites doing that -- but there's also been a proliferation of link-focused sites. And most of the oldest guard hasn't changed what they (and I) do (including Sarah and, for example, her own 'Sunday smatterings')
       But stories behind a paywall certainly are less discussed -- online. How much that matters, I don't know. (Someone should do a study comparing the influence (though god knows how to measure that ...) of articles freely available at, for example The New York Review of Books or the London Review of Books and those that aren't (since these are two (sort of ...) literary-focused publications that make only a few articles from each issue freely accessible).)
       Milofsky's piece also quotes The Elegant Variation-man Mark Sarvas:
"I think it's entirely reasonable for (newspapers) to charge for their content," Sarvas writes. "I'm just not convinced people will pay. I would be disinclined to pay for links, since I already run TEV at a loss. But I think the blogs have proven rather nimble and adaptable, and I suspect you'll see anything from an increase in original content or perhaps a rolling precis of coverage elsewhere."
       The amount of material that has been freely accessible has fluctuated widely over the years I've been at this, with many publications whose reviews I link to (or try to) having switched tacks repeatedly over the past decade. There's probably more that's freely accessible now than at any other time, but I find it hard to envision so many going behind paywalls (or similar obstructions -- requiring registration, etc.) that it would make a great difference.
       One change that I do foresee: periodicals whose content isn't freely accessible online -- entirely or partially -- will make a greater effort to provide 'litbloggers' and the like with copies of their publications -- just like publishers do with book-review copies.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dan Brown fix

       For those of you -- and sadly there seem to be rather a lot of you, though perhaps not that many find their way here -- who are looking forward (for whatever reason -- reading pleasure or train wreck ...) to the forthcoming publication of this Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol, New York offers a few amusing pieces on Cracking Dan Brown.
       There's Dan Kois getting Brown-expert (!) Dan Burstein's guesses on What's in the New Book???? -- which includes the exchange:
So your infatuation with Dan Brown isn't with his writing.
Dan Brown is, in a literary sense, quite obviously not a great writer.
       And there's also Ira Boudway's Dan Brown's Enemies List -- though surely that could be a lot longer.
       See also the official site for the 'book' (with its countdown to the end of civilization as we know it) or, if you really must (and I strongly advise against it), pre-order your copy from or (I reluctantly provide those links, but it's no use fighting it: there are those among you who have already ordered the book via the regular links on this page .....)
       (I hope this is the extent of The Lost Symbol-coverage you'll find here -- though if it flops I'll be happy to report on that too.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

6 September 2009 - Sunday

Summertime review | Not so global literature ?
Donald Keene interview | Publishing vocabulary

       Summertime review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of J.M.Coetzee's most recent mock-autobiographical Scenes from Provincial Life, Summertime -- just out in the UK (and already widely reviewed), though you'll have to wait a while for the US edition.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Not so global literature ?

       I'm looking forward to the discussions about this: in The Hindu Tabish Khair writes in Mirror, mantra that:
After a very short period of looking around, the West has increasingly turned its gaze onto itself in recent years.
       He argues that:
When the West gazes into its mirrors, it sees its own new post-war multicultural self. It sees Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Hari Kunzru, Zadie Smith. And it likes to pretend that it is seeing the Other.

How convenient to look at an Other who speaks one’s own language! No, I am not accusing Rushdie and Naipaul of bland mimicry or of consciously catering to Western opinions. These, and many others like them, are excellent writers, and people of much independence of thought and posture. One or two of them might even be great writers. And yet, they belong to a tradition that is less uncomfortable for the cultured Western reader and critic to face up to. If they present difference, they present just a different aspect of the West.
       He lumps a bit much together, but has a point (though, of course, it is not exactly a new one).
       He even finds:
Come to think of it, authors who repudiate their homelands and seek the shelter of the West -- from Naipaul to Coetzee -- are more likely to be seen as "global" than authors who stay in their homelands, like Ngugi Wa’Thiongo and Shashi Deshpande, or who, like Césaire, return home from the West.
       Last I heard, Ngugi has lived in exile (save for the occasional brief visit) -- does that count as repudiation ? -- since 1982 -- in part for very good reason -- and has been directing the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine for a while now. (And recall that Achebe and Soyinka have also long lived in the US -- not that too many people seem to notice.)
       Certainly, it's pretty embarrassing what passes for 'global' in the US and UK, but borders and barriers have become considerably more porous and flexible in recent years -- and the Other is out there, for those that work to seek it out (yeah, sorry, it does still take a bit of work -- it's only the likes of un-Other-like Rushdie that get served on a platter).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Donald Keene interview

       In The Japan Times Eriko Arita interviews translator-from-the-Japanese and scholar Donald Keene, in Keene: A life lived true to the words -- complete with a bit of The Tale of Genji-discussion.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Publishing vocabulary

       Apparently it's still the summer-silly-season, but Robert McCrum's column in The Observer, It's delightful and lacerating -- lies from a publisher's argot does offer a few amusing examples, e.g.:
Cult novel: no publicity to speak of but it got a review in Time Out.
Word-of-mouth sensation: thank God for Amazon.
Multicultural phenomenon: no one can pronounce the author's name.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

5 September 2009 - Saturday

Sijo enthusiasm ? | Indonesian studies in Australia

       Sijo enthusiasm ?

       In The Korea Times Chung Ah-young reports that 'Sijo' Begins to Draw Attention in US:
Sijo is a Korean traditional poem of 43 to 45 syllables whose third line contains a twist on the theme developed in the first two.

To promote the excellence of sijo, none other than American professor David McCann, who has taught it to students at Harvard University, has spearheaded the popularization of sijo.
       See also Irene Sege's Boston Globe article from a few months ago, wondering about The new haiku?, or get your copy of The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction to Sijo at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Indonesian studies in Australia

       In The Australian David T. Hill uses the occasion of the death of "Indonesia's most celebrated poet, W.S. Rendra" to lament that Interest lost, a study falls silent, as:
Rendra and Isak's deaths highlight, too, an often unnoticed aspect of the Australian-Indonesian relationship: the depth of Australian scholarship on Indonesia and in particular our substantial contribution to the internationalisation of Indonesian literature. Sadly, the ranks of these experts here are thinning with each passing year.
       He notes:
Our interest in, and appreciation for, Indonesian literature may have been part of a broader political solidarity with the anti-authoritarian movement in Suharto's Indonesia. But that literary interest sustained important people-to-people links that survived previous tensions between the two governments.
       I hope for a revival.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

4 September 2009 - Friday

Goytisolo praise | Resurrection resurrected | French debuts
Blood Safari review | Site outages

       Goytisolo praise

       As longtime readers know, my admiration for Juan Goytisolo's work is near limitless, and it's nice to see Boyd Tonkin give him -- for good reason -- his due for showing character as well, as Tonkin writes about him in The Independent, noting that he's The writer who said no to Libyan loot, as:
Last month, this stalwart friend and champion of Muslim civilisation was sounded out to see if he would accept an International Prize for Literature awarded by an eminent panel of Arab jurors. Its value would be 150,000 euros. Goytisolo esteemed the judges -- who included the excellent Libyan novelist Ibrahim al Koni -- but found himself having to confront "a very big but". The prize money came from the Libyan state. So he refused.
       Good for him -- and, as Tonkin writes:
Since a long and uncompromising career devoted to avant-garde fiction and radical criticism seldom earns a fortune, I imagine that the withdrawal represented a real choice, and a real challenge, on Goytisolo's part. We should salute him for it.
       I'd salute him for his work alone, regardless of his actions -- but how nice to see his actions speak as well for him as his words do.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Resurrection resurrected

       Penguin Classics is bringing out a new translation -- by Anthony Briggs -- of Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or, and Boyd Tonkin offers a brief review in The Independent.
       I'm very curious about this one: I loved this book in my teenage Russian phase -- much to my surprise, since it is a ridiculous story of a moralistic slant which I couldn't believe I could possibly put up with. Almost every time I turned the page I was ashamed by how enthralled I was by it (and let me tell you: it was all in the writing -- the story struck me as ridiculous from the first).
       Was I completely deluded for those days ? I hope to tackle it again and see.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       French debuts

       With the fall French book-season in full swing, Le Figaro introduces ten debutantes in Premiers romans: la sélection du Figaro Littéraire.
       They got all ten to pose for that ridiculous photograph, so it's hard to have any respect for any of them, but maybe some of the books are good. (For god's sake, can't we ignore the authors and focus on the books ?)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Blood Safari review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Deon Meyer's Blood Safari, now out in the US.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Site outages

       As some of you will have unfortunately noticed, the complete review site has been down for brief periods repeatedly over the past ten days. For the past decade our webhost has been very dependable, but for some reason(s) the server has crashed repeatedly recently. They note that: "We are monitoring this server closely", but that hasn't helped much either.
       Outages tend to be relatively brief -- ten minutes at a time -- but are, of course, tremendously annoying. I hope the situation will be rectified soon, and apologize for any inconvenience they cause you.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

3 September 2009 - Thursday

Logicomix | September/fall issues | Left behind books


       A few months ago Alison Flood reported in The Guardian that Bertrand Russell's mathematical quest adds up to unlikely graphic novel hit, and now the English version of that book, Logicomix, is coming out in the UK and US (see the official site, or get your copy from or
       It was written by Apostolos Doxiadis (who wrote the popular Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture) and Christos H. Papadimitriou (who wrote Turing).
       John Walsh now enthuses about it in The Independent, in Bertrand Russell: The thinking person's superhero, writing:
If the subject matter seems a little arid, with its theories of types, paradoxes and abstruse language (calculus ratiocinator?), and if its recurring theme of how logic and madness are psychologically intertwined seems a touch gloomy, don't let that put you off. Logicomix tells its saga of human argumentation with such drama and vivid colour that it leaves the graphic novel 300 (Frank Miller's take on the Battle of Thermopylae) looking like something from Eagle Annual.
       Graphic un-enthusiast that I am, I have my doubts.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       September/fall issues

       September/fall issues of Bookforum and Open Letters Monthly are now available online: loads of material that should keep you busy for a while.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Left behind books

       UK hotel chain Travelodge have released (but not yet at their official site ...) their 'books left behind index', seeing which are the most left behind books among the 7200 abandoned by hotel guests, and, as Joe Bunyan reports in The Telegraoh, Katie Price's books 'are most often dumped'. But Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father came in second .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

2 September 2009 - Wednesday

Indonesian classics | 2666 in paperback (and Spanish) | New Words without Borders
Geoff Wisner interview | Arnon Grunberg reviews

       Indonesian classics

       In The Jakarta Post Anissa S. Febrina writes about Revitalizing the classics.
       After all:
perhaps, when we hear those names and titles -- Marah Rusli’s Siti Nurbaya, Abdoel Moeis’ Salah Asuhan or Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana’s Layar Terkembang -- we rarely consider them classic literary works that deserve a space on our book shelves beside Dickens and Austen.
       (I'm guessing that only a sliver of even the highly literate Literary Saloon-readership has placed these volumes on their book shelves beside their Dickens and Austen .....)
       But, hey:
a set of republished and repackaged Indonesian literary classics that includes those titles might just change our mind.
        So fortunately:
Balai Pustaka recently launched its Indonesian Cultural Heritage Series, a set of eight classic literary works by writers from the 1920s through the 1940s.
       For now:
"We still suffer losses," Uchrowi said. "So in a way it’s a start that hopefully can roll into further development of republished literary works. Our next phase is to get the works translated into English."
       Given how little Indonesian literature -- classic or contemporary -- is translated intop English, this would, indeed, be very welcome.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       2666 in paperback (and Spanish)

       Roberto Bolaño's 2666 is now out in paperback in the US (in one volume -- it was previously available in a three-volume paperback set) and the UK; get your copy at or (where the Amazon price is a stunningly low £4.94 -- how can you pass that up ?).
       More significantly, there's now a Spanish-language US edition out (see the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy from
       I am constantly astounded by how poorly developed the Spanish-language publishing market in the US is -- and stunned that no one jumped on the Bolaño bandwagon before. A significant number of complete review-visitors purchase Spanish-language editions of the works under review (including the Anagrama import-edition of 2666), so it seems obvious to me that there's significant demand, but very few of the titles readers seem to be clamoring for are available from US publishers. Come on, people, it's a huge market !

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       New Words without Borders

       The September issue of Words without Borders is now available; it's devoted to 'Walking the World'.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Geoff Wisner interview

       At The Quarterly Conversation Scott Esposito offers 99 Essential African Books: The Geoff Wisner Interview -- mainly discussing Wisner's A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books that Capture the Spirit of Africa.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two books by Arnon Grunberg:        Amuse-Bouche is a collection out from Comma Press,who certainly look worth keeping an eye on.
       The title-choice is an interesting one: the original Dutch title was, in fact, also a French one: Amuse-Gueule. Would English-speaking audiences really not have gotten that ?
       Tirza hasn't been translated into English yet, but it did take several of the major Dutch literary prizes -- and it is a knock-out. The best novel I've read in months -- and maybe his best.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

1 September 2009 - Tuesday

Tibetan literature | Mario Bellatín interview
New Review of Contemporary Fiction | German critics' list

       Tibetan literature

       Phayul reports that Tibetan PM advises "middle way" in literature too.
       Among the debating points:
Defining "Tibetan literature" threw up a controversy as some of the writers refused to recognize Tibetan writings in foreign languages as "Tibetan literature". Tsundue claimed that if a writer is Tibetan and if the content is also Tibetan then it must be considered as Tibetan literature

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Mario Bellatín interview

       Beauty Salon-author Mario Bellatín is interviewed by Bill Marx at PRI's The World.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       New Review of Contemporary Fiction

       A fat (365 page) new issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction is now out -- and, as usual, the book reviews (short, but of an interesting selection of titles) are available online.
       The issue itself is a 'Special Fiction Issue', which consists of Herman Melville's ; or The Whale, edited by Damion Searls.
       A few years ago British publisher Orion brought out 'Moby Dick in half the time', an abridged version of Melville's classic (see the Orion publicity page; I refuse to provide the Amazon links -- you can't be buying shit like that). In this issue of the RCF they offer the other half of the text -- everything that was cut from the Orion edition.
       Conceptually it's an interesting idea, but I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       German critics' list

       The September SWR-Bestenliste -- the German critics' choices of the top ten books for the month -- has come out, and Herta Müller's Atemschaukel tops the list.
       Rather remarkably, only a single translated title (by Lars Gustafsson) makes the top ten.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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