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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2014

1 February: Literary manga ! | Raja Alem Q & A
2 February: February online issues | Joël Dicker profile | Writing in ... Urdu
3 February: French-American revivals | Free Falling, As If in a Dream review
4 February: Writing in ... Russia | Q & As: Pankaj Mishra - Philip Roth
5 February: Clearer censorship ? | New The Manila Review | Journey to Karabakh review
6 February: Runeberg-palkinto | Library of America 2013 bestsellers
7 February: Publishing in ... Egypt | M-Net Literary Awards | Shishkin on Sochi | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists | The Ax review
8 February: The Parsagon Review | Khaled Khalifa profile | Literary Cairo
9 February: Sapir Prize | Robert A. Dahl (1915-2014) | The Perfect Wave review
10 February: Book trailers in ... India | Literary criticism in ... Zimbabwe | Digital Loeb Classical Library® | 'Booktrack'

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10 February 2014 - Monday

Book trailers in ... India | Literary criticism in ... Zimbabwe
Digital Loeb Classical Library® | 'Booktrack'

       Book trailers in ... India

       I do rather enjoy movie trailers, but I still can't quite wrap my mind around the whole book trailer-concept. Sure, that recent Shteyngart/Franco trailer was amusing enough, but it wouldn't occur to me to get whatever the book they're trying to sell is (I remain unsure whether it's a trailer for Shteyngart's book, or Franco's).
       Sadly, it seems that book trailers are now also an international phenomenon, and in The Hindu Arundhati Hazra reports on Well trailer-ed books in India.
       Apparently some think they're helpful:
Says author Ashwin Sanghi, "A trailer increases a potential reader's awareness of a title and thus makes him or her more likely to purchase it when he or she sees it among several other titles on the racks of a book shop. The trailer I made for my book The Rozabal Line had over 50,000 views in a month. I think the trailer played a vital role in pushing awareness for the book."
       That trailer -- or the slightly less basic one for Sanghi's Chanakya's Chant -- don't exactly looking cutting-edge (or, indeed, interesting enough to hold-viewer-interest for the duration of the short videos).
       Perhaps more realistically:
Mainak Dhar, author of Zombiestan, sounds a note of caution. "To be honest, I don't think a trailer can realistically get lots of new readers on its own -- it has to work with other elements of the marketing plan, The biggest role of a trailer is sometimes to provide a more immersive experience for a potential reader who has seen the book in a shop window or online, so they can get a more multimedia sense of what the book is about."
       That said, the trailer for Zombiestan is also kind of a let-down -- a story that promises: "It began with tales of undead Taliban" surely could do better than this very limited show-piece.
       I suspect that a rudimentary cost/benefit analysis -- given the usual/expected sales of any title -- makes it obvious that it can't pay to make a trailer really worth watching (or that's even just watchable): production costs would simply dwarf not just any potential additional revenue, but simply any revenue.

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

       Literary criticism in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Standard Tinashe Mushakavanhu argues: 'There is something fundamentally wrong with literary journalism in Zimbabwe', in Treason against literature.
       It certainly sounds like the local situation is ... less than ideal:
No good book reviewers. No regular book pages in the local papers. No quality arts and culture magazines. In fact, there is no more vibrancy of literary debate and discussion in Zimbabwe like we had in the 80s and 90s. What we have is a lot of charlatan praise jobs.
       And Mushakavanhu argues:
This lack of serious interest in our own literature has invited foreign critics to dominate the shaping of Zimbabwean literature. They read and define us. It is time we not only declared our independence, but seriously started reading our own writers.
       Any call for a revived local literary culture is to be applauded -- but, of course, in its absence it's good that some outsiders are still paying some attention, too.

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

       Digital Loeb Classical Library®

       While I still haven't fully embraced e-reading, I certainly appreciate some of the advantages of e-books (and easy access to them). I love the print version Loeb Classical Library® series from Harvard University Press (the pocket-size alone is almost enough to win me over, but the rest -- bilingual texts, and oh what texts -- makes them particularly appealing), but I can also see how a searchable e-edition would be a useful thing, so I'm pleased to hear that: Forthcoming in Fall 2014: The Digital Loeb Classical Library®.
       Of course, a lot depends on the actual functionality of the e-versions -- but from the looks of things, this is pretty promising.

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


       This nutty idea actually seems to have been around for a while already, but for some reason is getting more attention again -- maybe a last hurrah before it sinks into deserved oblivion ? -- as in, for example, Kristin Hohenadel's post at Slate's The Eye weblog, Do Books Need Soundtracks and Special Effects ?
       I can understand the desire to 'accessorize' e-books, but Booktrack -- allowing you: "to create an immersive soundtrack for your text" -- really seems on the wrong track.
       They suggest that:
Booktrack is transforming reading the way sound transformed silent film
       This suggests a fundamental (and fatal) misunderstanding of the mediums.
       I'm baffled that anyone could think this is a viable idea.

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

9 February 2014 - Sunday

Sapir Prize | Robert A. Dahl (1915-2014) | The Perfect Wave review

       Sapir Prize

       They've announced the winner of this year's Sapir Prize (בפרס ספיר), and it goes to Noa Yedlin (נעה ידלין) for בעלת הבית; see also, for example, Beth Kissileff's report at the Forward's weblog (which apparently really is called 'The Arty Semite'), Embezzlement Drama Wins Israel's Top Literary Prize, which also discusses the other shortlisted titles.
       See also the (Hebrew) publisher's publicity page.

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

       Robert A. Dahl (1915-2014)

       Political scientist Robert A. Dahl has died, at 98; see, for example, obituaries in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
       My review of his How Democratic is the American Constitution ? has long been one of the more consistently popular reviews at the complete review.

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

       The Perfect Wave review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Heinrich Päs' The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time, just out from Harvard University Press.

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

8 February 2014 - Saturday

The Parsagon Review | Khaled Khalifa profile | Literary Cairo

       The Parsagon Review

       A relatively new online journal, The Parsagon Review -- 'The Paragon of Persian Literature, Culture and Art' -- looks fairly promising, and is a welcome addition to the literary information available from and about Iran.

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

       Khaled Khalifa profile

       In the Daily Star Jana El Hassan has a profile of Syrian Novelist Khaled Khalifa on breaking the barrier of fear -- and:
Renowned for dismantling Syria's politics and society in his fiction, Khalifa wishes he were bolder. "There are a lot of things I am still afraid to write about [at] the social and psychological level. Writing is a constant exercise to breaking the barrier of fear."

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

       Literary Cairo

       At The Daily Beast Henry Krempels has a Q & A with the novelist about Literary City: Ahdaf Soueif's Cairo.
       Meanwhile, at Amira El Ahl offers an overview of this year's Cairo International Book Fair 2014, in Reader, where art thou ?

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

7 February 2014 - Friday

Publishing in ... Egypt | M-Net Literary Awards
Shishkin on Sochi | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists | The Ax review

       Publishing in ... Egypt

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Noha Moustafa finds: 'The economic slowdown over the past three years has brought major changes to the publishing industry', in Publishing in hard times.
       I'm surprised to hear that in Egypt: "About 65 per cent of a book's price is that of the paper, and this has increased in price from between 33 per cent to 40 per cent over the past couple of years". (I actually find that 65 per cent hard impossible to believe -- and even if they just mean 'cost' (to the publisher), rather than 'price' (to the consumer) it seems implausible.)
       Always worth remembering:
However, those people who are still reading in Egypt, even if they are only four or five million out of the total 85 million population, represent a significant market. "Egypt is by far the biggest book market in the Arab world," Bakr said.
Even in such dire times, there have been increasing numbers of titles published in 2013 compared to earlier years. According to the index published by the Egyptian National Library and Archives (Dar Al-Kotob), registered publications in Egypt until September 2013 came to 6,892 books in Arabic and 919 foreign-language ones. Some 1,667 literary titles were published.
       Sounds like an expanding market to me (yes, total copies sold is different from total titles -- but titles are what count (yes, yes: except for in terms of the bottom line ...)).
       Interesting to hear that the prize-culture has made such a difference (on some level):
According to authors, publishers are more and more eager to publish novels in the awards season. The prizes create a huge opportunity to promote and market their books. However, apart from the very few writers who win literary awards, hardly any of them earn anything from their writings.
       And surely a lot of the changes forced on/embraced by publishers are for the best:
Some publishing houses have tried other trends, such as publishing translated literature, or newly selected titles that click with current reality. New genres have also evolved in Arabic writing, such as horror novels and thrillers.

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

       M-Net Literary Awards

       It's very, very disappointing to hear that, as Carolyn reports at the Books Live weblog, M-Net Literary Awards Suspended Indefinitely.
       With English-language awards dominating the African scene, the M-Net Literary Awards admirably looked beyond that:
By acknowledging local authors who practice the art of novel writing in any of South Africa's 11 official languages, the M-Net Literary Awards take pride in encouraging authors to write in their home language, thus contributing to the longevity of even the smallest indigenous languages.
       That pride and encouragement apparently only went so far .....
       It really is beyond too bad: writers in these language are in far greater need of encouragement and support than the fairly well-served English- (and, to varyingly lesser extents, the French-, Portuguese, and Arabic-) writing communities in Africa. I hope somebody gets on this and finally endows (or expands) a pan-African literary prize that truly embraces and encourages local-language-writing -- it is now even more sorely and obviously needed.

       (One of last year's M-Net winners is under review at the complete review: Imraan Coovadia's The Institute for Taxi Poetry.)

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

       Shishkin on Sochi

       The Winter Olympics start (officially) today and, as someone who takes most anything snow-related very seriously, I follow some of the competitions closely (yes, my Twitter feed includes the essential @SkiJumpInsights). Unfortunately, the horror that is American -- broadcast and general -- Olympics coverage always diminishes the enjoyment of trying to follow the events, and this year that's compounded by the fact that the games are being held in Putin's back yard (though it seems that will make for good absurdist-entertainment value).
       Of course, everyone is weighing in on this, and with even Maidenhair- and The Light and the Dark-author Mikhail Shishkin having his say I venture a mention, linking to his PEN Atlas piece, Russian déjà vu at Sochi 2014 - who lost the games? -- where he sums up nicely/awfully:
Today, the Olympics have again turned into a huge Potemkin village: newly painted and front-facing our foreign guests, and showing a dirty backside to its own people.
I don’t know who’ll win medals, but the Russian population has already lost the Games. One can sum up the Winter Games even before they’ve started: the regime, with help from the Olympics, has raped the country yet again: Russian déjà vu.

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

       Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists

       They've announced the fifteen finalists -- five in each of the three categories -- for the Leipzing Book Fair Prize, selected from 410 titles.
       At her love german books weblog Katy Derbyshire has a quick look at the five fiction finalists.
       The translation finalists include translations of Murakami's latest (not yet available in English ...), William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, the latest Knausgård to be translated into German, and a new translation of Diderot's Jacques le fataliste.

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

       The Ax review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Donald E. Westlake's 1997 novel The Ax.
       Is this really out of print ? Seems even more appropriate in the current economic climate than the one almost two decades ago.

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

6 February 2014 - Thursday

Runeberg-palkinto | Library of America 2013 bestsellers


       The Finnish Runeberg Prize, worth € 10,000 was awarded yesterday -- Finnish national poet Runeberg's birthday -- to Terminaali by Hannu Raittila (presumably some Runebergintorttu was also served); see, for example, one of the official (Finnish) announcements, or the yle report, Hannu Raittila takes Runeberg prize.
       He's won it before -- for Canal Grande (for which he also took the Finlandia, which this one didn't) -- but, surprisingly, still hasn't been translated into English.
       The yle one-sentence summary makes Terminaali sound reasonably interesting -- "the story of a girl who has been repatriated to Finland after spending years touring foreign airports, and her family's efforts to find her" -- the WSOY foreign rights page ... maybe not so much -- including:
The Terminal is set within the years 2011 and 2012, but structure of the novel expands. Its centerpiece is the 11th September 2001, when international air traffic was used as weapon of mass destruction.

In his novel Canal Grande Hannu Raittila considered the relationship between the Protestant North and the Southern and Catholic countries within the EU. Now with The Terminal Raittila has expanded his view point and gone global. At the same time, Raittila, a known interpreter of men and their ways, opens an inner door into the complex minds of young girls.
       See also the (Finnish) Siltala publicity page.

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

       Library of America 2013 bestsellers

       At their Reader's Almanac weblog the Library of America has a post on The Library of America's Best-Selling Titles (2014 update), the always interesting overview of volumes (out of over 240) which were the most popular last year.
       Not really the ones I would have expected -- I would have though the traditional classics (James, Melville, Poe, Wharton, Twain, Cather, etc. etc.) would fare better. I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Philip K. Dick would enjoy such continued popularity (though I'm all for it).
       Of course, actual sales numbers would make such a list even more useful/informative .....

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

5 February 2014 - Wednesday

Clearer censorship ? | New The Manila Review | Journey to Karabakh review

       Clearer censorship ?

       At Sampsonia Way Cuban author Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo writes On the Need for Censorship, noting that the very absence of any guidelines in Cuba already has a pernicious effect:
There aren't even any bureaucratic regulations in place to define what can and cannot be published. It's precisely this fogginess that allows for maximum impunity, since everyone begins to censor everyone else, starting with the self-censorship that every author personally humiliates himself with in order to avoid institutional humiliation.
       So he suggests:
For there to be freedom of expression under totalitarianism, perhaps we have to start by introducing democracy's mechanisms of censorship. Thereafter, we would have to fight for the right to minimize the spaces occupied by censorship
       An interesting idea -- though I assume the regime has no interest in making things easier for anybody and prefers the current foggy atmosphere of fear.

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

       New The Manila Review

       Issue 4 of The Manila Review is now available.

       (With Indonesia as guest of honour at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair (see my recent mention) one hopes there will be a bit more interest generally in the region, extending to Malaysia, PNG, etc. -- and also the Philippines.)

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

       Journey to Karabakh review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Aka Morchiladze's Journey to Karabakh, another in Dalkey Archive Press' recently released Georgian Literature Series.

       I hope someone also brings out an edition of Morchiladze's Santa Esperanza (the Germans did ...): scroll down to the end of this piece for a bit about that.

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

4 February 2014 - Tuesday

Writing in ... Russia | Q & As: Pankaj Mishra - Philip Roth

       Writing in ... Russia

       At PEN America Glas New Russian Writing-editor Natasha Perova explains (or puzzles over ...) What is the Literary Scene in Russia Like Today ? (see also the Glas titles under review at the complete review -- as well as all the Russian ones, which includes several she mentions).
       An interesting overview -- including the observation that:
The authorities have finally realized how harmless intellectuals really are and leave them alone. Now they can say whatever they like and let off steam as much as they want, while the authorities couldn't care less about their dissent as long as they are published in small print runs, which is usually the case. Writers yearned for freedom but when it was finally granted to them, they found that nobody cared very much about their brave ideas. The state can still make trouble for writers (and there are quite a few instances of this) but clever writers simply take the opportunity to use trouble as publicity.
       And troubling to hear that:
In our times of market economy, pulp fiction has won over literary fiction in Russia, quite simply pushing it to the margins. If Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky tried offering their novels to commercial publishers today, they would have a hard time getting them published -- they'd probably be rejected on grounds that their novels are too long and dense, too verbose, slow-moving, and serious.
       (Still, note that Maidenhair and The Light and the Dark-author Mikhail Shishkin doens't rate a mention here .....)

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

       Q & A: Pankaj Mishra

       Guernica has Kamila Shamsie in conversation with Pankaj Mishra, and it's a pretty interesting little Q & A, discussing how Sandalwood Death-author Mo Yan's Nobel win was handled by literary commentators -- with Mishra suggesting: "we need a more complex understanding of writers working under authoritarian or repressive regimes".
       Also of interest: Mishra's observation:
I think that Indian writing in English is a really peculiar beast. I can't think of any literature -- perhaps Russian literature in the nineteenth century comes close -- so exclusively produced by and closely identified with a tiny but powerful ruling elite, the upper-caste, Anglophone upper middle class, and dependent for so long on book buyers and readers elsewhere. This has made for a narrow range of writing and vision
       A fairly obvious observation, but one that's much too rarely pointed out. (And, yes, he's also right to point out that: "things have started to change".)

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

       Q & A: Philip Roth

       At her The Book Haven weblog Cynthia Haven has a nice e-mail interview with Philip Roth -- with a focus on The Ghost Writer (twenty-five years on).
       Nice to find observations such as:
From my many years as a university literature teacher I do know that it takes all the rigor one can muster over the course of a semester to get even the best undergraduates to read precisely the fiction at hand, with all their intelligence, without habitual moralizing, ingenious interpretation, biographical speculation and, too, to beware of the awful specter of the steamrolling generalization.
       Roth also reïterates:
I haven't written a word of fiction since 2009. I have no desire to write fiction. I did what I did and it's done. There's more to life than writing and publishing fiction
       I appreciate the: "I did what I did and it's done"-sentiment (and I wish more writers saw that light, too, rather than forcing the issue ...), but as to the laughable idea that there could be more to life than fiction ..... How sad to think of Roth reduced to: "studying 19th-century American history" (and sadder yet: following ... baseball) when he could at least be reading fiction, if not writing it.

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

3 February 2014 - Monday

French-American revivals | Free Falling, As If in a Dream review

       French-American revivals

       At Les inRocks Clémentine Goldszal takes a brief look at the interesting phenomenon of Les trésors oubliés de la littérature américaine, as French publishers are going back to the older American well, resurrecting authors from a few decades back -- such as Don Carpenter, Richard Yates, Steve Tesich, Frederick Exley -- and finally introducing them to French audiences (much like recent success-story all across Europe, John Williams' Stoner).
       With a lack of editorial interest in a lot of foreign stuff a few decades back a lot of good stuff was apparently overlooked, back in the day -- and the French reading-public seems to be eager to see what they missed.

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

       Free Falling, As If in a Dream review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leif GW Persson's Free Falling, As If in a Dream, the final volume in his trilogy about the Olof Palme murder, due out shortly in the US (and a bit later this year in the UK).
       I'm pretty tired of most of the Nordic crime-wave, but I was pretty impressed by this series.

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

2 February 2014 - Sunday

February online issues | Joël Dicker profile | Writing in ... Urdu

       February online issues

       Among the February issues of online periodicals now available is Words without Borders' International Graphic Novels: Volume VIII-issue (because VII apparently weren't enough ...) and the new issue of Open Letters Monthly.

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

       Joël Dicker profile

       Joël Dicker's The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair has been widely translated and very successful and is now finally also going to be appearing in English, and in The Telegraph Gaby Wood profiles the author and has some of the story surrounding the book and its success, in Harry Quebert: The French thriller that has taken the world by storm.
       Writers who haven't yet met similar success can take heart in the Dicker story:
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is in fact the sixth book Dicker has written. Only one other has been published -- Les derniers jours de nos pères, a book about the Second World War Special Operations Executive, sometimes known as "Churchill's secret army". It came out in January 2012 to little fanfare, and sold no more than a few hundred copies.
       Troublingly, however:
Dicker has been quite relaxed about the translation, and says he was happy to let the editors of the American edition (to be published by Penguin) change things they thought rang false. "It's your territory," he told them.
       It may be their 'territory' but I have relatively little faith in their comprehensive understanding of it -- and would certainly prefer they stuck as close to the original as possible; Penguin's recent efforts with another French bestseller -- Katherine Pancol's The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles -- were anything but reassuring. So I'm still tempted to wade through the original (the local library actually has a few copies ...).
       Pre-order your copy at or

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

       Writing in ... Urdu

       In the Express Tribune they worry about a Literary decline: Reading culture hit by technology, say writers, arguing:
But much more needs to be done to protect the quality and nature of Urdu content in a bid to retain readership and reverse what is arguably an "academic and literary decline" of the national language.
       I'm not really sure they're on the right track if they're thinking along these lines:
Asif said the quality of Urdu being aired on radio and television is not up to the mark. He said this decline in the standard could also lead to weakening the national language's relationship with character building and other social aspects.
       First off, I'm hoping there's not much of a "relationship" between language and character-building under the best (i.e. worst) of circumstances.
       Secondly: surely writers should embrace the language of their times, rather than an idealized form of the language -- sure, use whatever works for whatever the piece of writing in question is, but don't shy away from using the language as it's actually being spoken and used. If no one reads the writing that adheres to the highest abstract historic-linguistic ideals (and does so just for the sake of maintaining pseudo-standards), that's not going to help anyone -- readers, writers, or society at large -- much either.
       Surely it would be more constructive and helpful if they fought debased language by showing how rich language can be, not by complaining about how debased it's become.

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

1 February 2014 - Saturday

Literary manga ! | Raja Alem Q & A

       Literary manga !

       I still don't really get the whole comics/manga/cartoon thing -- sure, some fun stuff, but overall just too basic; see the (limited) selection under review at the complete review -- but I must admit I am intrigued by Kensuke Nonami's descriptions in The Asahi Shimbun of how Lives of literary giants get wild new spin in latest manga creations.
       Okay, 恋する文豪 ('Literary Giants in Love'; see also the Tokyo Shoseki publicity page) is definitely way too creepy for me (especially with prominently noting what is apparently the subtitle -- きゅんきゅんくる! 教養 ... sheesh), but よちよち文藝部 ('Toddling Literature Department'; see the Bungeishunju publicity page) -- "which lampoons famous writers and their works" -- sounds kind of fun.
       And I'm totally sold on 文豪ストレイドッグス ('Bungo Stray Dogs'; see the Kadokawa publicity page), which sounds just plain nuts:
It presents characters modeled after the widely accepted images of great writers, incorporating them in a wild fantasy story.

The story focuses on a vendetta between an armed detective agency, whose members include Osamu Dazai, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa and other members of a port mafia family over Atsushi Nakajima, who can transform into a human-devouring tiger.
       And so, of course:
"Bungo Stray Dogs" has more than 500,000 copies in print, with a third volume released in December.
       Somebody, please translate this stuff -- and let's see a European/American 'manga' with a similar (semi-)literary premise !

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

       Raja Alem Q & A

       Saudi author Raja Alem's The Dove’s Necklace won the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (see their synopsis) and is beginning to appear in translations (the English one to follow later this year; see the Overlook publicity page, or pre-order your copy at (there doesn't seem to be US listing yet)), and at Ruth Reif now has a Q & A with her, 'about her work and influences'.

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

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