Posts Tagged ‘Immigrants’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Keith H’s Picks

December 31, 2014

They say too many books will spoil the broth, but they fill my life with so much, so much love.  I read primarily science fiction and fantasy, with a dose of comics and science fiction/fantasy for kids and teens.  I’m pretty well rounded.  These are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books that were new to me this year.

MMistbornistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Vin is a street urchin who gets wrapped up with a gang attempting to overthrow the imperial Lord Ruler. She lives in a world  divided into  commoners and  allomancers, who are sorcerers able to ingest certain metals to give them a specific power.” Coinshots” can use steel to propel metal through space. “Tineyes” use tin to enhance their senses. “Thugs” use pewter to enhance their strength. Most allomancers can only use a single metal but the most feared are Mistborn, who can use the powers of all metals. Sanderson’s writing became increasingly well-known after he was selected to finish Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. I prefer Sanderson’s own works, which are still epic fantasy with thorough world-building, but considerably less sprawling. (Trilogies instead of 10+ book epics)  Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book of the Mistborn trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
After Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called to the imperial city by her grandfather, the emperor. Her upbringing as a barbarian leaves her outcast in imperial society. She soon finds that she has been chosen to compete for the throne against two cousins who are immeasurably more well-versed in magic and backstabbing than her. To top it off, gods made incarnate are also meddling with the competition. I read this initially because it was compared to Octavia Butler, but Jemison creates her own unique universe in this innovative work. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in “The Inheritance” trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting GoKnife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Todd lives on a planet recently settled by humans. Unfortunately, a native virus has killed all of the women and given men the curse of “Noise”, constantly hearing each other’s thoughts. Todd learns a secret which causes him to flee their settlement with his dog, Manchee. Todd can also hear his dog’s thoughts. Manchee’s dog voice has replaced the voice of Dug, the dog from “Up”, in my imagination of what dogs sound like while speaking English . This story is told in a dialect that takes some initial getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. This brutal, face paced story was published as a teen book but due to some disturbing themes, I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 15.

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A historical fiction, immigration story with a fantastic twist: the immigrants are magical beings. Chava is a Golem, a lifelike woman made of clay by an outcast rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire spirit born in the deserts of Syria, recently released from being trapped inside a copper flask. They meet while trying to find their places in the chaos of late 1800s New York City. The details of Jewish and Arab mythology and culture are well-researched and intriguing. Watching Chava and Ahamad become friends and soul mates was a pleasure straight to the end.

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
A seemingly unreliable narrator describes her life as the daughter of an evil fairy. After fleeing to her father’s home, Morwenna is promptly sent away to a boarding school in the English countryside. As an avid reader, she finds solace by joining a science fiction book club at the local library. Any speculative fiction fan will enjoy the club’s discussions of the great authors of SF:  LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein, Asimov, et al. This book is like a love letter to SF combined with an awesome to-read bibliography.  Among Others was the winner of the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel.  Read another review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.


TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Farida B’s Picks

December 24, 2014

I love a variety of books in adult and children’s collection. I love reading Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance and gentle clean reads. Here are “New to Me” books that inspired me most this year. I hope you can include some of these books in your 2015 reading list.

Death of a Travelling ManDeath of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton
This is Beaton‘s eighth mystery featuring Scottish police constable Hamish MacBeth. Hamish has been promoted against his will and as Sergeant, he makes more money, but must suffer more work as well, as well as the enthusiasm of his new helper, Police Constable Willie Lamont. Willie Lamont has less talent for police work and more talent for cleaning, polishing, and scrubbing. His insistence on keeping the police station spotless and super clean is driving MacBeth crazy. It all starts when a suspicious drifter Sean and his girlfriend Cheryl park their van behind the minister’s manse. This “devastatingly handsome” drifter Sean charms four women out of their money and harasses Hamish’s ladylove, Priscilla. If you like to read light mysteries filled with humor and action then this is definitely going to be your choice!  See my full review.

Murphy's LawMurphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen
Murphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy mystery series. Molly Murphy, the main character in this story, is a spunky, 19th-century Irish heroine. Molly always ends up in trouble no matter where she goes. She is outspoken, strong independent lady. She commits a murder in self-defense, so she has to leave her cherished Ireland and her identity for the unknown shores of America. In London she meets Kathleen O’Connor. Kathleen has two small children and tickets for a ship to America, where she plans to join her husband. But she has tuberculosis, so she knows that she will not be allowed on the ship to America, so she persuades the desperate Molly to take her children to America instead of herself and use her identity on the ship. Molly agrees to this plan since she wants to be in a new place and start a new life. After the landing at Ellis Island, O’Malley is found stabbed to death. Police detective Daniel Sullivan questions Molly about it since lots of people had seen Molly slap O’Malley on the ship. Molly becomes the prime suspect along with a young man whom she had befriended. See my full review.

Running Out of TimeRunning out of Time by Margaret P. Haddix
Jessie lives in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana in 1840. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie discovers that Clifton is actually a 1996 tourist site under secret observation by heartless scientists. Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But outside the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and scary, and soon she finds her own life in danger. Can she get help before the children of Clifton and Jessie herself run out of time? This is a young adult book which is appealing to adults as well. It is one of my favorite books, written by a good author.  It has won multiple awards, including the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

Miss Julia Speaks Her MindMiss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann Ross
This book is the first in the series. Miss Julia is a strong willed, independent, proper church-going lady. Recently widowed, she is trying to settle down with her new life, including the substantial estate left by her late husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer. Everything is peaceful until Hazel Marie Puckett arrives at her doorstep with her 9 year old son Little Lloyd. Guess what? Little Lloyd is Wesley’s son. Miss Julia receives a shock of her life! After 44 years of marriage to pillar of the church and community Wesley Lloyd Springer, she discovers that he was having an affair with Hazel Marie Puckett. She had assumed he was working late at the family bank, but instead he was engaged in more carnal pursuits. The worst thing was that the whole town knew about this affair. Read my full review.

UnwindUnwind By Neal Shusterman
In America after the Second Civil War the “Bill of Life” permits the parents to get rid of a child between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t really end by transplanting all the organs from the child’s body to different important recipients who quote the highest bid. This is a story about three teens – Connor, Risa and Lev – who become runaway Unwinds. Their escape and survival stories interweave as they struggle to avoid harvest camps. All the characters live and breathe in the story. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind has won many awards and honors, including being included on ALA’s Top Ten Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists. It is a book written for young adults, but I really enjoyed it and I am sure lots of adults will like reading it too! It has breathtaking suspense and is a sure page turner to find out if the three teens avoid their untimely ends.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

October 2, 2014

The Book of Unknown AmericansThis is a passionate novel about what it means to become “American,” from a new immigrant perspective.

Meet the Riveras, Arturo, Alma and Maribel. The opening scene of the novel has the Riveras confused after being dropped off at a Newark, Delaware, convenience store fresh from 3 day cross-border journey from their small town in Mexico. Thinking that the convenience store/gas station is where Americans shop, the Riveras are baffled by the microwave hot dogs, slushy drinks and high prices of food in plastic. Into this confusing landscape Arturo and Alma have brought their 15-year old daughter Maribel from Mexico; she suffers from a traumatic brain injury that dramatically altered her personality and ability to reason, but with the right education, she has a chance at regaining function. In search of a better life for his daughter, Arturo forgoes his own construction company in Mexico, and gets a job toiling in the dark in a mushroom factory in the hopes that the US education system they have dreamed about can help Maribel.

The entire novel is focused on and set in a concrete block, low-income apartment building whose residents are new immigrants from all over Central and South America. The residents’ stories are told in alternating chapters. Equally compelling is the story of the Toros, a Panamanian family whose son Mayor falls for the gorgeous Maribel. Rather than seeing Maribel as damaged and needing fixing as the rest of the world (and her parents) see her, Mayor accepts her for what she is, although their ill-fated puppy love will have disastrous consequences for all.

The novel mirrors life, insanely and hysterically funny (the passage where the Toros finally buy a car and attempt to drive) to tragic. The overriding story of puppy love, cross cultural assimilation and the struggle to survive within The American Dream is masterfully told, while the inherent politics concerning immigration are gracefully but somewhat unrealistically sidestepped (Arturo got a work visa to be pack mushrooms?) Henriquez is a master storyteller, and her characters offer insight into the immigrant experience that is a good reminder of who we are as a culture. In the words of one reviewer, in case we’ve forgotten, it all started this way. One of the characters, in a particularly insightful passage, says, “We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not all that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”

Recommended novel, a great book club discussion choice. I’m a pretty hard-nosed, jaded reader, and this book touched me.

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Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

August 28, 2014

Murphy's LawMurphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy mystery series. Molly Murphy, the main character in this story, is a spunky 19th-century Irish heroine. Molly always ends up in trouble no matter where she goes. She is an outspoken, strong, independent lady. She commits a murder in self-defense, so she has to leave her cherished Ireland and her identity for the unknown shores of America.

In London she meets Kathleen O’Connor. Kathleen has two small children, and tickets for a ship to America where she plans to join her husband. But because she has tuberculosis and knows that she will not be allowed on the ship, she persuades the desperate Molly to take her children to America, using her ticket and her identity on the ship. Molly agrees to this plan since she wants to be in a new place and start a new life.

The ocean trip is not comfortable, and on top of that, she has to fend off unwelcome attentions of the mean troublemaker O’Malley, who seems to have known the real Kathleen. He threatens to expose Molly’s true identity in America.

After the landing at Ellis Island, O’Malley is found stabbed to death. Police detective Daniel Sullivan questions Molly about the stabbing since several people saw Molly slap O’Malley on the ship. Molly becomes the prime suspect along with a young man whom she has befriended. She decides to investigate the murder case of O’Malley to clear herself and her friend.

Finding her way through a vivid, Tammany Hall-era New York, Molly struggles to prove her innocence, facing one dangerous situation after another. She becomes a house help for a big politician to solve the mystery. She almost gets killed after finally discovering the true identity of the murderer.

This is a historical mystery, fast paced and richly detailed. Rhys Bowen has also written some other cozy mysteries series including Constable Evan Mysteries and Royal Spyness mysteries. Constable Evan Mysteries are very similar to Hamish Macbeth mysteries written by M. C. Beaton.

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The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

July 29, 2014

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard StreetMalka is a young child when her Russian Jewish family flees the pogroms to begin a new life in America. Like most Eastern Europeans who came in the early 20th Century, they find themselves crammed into the tenements of New York and working for pennies. Unlike other families, Malka’s family does not succeed in climbing their way out of poverty. Malka finds herself orphaned and crippled at age eight. She is taken in by an Italian family who makes Italian Ices and Ice Cream. Despite all this, Malka is determined to succeed on her own, even when she suffers setback after setback.

Mr. Dinallo, who adopts Malka, is kind but tough. He feels responsible for her since it was his ice cream cart that hit Malka and caused her disability. He takes her in, changes her name to Lilian, and teaches her about the ice cream trade. Lilian even adopts the Catholic religion to fit in. Yet she is never really considered to be one of the family. She sleeps in the store instead of in their apartment, and has to do the menial labor that none of his real children want to do. After Mr. Dinallo dies, Lilian believes her life will remain intertwined with the family forever, but fate conspires against her once more.

Lilian does find happiness when she falls in love with Albert Dunkle, a poor but handsome man. They begin an ice cream business of their own, starting with just one machine and a truck. Their rise to fortune mirrors the struggles of the United States; barely getting by during the depression in the 1930’s, being separated as Albert goes off to war, and prosperity finally coming after World War Two ends. By the early 1960’s, Malka Treynovsky has transformed into Lilian Dunkle the Ice Cream Queen, the fabulously rich and popular host of a children’s television show. Privately, though, she is still the caustic, tough girl from the tenements.

I loved the feisty voice of the narrator, and the fact that she was not perfect. She had a lot of bad things happen to her, but she fought back with vengeance, not sweet acceptance. This was a pleasant change from novels with a long suffering hero or heroine who triumphs by being perfect and righteous.

The Ice Cream Queen is Gilman’s first novel, but if you enjoy her wonderful sense of humor, try her memoir Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress.

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Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

July 10, 2014

Mambo in ChinatownCharlie Wong is stuck in a dead end job as a dishwasher at the restaurant where her father also works as a noodle maker. She’s tried other jobs, but they never last long because she is a disorganized klutz who makes a lot of mistakes. She has gotten up her nerve, though, and applied for a new job as a receptionist at a dance studio. Charlie would love to get this job because the studio reminds her of her mother, who died when Charlie was only 11. She was a dancer, and Charlie remembers a little of what her Mom taught her about dancing.

Poor Charlie. She gets the job, but she is not any better at being a receptionist than anything else she’s tried. She messes up the class schedules and irritates all the dancers. Just before she is going to be fired, though, she finds a hidden talent that is valuable to the studio: she is a good teacher. She may not be the best dancer, but she is really good with new students. The studio decides it would be worth keeping her on and training her to teach more classes.

Charlie becomes immersed in the life of the dance studio when she starts teaching. The more time she spends at the studio, the less time she has to worry about the other problems in her life. Her father is very traditional so she is not allowed to date and she even has to hide her dancing clothes from him. When her little sister gets sick, her father insists on trying ancient Chinese medicine instead of modern techniques. However, she keeps getting sicker and no one can figure out the cause of her illness.

Jean Kwok’s novel is an enjoyable tale of finding your true calling, and how every “ugly duckling” has a swan inside them. Charlie’s life begins anew because of a new job, but also because she finds her confidence. As her life away from home improves, Charlie finds the strength to face her personal problems.

If you like this novel, try Kwok’s first book: Girl in Translation.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

April 24, 2014

The Lowland by Jhumpa LahiriThe two brothers in The Lowland are so close that people often mistake them for twins. They do everything together and they are similar in appearance, yet they have always had different temperaments. Subhash, the elder brother, is the more serious one, and Udayan is more bold and idealistic. When they reach college age, these differences become more apparent. Subhash works hard and jumps at the chance to further his education in America. Udayan is less focused on academics and becomes involved in the radical leftist movement at the university in Calcutta. The movement begins with students who want to eliminate poverty in India, but eventually becomes outlawed when it is infiltrated by guerrilla communist groups.

While Subhash is in Boston, Udayan falls in love and marries young, moving with his bride back to their parent’s home. Everyone believes Udayan has left his radical days behind, but one day Subhash receives an urgent request to come back to India because of a tragedy in the family.

What happens next will change the course of Subhash’s life, as well as the lives his parents and Udayan’s bride. Lahiri’s lyrical writing gives a wonderful picture of family life in Calcutta and of the student movement of the 1960s. The book then follows the family through the rest of their lives to show what happened to them after Udayan’s death. I enjoyed this approach because I am often left wondering what happened to characters I become so involved with after the book ends. Fans of Lahiri’s other book, The Namesake, will not be disappointed.

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Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

April 7, 2014

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Moving to another country is somewhat like being born anew – the immigrant can still function, but there are many new impressions and a lot to learn. Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in an empire that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. As a seven-year-old child he moved to the United States of America with his parents, and they ended up in Queens, New York. The Shteyngarts were part of a deal between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. America sent grain to the Soviets who in return sent parts of its Jewish population to the U.S., a country young Igor viewed as the enemy.

Many Americans, not the least children, considered the Soviet Union a potentially lethal adversary, and growing up in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a heavy accent. In Leningrad, young Shteyngart had been exposed to such phrases as “Lenin will live forever!,” and “1959 – Soviet space rocket reaches the surface of the moon,” but when he leaves the U.S.S.R., he learns that the nation is a military dictatorship that uses oppression, propaganda, and lies to keep its population in check.

Despite, or because of, their background, the Shteyngarts are quite naïve when they begin their lives in the U.S.A. When they receive a letter that says “Mr. S. Shitgart [sic!], you have already won $10,000,000.00!!!,” they believe what they hear. ”We cannot imagine that they would lie to our faces […] here in America.” But it is, alas, a lie, which the family finds out “quickly and brutally.” And as the immigrants adapt to life in the U.S. problems do not vanish. Old (Soviet) problems are simply replaced by new (American) difficulties. However, some challenges are internal rather than external and the Shteyngarts are like all other humans – they cannot run away from themselves. What they can do, however, is to understand who they are, and how they became that way.

Little Failure is an investigation of a family and its misadventures and adventures, written by an author whose fiction and nonfiction are closely related to each other.

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Best New Books of 2013: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2013

This year a study came out that demonstrated that after reading literary fiction, people scored better on tests measuring empathy. With that in mind, I present you five of my favorite novels and memoirs from 2013.  All of them pack an emotional wallop with characters that will linger with you, long after you finish their stories. After a year filled with impasses and increasing polarity, it wouldn’t hurt to see things from another point of view!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Young lovers Ifemelu and Obinze separate when Ifemelu goes to university in the United States leaving Obinze behind in Nigeria. Stymied by post-9/11 immigration policies, he is unable to join her, and instead journeys to England to live illegally. Reunited years later, the pair must decide whether to begin anew or to return to their current life trajectories. Adichie’s keen observations and precise wit put her in the tradition of Jane Austen’s social and romantic explorations.

The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman
A year after Yehoshuah’s crucifixion, Roman-occupied Judea is in a state of unrest. Four people, Miryam, Iehuda, Caiaphas and Bar-Avo, try to make sense of the past as well as present life under their Roman oppressors. Alderman’s provocative retelling of the life of Christ is filled with vibrant descriptions of temple rites, riots, and assassinations, which bring immediacy to its ancient setting. Throughout the book, both Alderman and her characters wrestle with who Yehoshuah really was; the Messiah, or a roving preacher from a backwater town.

The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
Reno leaves the deserts of her hometown to join the New York art world in 1975. There she meets Sandro Valera, heir to an Italian motorcycle and tire company along with other bohemian characters in his creative sphere. She begins to develop her art and on the way races high speed vehicles to become the fastest woman in the world. After a crushing betrayal, Reno joins a radical group in Italy. Kushner’s writing is a delight, deft and sharp and surprising; she describes Pat Nixon as “a ratted beauty-parlor tough who became first lady.” She layers stories upon stories to create a rich buffet of a book that you won’t be able to put down.

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Domenica Ruta’s memoir of growing up in working class Massachusetts with her mother Kathi is both incredibly vivid and unsettling. As a reader I couldn’t turn away from her path of destruction, beginning with the opening pages as Kathi takes a crowbar to her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s car.  Kathi, whose life is a cascading series of high highs and low lows, is one of the most compelling characters to appear in a book this year. Loud, reckless, and chaotic, Kathi is the human equivalent of a V-2 rocket and Ruta neither glamorizes nor demonizes her difficult upbringing.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
After losing four close friends and a brother over four years, Jesmyn Ward tries to make sense of their premature deaths in this devastating memoir. Ward’s narrative moves back and forth in time as she explores life in her rural Mississippi community and the ways that the men in her life try to escape the snares of poverty, racism, and plain bad luck.  She writes to bring these men back from the dead and to draw our eyes to lives we would otherwise ignore.  As she says, “There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.”

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