RIP- Shirley Hazzard Australian

I am passing on this article from the Australian online publication of Online Plus. snip20161218_1

“Shirley Hazzard passed away on Monday night, in New York, at the age of 85. Like most of her admirers, I came to know her through her sentences. Reading her novels, I was enchanted and compelled by her characters; I delighted in their astonishing reversals and revelations, and I revelled in the narrative lines of good and evil, justice and devastation and confusion and error.

But it was her sentences and phrases that hooked me in. With their leaps of sound and sense they forced me to read with unfamiliar attentiveness, a thrilling sense of narrative trust, and a demand that I take the work of reading seriously.

Many of her readers who have been similarly beguiled by her style. As novelist Gail Jones put it in 2012, in a panel discussion of Hazzard’s style, Hazzard’s readers admire “the imagistic exorbitance” of her writing, “its quality of audacity, of ingenuity, of bold excursiveness”.

Jones’s own striking phrases here pay tribute to the vibrancy of Hazzard’s language, echoing something of its linguistic facility and richness. Hazzard’s great novel from 1980, The Transit of Venus, opens with this extraordinary paragraph:

By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation. It was simply that the sky, on a shadeless day, lowered itself like an awning. Purple silence petrified the limbs of trees and stood crops upright in the fields like hair on end. Whatever there was of fresh white paint sprang out from downs or dunes, or lacerated a roadside with a streak of fencing. This occurred shortly after midday on a summer Monday in the south of England.
The calm authority of the opening sentence is broken apart by the startling comparison of the sky and awning, which leads us, in some trepidation, into a surreal landscape full of menace. The full significance of the scene will be revealed much later in the novel, and only to the careful reader.

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The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard, 1980. Virago
This week, in the wake of Hazzard’s death, Michelle de Kretser observed: “Reading her has always made me long to be a better writer. In some irrational yet profound sense, I wrote for her. Few writers can match the lucid beauty and import of her sentences.”

There is a lovely sense of writers as readers hovering in the space between these three highly literate novelists. It speaks to the experience other readers have of a strangeness in Hazzard’s style, with its linguistic felicity, densely packed metaphorics and tone of high seriousness.

In part this strangeness is the experience of reading prose that has been built, meticulously, from poetry remembered across a life devoted to reading. Interviews with Hazzard are full of references to her extraordinary recollection of poetry, as well as to the breadth of her reading. In a very specific way, her style speaks to her own history and biography, and to her project of self-creation as artist and intellectual.

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard lived most of her life as an expatriate with no strong ties to her country of origin, moving nonetheless with authority in elevated cultural circles in New York, Naples and Capri. Although she left school at 16 without further formal study, she was a skilled linguist and autodidact deeply versed in Western art and literature, and familiar also with major works of other traditions.

snip20161218_3Alongside her commitment to art, she was a meticulously informed observer of local and international politics, intent on holding public figures to the highest ideals. She worked at the United Nations through the 1950s and remained a fierce critic of what she saw as its inept and compromised failure to be a truly international organisation.

The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard, 2003. Picador
Hazzard thus moved, as her fiction also moves, with ease across the worlds of politics and aesthetics. Her novels and stories have their action firmly grounded in the world of public and political life, as well as in the interior worlds, sensibilities and sympathies of their protagonists.

Although the narratives centre around romantic and sexual love, there is also a sustained concern with the recollections and consequences of world war. We see the administration of peace with all its brutal militarism in The Great Fire (2003), which won the National Book Award; ongoing agitations around the globe in relation to dissidents and refugees in The Transit of Venus (1980); the pernicious endurance and ineptitude of bureaucracies in People in Glass Houses (1967), as well as the expressly political dimensions of the domestic and international policies of diverse governments.

These worlds meet most pointedly in the moral and ethical choices presented to her protagonists in their personal and professional lives as artists, scientists, activists, lovers, or friends.

The bond between writers and readers

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Shirley Hazzard’s Gauss lectures were published in 2016 in We Need Silence To Find Out What We Think. Columbia University Press
Hazzard was committed throughout her life to articulating and defending the public role of writers and artists. In 1982, shortly after the acclaimed publication of The Transit of Venus, she presented the prestigious Gauss lectures at Princeton University. In these lectures titled “The Lonely Word”, which were published for the first time this year, Hazzard insisted on the closeness of bonds between writers and readers as part of the announcement of her own ethical proof; her right to speak as an author, through the practices of literary emulation and apprenticeship.

These close bonds also ground poetic posterity: she wrote that “art is the only afterlife of which we have evidence – the transmission of human experience and thought”.

She found the value of literature in its capacity to compensate for loss: “Through art we can feel, as well as know, what we have lost; in art, as in dreams, we can occasionally retrieve and re-experience it.” Literature also has a capacity for immediacy, an ability “to transmit sensations and sentiments”. Its “directness to life” draws from a commitment to the rightful labour of writing, and to its veracity, what she called “a responsibility to the accurate word”.

The only authentic response to literature is through pleasure. Reading is, she argued,

in part an act of submission, akin to generosity or love; and confession to it, through praise, is a commitment to a private, ‘unauthorised’ response.
With these resonant claims, Hazzard presented a kind of apologia for amateur reading, one which spoke directly to her own role as a writer working outside the circuits of professional literary criticism. Amateurism was central to her constitution as an intellectual, drawing on a tradition of literary devotion and nourished by a privately gleaned intellectual rigour.

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Defeat of an Ideal (1973) was the first book Shirley Hazzard wrote criticising the UN’s failings. Little Brown and Company
These same qualities have always informed her fiction and are the bedrock of her writing style. They bear witness to the writer’s knowledge of and respect for other writers, and draw all readers into the circle of labour and responsibility. These are important principles, which might inform the discussions taking place today around the value and significance of the arts and humanities, and of scholarly and intellectual work more broadly.

In 2011, as I neared the final stages of my study of her work, I sent Shirley Hazzard the chapter I had written about her writing on the United Nations, for her approval. I asked her if she could let me know if I had made any errors in my account of historical events.

She returned the typescript, marked up with corrections not to the content but to the style, expression and phrasing. Some were slight tweaks, but there were also points where she had clearly been irritated by some particularly infelicitous or injudicious expression or repetition.

I was meeting Shirley Hazzard once again at the level of the sentence, but this time the sentences were my own, and some were found wanting. Of course I followed her suggestions. I have kept that document, treasuring it as a testament to the professional generosity but also to the sharp scrutiny of one of the great prose stylists of the last half-century.

snip20161218_6It recalls to me her abiding conviction that the arrangement of words on the page matters enormously, not just in relation to literature, but all writing, and that writing itself is a point where our private worlds become public. In teaching us to approach literature with an ear to poetry, she reminds us of the endless and important labour of art.”

New Penguins Stomping around Hobart

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Schubert and Haydn

The other day I took the bus into the city and decided I would do some Christmas shopping. I tend to categorise my Christmas shopping i.e. My friend’s family, Mr. Penguin, people who work in the service industry such as the postman who walks up my steep driveway with cartons of wine or books, our veterinarians, hairdresser.

I picked up a couple of things and decided I needed to walk. I try to do two miles a day. That at least gets me started. Well it was sunny, the temperatures were in the high 20’s C (that’s 80s to you guys who don’t do metric) and there were several book shops I had not been in lately. I thought that I would stick with the second hand bookshops today.  I had gotten a call from Richard at Cracked and Spineless book shop to get in there to see all the early Penguin books he brought in. Well that’s a good way to get me out of the house. I rocked up and sure enough there was a box of them. Sadly there was only one I didn’t have and one first published to replace a reprint I had.

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Beethoven and Mozart

I snatched them up, much to Richard’s dismay I hadn’t taken more. I saw a stack of Viragos lying on the floor and much to my dismay they were all sold to a woman I hope moves to an island in the South Pacific and forgets to pick them up in the excitement of it all.

Never mind, I walked the three blocks up to the Red Cross book shop. This is truly one of the best and cheapest book shops in the Southern Hemisphere. Volunteers run the place, they have clear instructions to never throw Penguin books into the recycle bins and I went to see what was lined up on their shelf.

All at once Kevein appeared. Kevin is a very skinny bookish character in a hat, walks everywhere, has a beard and hoards books. (Think Dickens) Every time he sees me he comes running up and starts talking about books in his collection. Fiction follows this man. A lot of what he says it is made up. Though I don’t doubt he knows his stuff. He spends a great deal of time telling me about all the Penguins he has. You would think he had more Penguins than what Bristol University has in the archives. I know he hoards books. People who have been in his house say you cannot walk through it. One little path, like something one might see walking through the woods in Walden.

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Beethoven and Brahams

There could even be small animals living in his forest of books but I try not to think of it.

He tells me about series of Penguins I have never heard of. They do not exist.  One day I decided to start talking about a made up series of Penguin books. Time to get creative.  I described the covers,( a kind of retro stripe with the colours used in the poetry series). I  told him what the series number is- the R series through to 63 when they stopped publishing them due to changes in the company. 1950’s was the year- and waited for his response.

Sure enough he has a back room full of them. See what I mean?  What is the saying? You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?

So I am walking around the shop and he told me to not bother with the “Collectable shelves”. I ignored him. He followed me to them and showed me a couple of Boys Adventure day books he found from the late 1800’s (I see those all the time at the tip shop).  As he is jabbering at me I looked across the top shelf and lo and behold I see 6 old Penguin musical scores shoved into a corner. You can’t really see their spines. Penguin collectors can actually smell old penguins. There is a sixth sense of sorts.

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Beethoven

When Karen (apenguinaweek) and I went to England several years ago she found a pile of these music scores and quickly preserved them in her collection.  It was a funny experience as the two of us would wander around a shop, find things to collect and coyly pay for the items and then share them when we were again outdoors. But as I was crashing her trip I had a rule in my head if we both saw something we loved she had first crack at it. After all books are only books. I knew I would find some later on and I did.  Yesterday I found seven of them. As I pulled them off the shelf with their beautiful covers (think early Penguin Poet’s series) all of a sudden Kevin’s mouth just went all quiet.  There really are divine moments when one collects something.  Smirk is not the word I would use to rub it in but oh boy, it was difficult.

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Besides the music scores I also found an old Penguin Special and a Thomas Hardy poetry book (D53).  I happily took my books to the counter where  I was charged 50 cents per book.  Bargain.  So today I am showing them to you.  Know these books are now safe and sound and won’t be going into landfill anytime soon.

 

Celebrations were in order.penguin-1904

 

 

 

RIP author E. R. Braithwaite

I was sorry to hear on the news last night that the author of the wonderful book To Sir With Love had died. I have the old Penguin book of this memsnip20161216_2oir that came out in 1959. I remember when the movie came out I was in high school or just out of it. Sidney Poitier had broken onto the film scene and everyone loved him. I have not read the book but this has reminded me of it and of how much I loved the story. I should find it on  my shelf and have a read. (So many books jumping out at me lately.)

I lifted this short bio below from Voice of America news so the credit goes to them.  I didn’t want this to pass without recognising how much I appreciated his story especially at the time it was written.
WASHINGTON —

Guyanese author, teacher and diplomat E.R. Braithwaite, whose 1959 book To Sir, With Love told the story of a black teacher struggling in a classroom in a white London slum, has died in surburban Washington at age 104.

Braithwaite moved into teaching after a career as an oil worker and serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II.

He chose the profession after being denied an engineering job because he was black and found himself facing a schoolroom of antisocial, violent and occasionally racist poor whites in a London slum.

But he soon discovered that by showing the unruly students simple respect, he got the same from them and wrote about his experiences in his memoir To Sir With Love.

The book was made into a highly successful 1967 film starring Sidney Portier and British pop star Lulu.snip20161112_6

A Dose of Diana Athill

snip20161215_1I read about this wonderful woman author from London in someone else’s blog. I wasn’t familiar with her though I had heard her name. I jumped on line to our state library and found several of her books. The one I chose was Alive, Alive Oh!

It is a memoir published in 2015 of her times during WWI, WWII, the loss of her child at age 43 and then her decision to move into and her thoughts about moving into aged care.

Ms Athill was born in 1916 which means she turns 100 years of age this year. I enjoy reading books about older people. Especially women in their 90’s and beyond. I find it interesting that several women, including Sarah and Bess Delaney of Harlem, New York who lived to be 109 and 104 respectively and now Diana who will be a hundred never married, never had children and worked in careers of their choosing.

Do you think that could be the reason for their longevity? It always makes me laugh as though I am happily married we have never had children and I am sure I will live longer because of it. Mind you, that is only a personal opinion I generally keep to myself as most of my friends and close relatives have children. No more said.

Diana was a writer and worked in various jobs over the years usually related to the field of publication or writing.
Although she has had tragedy in her life she doesn’t seem to dwell on it long and enjoys a great deal of pleasure with little responsibility that the rest of us might consider important.

It makes one think if you live in a culturally productive city (London), have no children, friends who never or seldom see you in a negative light and jobs that you really enjoy on top of a successful writing career your life may be charmed. I know myself I don’t have the nature for such undirected pleasure but I do wonder about people who do.

I love structure, I love responsibility though don’t get me wrong I love my get togethers with friends who never judge, family most of the time and I had a job that gave me great satisfaction for the most part for almost 40 years.

We hear that variety is the spice of life but I wonder if too much spice is something we would all cope with.

Her memory talking about dealing with her pregnancy at age 43, unmarried and not having much money was interesting. None of that appeared to bother her. What really frightened her was telling her mother about the pregnancy. Mind you this was 1960. She talked casually about aborting two pregnancies previously as though it was as simple as walking down the street.  The reason she did not abort this pregnancy was because she couldn’t decide whether she wanted a baby or not, she pushed the thought of all of it to the back of her mind and she didn’t want to go through the cumbersome position one must be in at the doctor’s surgery to have an abortion. She found that humiliating.  She stopped her religious beliefs around age 15 so she didn’t have any religious guilt. She didn’t see abortion any different from the sperm not quite meeting the egg and talks about the difference between ridding a mass of cells and that scenario.

Many people, especially those who are firm believers in God would probably be upset towards her cavalier attitude towards abortions. However as I am a pro choice person and just don’t get involved in the decisions of others whether they accept abortion or not I just kept reading.

I enjoyed hearing about her trips abroad, in particularly Greece and later the Caribbean, Tobago to be exact. She did feel uncomfortable being one of the ‘have it all’ people dealing with the poverty around her. I enjoyed her discussions around the social topics.

Considering she was born in 1916 and never fit the model of growing up, giving up her educational success for home and hearth and children I enjoyed her will to live life as she wanted. She never talks about loneliness though I would think her string of married lovers might contribute to that more than she acknowledged. Though, who knows,maybe it didn’t. Perhaps that is my white middle class, midwest American upbringing talking.

She always talked of the English person as to dealing with unpleasantness or conflict as pushing it to the back of one’s mind and just moving forward. The stiff upper lip translated so to speak.

Having grown up in the United States where hearts are worn on sleeves and strangers know your life story in the time it takes to fly from Chicago to New Jersey I don’t relate much to stiff upper lip. Though I do find 30 years of life in Australia has tempered me somewhat.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was very good and she didn’t linger too much on any one topic. It was interesting hearing about her life around the world wars and I loved seeing what direction her life took at every twist and turn. She was blessed with many good friends. I find when one doesn’t have children of one’s own to discuss it is wonderful to spend time with other like minded people. Hearing about little Gracie’s toilet training or how they are doing in school wears thin after awhile.  I could never have been a  yummy mummy but it is fun to watch them in the cafes.

As always, each to their own and I enjoyed this book.

 

Where does the time go?

snip20161209_1I can’t believe we are so close to Christmas. This year has passed incredibly quickly. However I am ready for 2017. I always enjoy a new year. It is like a clean slate

Our play reading group and writing group have now finished up until Feb/Mar next year. Our book group won’t meet again until the end of January. The Christmas lunches and boxes of chocolates and card distribution have happened. Most of my Christmas shopping is finished. I am working towards that clean slate. All of us will breathe a sigh of relief once Boxing Day is upon us.

Our discussion for the January book group meeting will be Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Book which I have already mentioned. We will also talk about the book Victoria but I am not sure I will spend time reading it. I am so uninterested in the topic of yet another book about Queen Victoria I will probably pass. We will be talking about the book The Giving Tree to by Shel Silverstein. A child’s book with adult overtones.  I have it from the library and will read it in the next couple of days as it is due back soon.

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I put together a scavenger hunt together for the book group to participate in next year.

We can count the books read for the group plus anything else we read. It will be interesting to see how we go.

The person in the  group with the most hits on it by 31 Dec 2017will win a $25.00 gift voucher to my favourite book shop, Fuller’s in Hobart.I will talk about the upcoming books in due time but I would invite any people “out there” reading the scavenger hunt details to join in. It might prove interesting for your own challenge. Feel free to share it if you like but give the Travellin’ Penguin a bit of credit if you will.

I will update my progress as we go through the year.There are three simple rules. Readers must not begin until 1 January. They must finish by 31 January (2017). They can only record a book read in one category. Easy. You can read the list below. Feel free to copy it.

screen-shot-2013-08-04-at-15-49-21Good Luck.

Scavenger Hunt For Books 2017

List of Books Name of Book Read/Author Did you like it?
Find an author’s name or title with the letter M in it.
A classic (anything before 1950)
Picture of a knife on the cover.
Something on your bookshelf that is not a book.
Protagonist is  a woman.
An animal features strongly as a main character.
A book that has been translated into English.
Children’s book
Flick through all the chapters and addendums of a reference book
Book written in the form of diary or letters.
Library book with title beginning either with your first or last name initial. Can be a e-book checked out from library.
Hardcover book that does not have a dustjacket.
Book that takes place in a capital city of a foreign country.
Australian book written before 1960.
A book written in the year you were born.
Non fiction book.
Misery Lit book (hardship of some type overcome)
Booker Prize winner
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Book that takes place in Western Australia
Book that takes place in a specific American State
A book that takes place in England
Picture of a village on cover
Picture of a bicycle on the cover
Picture of a camera on the cover.
Book you bought from a book store
Book you got from a charity shop
Book you got from a second hand shop
Book with no picture on the cover.
Book written in the 1920’s
Book with a picture of a forest on the cover.
Book that has been in your house unread for at least 5 years.
Book you bought in 2016 you have no read yet.
A 2017 published book.
A mystery or crime book.
A Fantasy book
A Science Fiction Book
A book that has won some kind of award or prize
Miles Franklin award winner
Another non fiction book.
A book where you learned something you didn’t know a thing about. What was it?
A biography.
An auto biography
A book of fairy tales or fables
A book of Poetry
A book with a map on the cover (not an atlas)
Three articles within one magazine. What magazine was it?
Travel writing
Adventure story in a book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonia Sotomayer- Supreme Court Justice

snip20161129_3I am just about finished with this wonderful biography of a very talented and educated Sonia Sotomayer, My Beloved World.  I read about this book on the blog of Lakeside Musing and I thank her for the recommendation. It is a really interesting story.  Ms. Sotomayer was a Puerto Rican born to an immigrant family in 1954 in the Bronx, New York City.  The book discusses her family, her relatives, her Catholic Education, her thoughts, her feelings, her triumphs and her hardships.

She was able to benefit from the Affirmative Action programs happening in America during the 1970’s and from high school went on to graduate from Princeton University and then onto Yale Law School with high donors. Her academic pedigree is long and thorough.

I have been listening to the unabridged audible version of this book with the narrator Rita Moreno who has been excellent.

I love the way she writes, her descriptions of the Bronx, first in the city area, later moving into the projects and what life was like there.

Her family ties are both intense, funny and sad. Her relationship with her father who spoke no English, had a third grade education, worked as a Tool and Die maker, dying in his 40’s from too much alcohol was mixed.

Her mother was also a very complex character and later her support of Sonia in her education was remarkable.

I am not quite finished with this book but will be in the next day or two. If you are interested in anything to do with legality, the justice system (though the story stops before she has a chance to get into her work as a supreme court justice) and a person’s never-ending determination to succeed this book will make you feel really good.snip20161129_1

I really like it.  The Penguin liked it too and has been walking around the house all week dressed as a justice. (roll eyes)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Men in a Boat-Jerome K Jerome

snip20161121_2Just as I decide to begin reading more of my Penguin books from my collection,  our book club decides to discuss Jerome K. Jerome’s book Three Men in a Boat.  I began reading this book (ignoring the tiny print in the old Penguin book) when I saw our local library had the E-Audio version of it so I downloaded it.  I have been listening to it the past couple of days off and on.

 

According to what I have read online, Jerome was born Jerome Clapp in 1859. He wanted to become a man of letters or a politician but his father died when Jerome was 13 and then his mother when he was 15. He had to begin work after that.

He did a variety of jobs and eventually ended up as a writer of essays, freelance pieces, etc. He wrote his most well known book, Three Men in a Boat (and a dog) at age 30 in 1889.

It is the story (quite autobiographical after the people in his life) of friends George and Harris and himself sitting around talking about all of their illnesses one evening. Nothing like three hypochondriacs spending an evening together. It is a very funny page or two.

They decide in the end they are all just tired from overwork and decide they need a holiday. The story begins when they decide to rent a small boat and explore the Thames. The three of them and Jerome’s dog, Montmorency undertake the journey together.

The book was originally meant to become a bit of a travel guide with historic points along the Thames discussed. However the comic quality soon took over and this weighted heavier than the history.

Harris, George and Jerome (called only J. in the book) begin planning, packing and eventually the trip.

I enjoyed getting stuck into this story. It has some very funny passages. The story is quite visual and one is able to picture the pure incompetence and hilarity between the three friends. The characters are written to caricature I thought, that deal with some very common events (oversleeping, packing a full suitcase only to unpack to find a toothbrush needed later, deciding on what food to take and the interactions once underway).

I can see why it would have become quite popular in its time. Much of it has not dated much but I have to say (against some of the research online  I read about this book) that some of it has dated.  I found the description of women in this book to be quite tedious. They were all very dense, tiresome, insipid and goofy. I must admit I did become weary of  their descriptions and the roles they played. I appreciated the tongue in cheek of some descriptions but overall it did not always ring true.

I thought the humour was very good.  There are many parts where I laughed out loud, perhaps as I would laugh at British sitcoms. (Remember when Hyacinth Bucket dressed as a sailor for her boating day on the river and ended up in the drink?) Humour such as this wears thin after awhile. I like comic novels but often I find an author just plain over does it. The joke goes on and on and on. The first joke makes for a good belly laugh but once that is over I am ready to move on and not read another 3 or 4 pages as the author tries to get you to have a raucous laugh yet again and again at the same story. Sophie Kinsella’s books come to mind where every single line becomes a joke and one loses patience with the story which is quite interesting.

There may be people who disagree with that description but this is my post and my read so I am sticking to what I have said.

Overall I enjoyed this book very much. It made me feel like I was in England in the 1880s to 1890s.  I can see a great many people sitting in their parlours laughing out loud, hanky in hand, wiping eyes behind their glasses. I did so  myself which is good considering this book was written 127 yrs ago. This book is incredibly, still in print so there are many things that are truly just right.

I think it will be interesting when our book club discusses this (I think in January?)

I am getting caught up on my book reads for club so I can read what I want over the silly season. Jerome K. Jerome wrote a sequel to this book about the same friends undertaking a bicycle trip but evidently this was not as popular with society as the first one. I think it must go back to the jokes. After all how many times can one watch Hyacinth Bucket and keep up the same laughs. The humour does begin to wear off.

In summary though the Penguin and I did enjoy this  little trip down the Thames but we did find the small boat with three men, a dog and all of their baggage (you won’t believe all that they packed) a bit tight.

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