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By Tara Miller
AFO content writer
Freshwater by AKWAEKE EMEZI
“Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief. But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction.
Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author's realities, this raw and extraordinary debut explores the metaphysics of identity and being, plunging the reader into the mysteries of self. Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.” -from the author’s website
This book is one of my top 10 favorites ever. It’s a book that resists explanation or categorization, it is queer not just in content but in its writing, it is magical, and dark, and aligning. Read it!! Shout out to Nuhamin for the recommendation <3 -Tara
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
“In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies….Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.” -excerpt from the publisher’s website
Another of my top 10, this is one of my favorite books to gift to badass, sexy queers and femmes. It screams scorpio, has a few stories that I like to read out loud to my plants for the richness of its language, layers, context. Enjoy! -Tara
Zami: A New Spelling of my Name, A Biomythography by Audre Lorde
“This is Audre Lorde's story. A rapturous, life-affirming autobiographical novel by the 'Black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet', it changed the literary landscape.
'Her work shows us new ways to imagine the world ... so many themes of Audre's work have endured' Renni Eddo Lodge, author of Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race’” -excerpts from the publisher’s website
Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling
“Louise White Elk dreams of both belonging and escape, and of discovering love and freedom on her own terms. But she is a red-haired, tough, and beautiful temptation, and at least three men, each more dangerous than the other, want to control and possess her: Police Officer Charlie Kicking Woman, who struggles between worlds; charismatic but scary Baptiste, who refuses to yield to anyone; and Harvey Stoner, who owns nearly everything.
On the reservation, danger looms everywhere, rising out of fear and anger, deprivation, hunger, and poverty. But just as often for Louise, and for those she loves, danger arises from longing and desire. And from making a choice.
Perma Red is a love-crossed saga about a young woman coming of age under perilous circumstances, and about the consequences of her often contradictory desires. In this breathtaking tale of the American West, a tragic love story unfolds against a classic clash of cultures.”
This book is one of the most underrated I have ever read. Haunting, brutal. And so beautiful at the same time. The descriptions of the land melted me. Infused with important history and context, resonating on so many levels in its discussions of race, consent, sex, gender, freedom. Very grateful to my auntie, Pramila, for the recommendation. -Tara
Assata An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
“On May 2, 1973, Black Panther Assata Shakur (aka JoAnne Chesimard) lay in a hospital, close to death, handcuffed to her bed, while local, state, and federal police attempted to question her about the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that had claimed the life of a white state trooper. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover's campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur was incarcerated for four years prior to her conviction on flimsy evidence in 1977 as an accomplice to murder.
This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of JoAnne Chesimard long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.
Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides.” -Publisher comments
An essential read on race, activism, organizing, and freedom. - Tara
If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar
“an aunt teaches me how to tell
an edible flower
from a poisonous one.
just in case, I hear her say, just in case.
This imaginative, soulful debut poetry collection...captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a girl, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.” -from the author’s website
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
“Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.” -from the author’s website
It started reading this and then put it down for months without realizing it, because every part of the story was a story within itself. The complexity of the characters and the questions around consent, duty, ownership, accountability. Plus the truths about the prison industrial complex - and in the most subtle and overt ways why it must be completely dismantled. Because of its white supremacy and racism and also what it does to humans, love, relationships, families with and without children. I also had the opportunity to hear Tayari Jones speak last year and she gave the most wonderful context for the book and advice to writers. -Tara
98 Wounds by Justin Chin
"Justin Chin is really one of our greatest writers. There is no heartache, no abject striving for connection, no collapse of the body or anguish of the mind invulnerable from the barging in of the absurd, the hyperblast of ever-present pop culture, a queen's irony, a cluck of the tongue and a shake of the head. He regards his pain — all of our pain — with stoic reverence, while simultaneous slipping a whoopie cushion under our collective ass. He's a master." — Michelle Tea
Hunger by Roxane Gay Hunger
“New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.” -from the author’s website.
I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard so many people recommend it. I’m currently reading Difficult Women, Gay’s incredible short story collection, and will be diving into this one next, or, as soon as I’m ready to dive back in to my and our collective rawness. -Tara
There There by Tommy Orange
“Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable.” -from the publisher's website
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
“With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, this New York Times bestseller is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another—and of ourselves.” -from the author’s website.
The Crown Ain't Worth Much by Hanif Abdurraqib
“Hanif Abdurraqib’s THE CROWN AIN’T WORTH MUCH leaves me contemplating the meanings of soul: communal soul (peep the breadth of cultural shout outs), rhythmic soul (peep the breadth of sound and syntax), and spiritual soul (peep the breadth of compassion). As titles like “Ode to Drake, Ending with Blood in a Field” and “At the House Party Where We Found Out Whitney Houston Was Dead” suggest, Abdurraqib bridges the bravado and bling of praise with the blood and tears of elegy. The soul of this magnificent book is dynamic, distinguished, and when called for, down and dirty. What a fresh, remarkable debut.” -Terrance Hayes, National Book Award winner
The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin
“No one knew Staceyann’s mother was pregnant until a dangerously small baby was born on the floor of her grandmother’s house in Jamaica, on Christmas Day. Staceyann’s mother did not want her, and her father was not present. No one, except her grandmother, thought Staceyann would survive. It was her grandmother who nurtured and protected and provided for Staceyann and her older brother in the early years. But when the three were separated, Staceyann was thrust, alone, into an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise, Jamaica. .
Told with grace, humor, and courage, Chin plumbs tender and unsettling memories as she writes about drifting from one home to the next, coming out as a lesbian, finding the man she believes to be her father, and ultimately, discovering her voice.” -the publisher’s website
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
“With the coruscating gaze of The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.
The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.” -from the author’s website
Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? Author and editor adrienne maree brown finds the answer in something she calls “pleasure activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work. Drawing on the black feminist tradition, she challenges us to rethink the ground rules of activism. Her mindset-altering essays are interwoven with conversations and insights from other feminist thinkers, including Audre Lorde, Joan Morgan, Cara Page, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Together they cover a wide array of subjects—from sex work to climate change, from race and gender to sex and drugs—building new narratives about how politics can feel good and how what feels good always has a complex politics of its own.
Building on the success of her popular Emergent Strategy, brown launches a new series of the same name with this volume, bringing readers books that explore experimental, expansive, and innovative ways to meet the challenges that face our world today. Books that find the opportunity in every crisis!” -from the publisher’s website
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
“"There's no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it." The men and women in these eight short fictions grasp this truth on an elemental level, and their stories, as told by James Baldwin, detail the ingenious and often desperate ways in which they try to keep their head above water. It may be the heroin that a down-and-out jazz pianist uses to face the terror of pouring his life into an inanimate instrument. It may be the brittle piety of a father who can never forgive his son for his illegitimacy. Or it may be the screen of bigotry that a redneck deputy has raised to blunt the awful childhood memory of the day his parents took him to watch a black man being murdered by a gleeful mob. By turns haunting, heartbreaking, and horrifying--and informed throughout by Baldwin's uncanny knowledge of the wounds racism has left in both its victims and its perpetrators--Going to Meet the Man is a major work by one of our most important writers.” -Publishers comments
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
“On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967.
Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.
Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.” -from the author’s website
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
“Ten-year-old Darling and her friends navigate their shantytown with the exuberance and mischievous spirit of children everywhere. But they are shadowed by memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the schools closed, before their fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. When Darling escapes to suburban America, she finds that—far from the comforts of her childhood community—America’s abundance is hard to reach, and she reckons alone with the sacrifices and mixed rewards of assimilating.
Channeling the rhythm and vibrancy of the storytellers who raised her in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo tells a potent story of displacement and arrival, at once disarmingly playful and devastatingly candid, with a power all its own.” -from the author’s website
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
“Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman — fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves — must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.” -from the author’s website
Rolling the R's by R. Zamora Linmark
“Illuminated by pop fantasies, Donna Summer disco tracks, and teen passion, the fiercely earnest characters in Rolling the R’s come to life against a background of burning dreams and neglect in a small 1970s Hawaiian community. In this daring first novel, tour-de-force experiments in narrative structure, pidgin, and perspective roll every “are”, throwing new light on gay identity and the trauma of assimilation. Rolling the R’s goes beyond “coming of age” and “coming out” to address the realities of cultural confusion, prejudice, and spiraling levels of desire in humorous yet haunting portrayals that are, as Matthew Stadler writes, “stylish, shameless, and beautiful.” -from the publisher’s website
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
“A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family--motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce--pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.” -from the publisher’s website
A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernández
“In this lyrical, coming-of-age memoir, Daisy Hernández chronicles what the women in her Cuban-Colombian family taught her about love, money, and race. Her mother warns her about envidia and men who seduce you with pastries, while one tía bemoans that her niece is turning out to be “una india” instead of an American. Another auntie instructs that when two people are close, they are bound to become like uña y mugre, fingernails and dirt, and that no, Daisy’s father is not godless. He’s simply praying to a candy dish that can be traced back to Africa.
These lessons—rooted in women’s experiences of migration, colonization, y cariño—define in evocative detail what it means to grow up female in an immigrant home. In one story, Daisy sets out to defy the dictates of race and class that preoccupy her mother and tías, but dating women and transmen, and coming to identify as bisexual, leads her to unexpected questions. In another piece, NAFTA shuts local factories in her hometown on the outskirts of New York City, and she begins translating unemployment forms for her parents, moving between English and Spanish, as well as private and collective fears. In prose that is both memoir and commentary, Daisy reflects on reporting for the New York Times as the paper is rocked by the biggest plagiarism scandal in its history and plunged into debates about the role of race in the newsroom.
A heartfelt exploration of family, identity, and language, A Cup of Water Under My Bed is ultimately a daughter’s story of finding herself and her community, and of creating a new, queer life.” -from the publisher’s website
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
“When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Cullors’ first book cowritten by ashe bandele, is a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. A New York Times Best Seller – necessary and timely, Patrisse’s story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.” -from the author’s website
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
“In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.” -from the author’s website
No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore
“When Darnell Moore was fourteen years old, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they assumed he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn't the last time he would face death.
Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer and activist, a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, and a tireless advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he sets out to understand how that scared, bullied teenager not only survived, but found his calling. Moore traces his life from his childhood in Camden, New Jersey, a city scarred by uprisings and repression; to his search for intimacy in the gay neighborhoods of Philadelphia; and, finally, to the movements in Newark, Brooklyn, and Ferguson where he could fight for those who, like him, survive on society's edges.
No Ashes in the Fire is a story of beauty and hope - and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.” -from the author’s website
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi, Sherif Hetata (Translator)
Nawal El Saadawi’s highly acclaimed feminist novel, Woman at Point Zero, follows the life of Firdaus, an Egyptian peasant girl, from her childhood of incomprehensible cruelty and neglect to her end in a grimy Cairo prison cell. From her earliest memories, Firdaus suffered at the hands of men—first her abusive father, then her violent, much older husband, to finally her deceitful boyfriend-turned-pimp. After a lifetime of abuse, she at last takes drastic action against the males ruling her life. Still as beautiful and cutting as it was when it was first published, this new edition will continue to resonate powerfully with readers for years to come. -from the publisher’s website
On Hell by Johanna Hedva
“ON HELL transcribes a body broken by American empire, that of ex-con Rafael Luis Estrada Requena, hacking itself away from contemporary society. Johanna Hedva, author of Sick Woman Theory, takes the ferocious compulsion to escape (from capitalism, from the limits of the body-machine, from Earth) and channels it into an evisceration of oppression and authority. Equal parts tender and brutal, romantic and furious, ON HELL is a novel about myths that trick and resist totalitarianism.” -from the publisher’s website
M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
“Following the innovative collection Spill, Alexis Pauline Gumbs's M Archive—the second book in a planned experimental triptych—is a series of poetic artifacts that speculatively documents the persistence of Black life following a worldwide cataclysm. Engaging with the work of the foundational Black feminist theorist M. Jacqui Alexander, and following the trajectory of Gumbs's acclaimed visionary fiction short story “Evidence,” M Archive is told from the perspective of a future researcher who uncovers evidence of the conditions of late capitalism, antiblackness, and environmental crisis while examining possibilities of being that exceed the human. By exploring how Black feminist theory is already after the end of the world, Gumbs reinscribes the possibilities and potentials of scholarship while demonstrating the impossibility of demarcating the lines between art, science, spirit, scholarship, and politics.” -from the publisher’s website
The Prince of los Cocuyos by Richard Blanco
“A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.
Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.”
Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer—as an artist—prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him.” -from the author’s website
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
“Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.
Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.” -from the publisher’s website
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