Tag Archives For: Memoir

16 Oct, 2015

Life From Scratch

/ posted in: Reading Life From Scratch Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin
on March 3rd 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Witty, warm, and poignant, food blogger Sasha Martin's memoir about cooking her way to happiness and self-acceptance is a culinary journey like no other.

Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook--and eat--a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launched her own cooking adventure, Martin's heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal--and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

Goodreads

 

Sasha Martin’s life hasn’t been easy.  She grew up with her brother and mother in poverty in Boston.  Her mother had given custody of three older children to her ex-husband and would not tell her two youngest children who their father was.  Her mother was warm and creative and loved to cook meals with her kids, which instilled a love of cooking in Sasha.

After a few rounds of going into foster care and back out into their mother’s care, Sasha and her brother went to live with a family friend in entirely different circumstances.  Suddenly, she is traveling the world and living in Europe during high school.  That life ended when she went to college and had to find a way to make it on her own.

Years later, after marrying and having a child, she decides to start a blog and cook one meal a week from a different country of the world.  She starts with Afghanistan in week one and goes alphabetically through all 195 countries.


Although this is marketed as a food blogger memoir, most of the book is about her childhood and life before the blog.  The story is harrowing and sad and would be unbelievable if written in a fictional book.  Her mother is a larger than life character who is in turns inspiring and exasperating.

When the book turns to blogging there are interesting discussions about what went on behind the scenes and her decision making processes about what should go on the blog.  Should she admit that she poisoned herself with one meal?  How do you deal with furious commenters who are mad that her Indian meal was simple foods for a child’s birthday party?

There are several recipes in the book.  Some of them are incredibly intense and some are simple.  I’m not sure that I’m going to try any of them because a lot are meat based but there are some that could be adapted.  There is a chocolate rice pudding that sounds good.

This book would be good for people who like memoirs like Julie and Julia.

10 Oct, 2015

Bento Box in the Heartland

/ posted in: Reading Bento Box in the Heartland Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya
on 2006
Pages: 307
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Cooking, Regional & Ethnic, Japanese
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

While growing up in Versailles, an Indiana farm community, Linda Furiya tried to balance the outside world of Midwestern America with the Japanese traditions of her home life. As the only Asian family in a tiny township, Furiya's life revolved around Japanese food and the extraordinary lengths her parents went to in order to gather the ingredients needed to prepare it. As immigrants, her parents approached the challenges of living in America, and maintaining their Japanese diets, with optimism and gusto. Furiva, meanwhile, was acutely aware of how food set her apart from her peers: She spent her first day of school hiding in the girls' restroom, examining her rice balls and chopsticks, and longing for a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Bento Box in the Heartland is an insightful and reflective coming-of-age tale. Beautifully written, each chapter is accompanied by a family recipe of mouth-watering Japanese comfort food.

Goodreads

Linda Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, far away from the traditional Japanese culture that her parents tried hard to emulate.  She didn’t understand why her lunches were different than other kids’.  She was embarrassed to hear her parents trying to talk to people in public, especially when other people didn’t make an effort to understand them.  She didn’t want to invite people over to her house because it was so different than other peoples’.

Her parents had amazing life stories that she didn’t appreciate until she was much older.  Her father was a U.S. citizen who went back to Japan as a child.  He was then sent away as an indentured servant.  He ended up as a Russian translator in the Japanese army during World War II.  He came back to the United States and worked in the poultry farming industry because it was the only work he could get.

Her mother was the daughter of rice merchants in Tokyo.  Her mother died and her father remarried and had other children.  This dropped her status in the family to that of a servant.  After the war, she lived on her own and had a job but gave it up to marry a stranger who lived the United States.

Her parents longed to have familiar Japanese food but couldn’t find it in Indiana.  They made monthly trips to stores in Cincinnati or Chicago to find the ingredients they needed or had things shipped from Japan.  Japanese comfort food became a common link between people who were very different but only had each other to rely on.

The author tells the story of growing up as the child of immigrants through the food that they loved.  Each chapter ends with a recipe.  Most of them are heavy on the meat so I won’t be trying them but there is one recipe for Rice Balls that sounds good.  There is also a dessert recipe using agar agar instead of gelatin to make a Jello-like dish that I’d like to try since gelatin is made from animals and agar agar is from algae.

The author doesn’t shy away from talking about how she treated her parents horribly for being Japanese.  It wasn’t until after college that she lived in a city with a large Asian population and understood that being Asian wasn’t automatically a bad thing.  This book is a great look into the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child.

About Linda Furiya

Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, where her Japanese family went to great lengths to acquire traditional Asian ingredients. She became a journalist and food writer; Bento Box In The Heartland, her memoir of growing up in the Midwest, is her first book. She lives in Vermont.

24 Sep, 2015

At Hell’s Gate and My Family

/ posted in: Reading At Hell’s Gate and My Family At Hell's Gate by Claude Anshin Thomas
on 2004
Pages: 168
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

In this raw and moving memoir, Claude Thomas tells the dramatic story of his service in Vietnam, his subsequent emotional collapse, and how he was ultimately able to find healing and peace. Thomas went to Vietnam at the age of eighteen, where he served as a crew chief on assault helicopters. By the end of his tour, he had been awarded numerous medals, including the Purple Heart. He had also killed many people, witnessed horrifying cruelty, and narrowly escaped death on a number of occasions.
When Thomas returned home he found that he continued to live in a state of war. He was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, fear, anger, and despair, all of which were intensified by the rejection he experienced as a Vietnam veteran. For years, Thomas struggled with post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol addiction, isolation, and even homelessness.
A turning point came when he attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans led by the renowned Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Here he encountered the Buddhist teachings on meditation and mindfulness, which helped him to stop running from his past and instead confront the pain of his war experiences directly and compassionately. Thomas was eventually ordained as a Zen monk and teacher, and he began making pilgrimages to promote peace and nonviolence in war-scarred places around the world including Bosnia, Auschwitz, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and the Middle East.
At Hell's Gateis Thomas's dramatic coming-of-age story and a spiritual travelogue from the horrors of combat to discovering a spiritual approach to healing violence and ending war from the inside out. In simple and direct language, Thomas shares timeless teachings on healing emotional suffering and offers us practical guidance in using mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives.

Goodreads

Growing up I knew from old family photos that my father’s sister had been married and divorced before I was born.  As an adult this was cause for some annoyance for me because whenever I would drive separately from my husband to a family event my parents would pipe up with, “The last time people drove separately to a family event they ended up divorced.”  This referred to my aunt’s first marriage and was incredibly annoying.  It was also untrue because the “last time” was the last time they said it to me. Then I got divorced and reinforced their beliefs.

Anyway, a few years ago I saw a list on Wikipedia or something about famous people from my hometown.  It is a VERY short list.  One of the people was a famous monk or something and it said he graduated the same year as my parents.  I asked if they knew this person.

My mother:  Disapproving snort “Oh, yeah.  That’s Tommy.  You know, your aunt’s first husband.”

How does that never come up in conversation?  (I can’t believe I even had this thought now after finding out everything never discussed in my family like my grandmother living under a fake name since the age of five and the fact that she had a murdered brother that was never mentioned.)

A few weeks ago I saw another list of famous people from my hometown.  (There were five entries and the first one was a horse.)  It mentioned that Claude Thomas had written an autobiography.  I got it from interlibrary loan.

I didn’t know whether to mention this or not.  The night before I was going to start reading it I told my mother about it.  I wanted confirmation that this was the same guy.  I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

My mother: “Really?  You have to tell me what it says. He didn’t just marry into your father’s family.  He was close to mine too.”

Me:  “The back says that it is mostly about Vietnam and lists a lot of medals he won.  Then it is about peace marches.”

My mother responded with a story about how he took her brother’s car and rolled it and her brother took the blame for it.

Me:  “(the husband) and I were talking about this.  We decided that if (my ex) became President of the United States and single handedly ended fighting in the Middle East and brought about world peace, your first comment would be, ‘The bastard owes my daughter money.'”

My mother: Laughs and then immediately lists five other things she’s mad at my ex about.  “Let him try to run for President.  I have things to say.”

I think my family missed their calling.  They should have been in the Mafia.  They have the Don’t Cross Family thing down cold.


He doesn’t own up to rolling the car in the book.  He glosses over most of his upbringing.  He does mention joy riding in cars from the local dealership but says he never wrecked any of those.  He dismisses my aunt and their marriage in two sentences.

This is the story of a veteran with severe PTSD using Buddhism as a coping mechanism.  It sounds to me like it isn’t working too well.  He mentions still not being able to sleep more than two hours at a time, for example.  I live with a veteran with PTSD so I’m used to some of the behaviors that comes along with it.  I’d recommend medication and maybe counseling to learn coping mechanisms.  I was hoping to read how Buddhism and meditation helped him but he seems to be barely functional.

He lives as a mendicant monk which means that he has no possessions and is homeless.  He leads long walking pilgrimages like Poland to Vietnam or across the U.S.  The participants carry no money and make no plans for housing.  When they get to a town, they ask at local churches for a place to sleep and some food.  I found this part interesting and disturbing.

Most often they are turned away from churches even in blizzards.  So much for Matthew 25:35.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in


He tells stories of being allowed to stay in a church but being told that they have to hide so children don’t see them.  They often have the police called because of “suspicious looking people seen walking down the road”.

He doesn’t refer to any Americans except his son by name in this book.  It seems like most of his anger is still focused on the American people.  He seems capable of accepting Vietnamese people but not Americans.  That may be a new idea for some people but doesn’t seem to be uncommon.  A lot of veterans are incredibly angry at Americans who didn’t serve in wars and many hate nonveterans blithely telling them, “Thank you for your service.”

This is a good book to read to open your eyes to the psychic toll that war can take on soldiers.

15 Sep, 2015

Ten Reviews I Keep Meaning to Write

/ posted in: Reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately but haven’t reviewed all the books because for some of them I didn’t have enough to say for a full post. Here are 10 books that I keep meaning to write mini-reviews about.


 

Deadly Election (Flavia Albia Mystery, #3)Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is part of Lindsey Davis’ series about a female private investigator in ancient Rome.  I love her books.  In this one Flavia is helping her friend and potential love interest dig up dirt on political candidates.  At the same time she is dealing with a problem at her family’s auction business.  A large chest that was consigned turned out to contain a body.

I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t my favorite of the series.  Definitely will keep reading them though.


 

Love Is the DrugLove Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good girl high school student has a strange encounter with a man at a party hosted by a friend’s family to help students make contacts with adults who set up internships.  Later she is drugged and wakes up in the hospital not remembering what happened.  In the meantime a deadly virus is sweeping the country and Washington D.C. is locked down.  She travels between her prep school and her uncle’s house in a poor part of town trying to figure out why people seem to be targeting her family.

I’ve been raving about this author’s The Summer Prince all year.  This one didn’t thrill me as much.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t up to the other book.


 

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Felicia Day was a home schooled violin prodigy and a math major in college so of course she decided to become an actress.  With parts few and far between she decided to write her own web series and that spawned an Internet empire.

I know her mostly from her traditional acting jobs on sci-fi/fantasy shows like Buffy, Eureka, and Supernatural.  I haven’t seen in web stuff.  She glosses over the TV roles or mentions them in passing.  I would have liked to hear more about that.  The story of making her own path is interesting though.


 

Paradise FieldsParadise Fields by Katie Fforde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Katie Fforde but this one was a bit weird.  Maybe it is my raising coming out.  The main character has a daughter who is in her last year in school.  She keeps going to London for the weekend to stay with her boyfriend who the mother has never met and to go clubbing.  The mother doesn’t like it but what can she say?  Obviously she never met my mother who would have had a whole lot to say about that.  I just kept thinking, “It is called parenting, lady.  You don’t sneak around and spy and get embarrassed about it.  You put your foot down on behavior that is potentially self-destructive.”


 

The Wishing ThreadThe Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a magical realism book about a family who own a knitting shop where they knit blessings into garments for people. Now the shop is due to be torn down due to gentrification of their neighborhood immediately after the family matriarch dies. The next generation of sisters are trying to figure out how to manage their family legacy.

Loved the concept. Didn’t really like the story that much. Characters were too wishy washy for my liking.


 

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every year two children was taken from the village.  One goes to the School for Good and one goes to the School for Evil.  Sophie was born to go to the School for Good.  She’s blond and pretty and nice enough to lower her standards and befriend the outcast Agatha.  When Sophie and Agatha are taken, they are horrified to find that Sophie is assigned to Evil and Agatha is Good.

Again, I loved the idea but the story didn’t live up to the idea for me.


 

The Birth HouseThe Birth House by Ami McKay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dora Rare lives in an isolated village in early 20th century Nova Scotia.  She is learning from the local midwife.  When a doctor comes to the town and tries to persuade the women to pay to go to a hospital for child birth, the town needs to decide if modern medicine is always better.

For someone who hates babies, I really like books about midwives.  This is a great look at both medical history and women’s history in rural areas.


 

Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings, #2)Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book of a series.  Josetta is a Princess but no longer close in line to the throne.  She is now working in the poor section of the city helping people despite what her family thinks.  She meets a con man who might be more than he seems.

I like this series.  I’m looking forward to reading the next one but I don’t want to finish the series too quickly.


 

 

The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A child is found abandoned on a dock in Australia.  How did she get to Australia on a boat from England by herself.  Why isn’t anyone looking for her?  Years later her granddaughter takes up the search for the answer to the mystery.

I read this for the Travel the World in Books readathon.  It was supposed to be an Australian book but ended up being mostly in England telling the story that lead to the child getting on the boat.  I think I had read this before but forgot it — which is ironic.


The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl GeeksThe Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a guidebook to geek culture.  I’m pretty steeped in it so I didn’t learn much but I did enjoy skimming through this.

02 Sep, 2014

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

/ posted in: Reading

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy EatersFrench Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memoir/nonfiction

This family spent one year living in Brittany near the husband’s family.  They had two small children and their relatives were horrified by their eating habits.  In France there are many unspoken rules that govern eating and this Canadian family was breaking them all. 

1.  You are in charge of food education.

2.  Avoid emotional eating – Don’t use food to avoid disciplining children.  No bribes.

3. Parents schedule meals and kids eat what adults eat.

4.  Eat meals together

5.  Eat your veggies.

6.  You don’t have to like it but you do have to taste it.

7.  No snacking.  It is ok to feel hungry between meals.

8.  Slow food is happy food.

9.  Eat mostly real food.

10.  Remember eating is joyful!

I picked up this book because this is a major pet peeve of mine.  I was pretty much raised with these rules, even though I’m not at all French, so when I had to feed a stepchild these seemed natural.  Then all hell broke loose.

I was dealing with a child who was never taught to use utensils.  She was taught to scream whenever there was a knife on her side of the table.  That ended when I forced her to pick up a butter knife and challenged her to try to find a way to hurt herself with it.  Seriously, forks are more dangerous than that.

Because most adults who work with this kid are terrified of her, they give into her demands for whatever food she wants.  Not here.  I’m not forcing her to eat disgusting things but she doesn’t see it that way.  When she was about 5 we had a fondue night.  There was a spread of fruits and vegetables on the table and she spent the meal screaming, “Heather!  You’re a bad cooker!”  Ah, memories.  At almost 11 she still has no table manners despite my insistence.  She’s getting better.  About half the time she can chew without food falling out of her mouth.  It is hard because she isn’t here often and apparently these rules aren’t insisted on elsewhere.  It makes me wonder why I’m the only Miss Manners around.

It isn’t just here.  I watch my mother with my niece and nephew and wonder what happened to the woman who raised me.  I never got to eat macaroni and cheese instead of what the adults were eating.  Had I suggested it, it would not have been pretty.  I was a budding vegetarian even as a kid so I had to smother roast in ketchup to get it down.  The kids also eat almost nonstop.  I don’t remember being handed food every time I was bored.

I found the French approach to food education in school interesting.  I think kids should be taught how to try things and how to eat in public.  The only problem I have with it is the emphasis on never expressing personal preference.  It makes me wonder how any French vegetarians deal with the system.

I also enjoyed hearing how they tried to keep the French spirit of eating when they moved back to Vancouver and a culture that was not supportive of it.

There are some recipes in the back of the book that look interesting.  Some of these are baby food which are basically soups.  They sound like things I’d like.

 

08 Jul, 2014

Waking Up White by Debby Irving

/ posted in: Reading

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of RaceWaking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Memoir

Debby Irving grew up in a white upper middle class family in Massachusetts.  As an adult she wanted to help people from the inner city but couldn’t figure out why her efforts so often didn’t produce the results she was looking for.  She decided to take a college course about race. 

I expected the course to teach me about “other” races and cultures so I could better help students of color. I supposed I thought I’d get some tips, some do’s and don’ts that would keep me from offending students and parents. Much to my surprise, however, the course asked me to turn the lens on myself. I had never thought to look within for solutions to a problem I imagined as outside of myself, and what I found shocked me.

One quote that resonated with me was this one:

It turns out, stumbling block number 1 was that I didn’t think I had a race

Don’t get me wrong—if you put a census form in my hand, I would know to check “white” or “Caucasian.” it’s more that I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, American Indian, and Latino, were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race—just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a race either.  I’ve just described myself as a boring white person.  I think that for most white people, if they think about it at all, thinking about our race immediately brings to mind white supremacy and the KKK.  Not something you dwell on.

The author goes on to examine ways that white privilege has shaped her life.  Her father was able to become a lawyer on the GI Bill while many veterans of other races were denied the benefits.

She goes on to tell about situations where her cluelessness about race has gotten her into trouble.  One example is when she stands up in seminar for professionals who are people of color to critique a movie that was shown and manages to insult everyone with her comments.

I tend to be clueless about race too.  The husband is Italian and apparently is dark skinned.  I don’t see it.  Intellectually I know that he is because he’s told me and he is darker than a few of our black friends but I just don’t see it.  I look at him and see generic white guy.  His skin color sets him apart in the world though.  The best example is customs.  He can’t get through customs.  We were in the Virgin Islands and I got waved through.  He didn’t get through for a long time.  When he finally showed up he said that his new passport wasn’t signed.  I looked at mine and it wasn’t signed either but it wasn’t a problem for me.  In Amsterdam I told the officer that we needed to go through customs to get our new tickets on the other side (true story).  I got through.  He went to the same officer right after me and told the same story.  He was getting questioned until he pointed at me and said loudly, “I’m with her!”  I waved at the officer and he let him go.  We drove to Canada recently and the border guy accused him of gun running for some reason.  (We didn’t have any guns.) We are going on an international plane trip soon for the first time since being married.  Now we have to go through customs together.  That ought to be exciting.

The book gets into the discussion of whether or not it is appropriate to tell the story of someone of a different race.  I have mixed feelings on this.  I imagined what it would be like to have men suddenly discover something that women have known forever and have them decide to talk about it like it is a new thing.  I can see that it would be annoying but if it is topic that needs to be brought to the attention of the wider world, I don’t care who tells the story as long as it is told.  I guess I’m just pragmatic.

This book helped me to look at the world in a different way. I notice the ways that race shapes my perceptions more now.

I was given a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

31 May, 2014

Devotion and Defiance

/ posted in: Reading

Devotion and Defiance: My Fight for Justice for WomenDevotion and Defiance: My Fight for Justice for Women by Humaira Awais Shahid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memoir

Humaira Awais Shahid had just finished her graduate work in literature when she met Ednan, the son of an influential Pakistani newspaper owner.  They married and eventually she was brought into the newspaper business to transform the “woman’s pages.”  When the opportunity came to take one of the reserved seats for women in her local Parliament she took the chance to do more of substance for women in her area.  Little did she know that the women of the reserved seats were supposed to be ornamental and not be insisting on writing laws.

She had three goals:

  1. To eliminate vani, the practice of giving women  in marriage or to be raped as repayment for a slight on family honor.
  2. To make it illegal to burn a person with acid
  3. To eliminate private moneylending which resulted often in violence when people could not repay the huge interest

The story covers the time until her five years in the legislature were finished.  The book ended fairly abruptly which made me want to know more about what she had done in the last few years.

She does talk about the poor women she wrote about in the papers but overall she seems to have a more positive outlook on women in Pakistan than we generally hear about in the West.  She is also full of praise for President Musharraf as a reformer which also doesn’t fit with stories we hear here.

 

 

04 May, 2014

Unorthodox

/ posted in: Reading

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic RootsUnorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memoir

Deborah’s mother left home soon after her birth.  Her father is mentally handicapped.  She is left in the care of her grandparents who are members of a Hasidic Jewish community.  She is raised according to a strict set of rules.  These include never speaking English because it will corrupt your soul.  Don’t educate girls past the very basics they need to survive.  And certainly never have boys and girls together.

Deborah was a rebel.  She knew how to read English.  She cared about school.  She would sneak to other parts of New York to borrow books from the library.  She was able to become a teacher in her sect’s elementary school.

That all changed when her family arranged her marriage at age 17.  Suddenly they became the talk of the community when their inability to consummate their marriage became common knowledge.  She was no longer able to read or have books in house against her husband’s family’s rules.  Eventually she rebels again and starts taking adult continuing ed classes that lead to her leaving her husband and her community.

It always amazes me to read about the overt misogyny in religious sects.  I don’t know why.  I know what goes on.  I guess I just want to believe that things are getting better.  The things that are done to the girls here are heartbreaking.  Their absolute ignorance of their bodies especially when it comes to sexual matters leads to extreme psychological and physical harm.  The boys don’t fare any better in these matters.

She talks of the books that helped her realize that there was another world out there.  Hopefully this memoir helps other girls imagine a way out.

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