Category Archives: Review English

Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer

“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don’t really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.”

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, jewelry designer and a pacifist, but particularly lost since he lost his dad on ‘the worst day’, 9/11. Oskar is different from other kids of his age and it’s clear that he is autistic. He gives the key of his apartment to strangers, like the nice guys from Greenpeace, the mailwoman and the pizza delivery guy and likes to crack people up by saying things like ‘When you look up the word ‘hilarious’ in the dictionary, there would be a picture of you.’ He has the intention of helping everyone around him but at the end he always manages to fail. Oskar has the best grandma, who thinks that everything that he does is a million dollars.

Peter Lohmeyer

Writer Jonathan Safran Foer was living for a short time in New York when the disaster happened. In the mean time was actually working on another book, but found himself thinking a lot about the idea of this little boy who was trying to deal with a great loss.

Foer’s first book , ‘Everything is illuminated’ , was about the holocaust and his second novel isn’t any lighter. But the style of writing he used doesn’t make the book feel so heavy.  I have to say that I was actually more laughing out loud than crying, but that’s mainly because the main character has a very funny way of thinking. He is for example confused when a  45-year-old woman refuses to kiss ‘a little’ with him.

Oskar and his dad would sometimes play Reconnaissance Expedition, his father would give Oskar some hints, and then he had to talk to people or go searching in the Central Park for instructions. The last Expedition they never finished. A couple of years later since the loss of his father he finds a key in an envelope ,with ‘Black’ written on it, in a vase in his father’s closet. Oskar thinks that the key belongs to his father, that it’s a part of the Reconnaissance Expedition. But which of the 162 million locks in New   York will it open? So begins the quest, in which he talks to complete strangers and walks trough the boroughs of New York with his tambourine. But will it take him any closer or even further from his father? He is afraid of losing him more than he already has, afraid that his mother is already falling in love with someone else instead of feeling miserable all the time.

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The story isn’t only about Oskar, there are letters which his grandparents wrote to their son about how they try to live with a loss. His grandparents survived the bombing in their place of birth Dresden in Germany during the Second World War. So not only Oskar is coping with a loss but his grandparents were too, and still are, after all these years.

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The difference between books and good books is that good books leave you thinking about them for a day, or a few days if they are really good. This book was really mind blowing. What makes this book different from the other ones is the great lay-out: pictures, letters and business cards, without making it childish.  I have to confess that at the end I was bitting back the tears (because there were other people in the room). If you still haven’t read this book, and have to listen to one of your students, then please listen to me: You must read this book.

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English book report: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

‘Like a throat being cut. Just that fast.’

The first thing I noticed about Deathless was the title. It just stood there and boldly stared at me. What pops into your head when you read such a title? I thought: ‘Should I open it and take a quick peek?’ The title kept staring. I opened the book.

”In a city by the sea which was once called St. Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, then, much later, St. Petersburg again, there stood a long, thin house on a long, thin street. By a long, thin window, a child in a pale blue dress and pale green slippers waited for a bird to marry her.”

After reading the opening saying my interest was piqued would be a thorough understatement.

The author of Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente, wrote a story based on a Russian fairytale called The Death of Koschei the Deathless or Marya Morevna collected by Alexander Afanasyev  in Narodnye russkie skazki In the original fairytale Koschei, the evil and immortal monster who menaced innocent young girls with his magic, kidnapped Marya from her home in Russia where she lived with her husband Ivan. Of course Ivan played the role of the mighty knight who went on a quest to defeat Koschei and save Marya from his evil claws. Marya was only there to play the role of the damsel in need and Koschei was of course only there to play the role of the evil wizard. In Deathless something similar happens, but not exactly. In this version Ivan is not only good and Koschei is not only bad and Marya is not only there to make Ivan look good. In fact, the story is written from her perspective.

Deathless is about Marya Morevn. She was a girl who lived in a house on Dzerzhinskaya Street until she one day saw a bird turn into a man. That was the day she discovered the magic in the world. Koshei the Deathless took her away from Leningrad, married her and brought her to Buyan, The land of the Tsar of Life, where everything lived. The buildings that were made out of living skin breathed, the fountains sprayed blood and everyone’s death was hidden so they couldn’t die. But it wasn’t really the fairytale Marya thought she was going to live. There was a war with the Tsar of Death and Koschei and Marya struggled with it every day. After realizing she’d had enough she left Koschei and his war. After meeting Ivan she goes back to live in Leningrad. Ivan was a warm and simple  young man. He was the exact opposite of Koschei. Unfortunately for Marya the situation they lived in was not much different from Buyan. There was also a war in Russia. This time the Germans were the enemy. Marya had to live through a war all over again and when Koschei showed up at her doorstep in the middle of the night she couldn’t say no. She still loved him. They were still married. It was not strange to love as much as you could if you only had death, loss and hunger in your life. Marya tried to live with both men, but eventually she had to choose. And she still loved Koschei. Even if he was sometimes cruel. Or mean. She loved him enough to forget all the other women who once warmed his bed. She even forgot about the women who still did, because Koschei enthralled her. Not with his magic, but with his words.

“Oh, I will be cruel to you, Marya Morevna. It will stop your breath, how cruel I can be. But you understand, don’t you? You are clever enough. I am a demanding creature. I am selfish and cruel and extremely unreasonable. But I am your servant. When you starve I will feed you; when you are sick I will tend you. I crawl at your feet; for before your love, your kisses, I am debased. For you alone I will be weak.” 

What I liked most about this book was the lack of rules, common decency and society problems, because those are just silly. I found a war, the problems of marriage, the difficulties of loving someone(s) and even philosophical questions in Deathless. Not bad for a fairy tale, huh?

Valente has a special talent with creating her characters. They were not just some names on a piece of paper. They were three-dimensional. They were alive. I admit that sometimes they were a bit odd. Mad even and hard to understand, but they were real and not unchanging types that were only there to fill up the holes. They made the story. In a lot of books the protagonist is often just one side of the coin, but in reality those people do not exist, do they? There is no black and white. Marya was a likeable character, but she was sometimes also difficult to understand. I didn’t always get why she loved Koschei so much, but sometimes I did.  I think Marya thought about this the same way. Marya was a strong woman who fought a war for her husband and who survived the loss of her friends. She always kept going. I admired that in her. Valente managed to take these characters out of very old stories and turn them into real people. She even managed to make me not only like the least amiable character in Russian Mythology, but also turn her into my favorite. I am of course talking about Baba Yaga.

The old witch who is famous for her children eating and chicken bone munching habits turned out to be just that, but also more. She did eat children and sometimes a husband or two, but she was also a good witch. She helped Marya, she gave her advice and she sometimes acted like she was Marya’s mean and very old grandmother. She was a wise and bitter woman who had her fair share of all the bad things in the world. I got that.

“Husbands lie, Masha. I should know; I’ve eaten my share. That’s lesson one. Lesson number two: among the topics about which a husband is most likely to lie are money, drink, black eyes, political affiliation, and women who squatted on his lap before and after your sweet self.”

I also found Baba Yaga hilarious.

‘’Anyway, I have no patience for innocent girls, unless they have apples in their mouths and are on speaking terms with my soup pot.’’

The beautiful thing about Deathless was the writing. The prose was always just right. Valente could describe everything in an astounding way. She could make her words dance on the pages. The whole story was also one smooth line. It was easy to read.

”And as we watched, the Tsar of Death lifted up his eyelids like skirts and began to dance in the streets of Leningrad.”

She also had her own way of describing the war in Russia in 1941. She didn’t tell you everything in detail. She didn’t need to.

“That night, she burned all the books in the attic for heat. She carried them down, one by one, because December ate up her strength. She lit them in the stove while they all huddled around and put out their hands. Last one in was the Pushkin, and she cried, but without tears, because you cannot have tears without bread.”

She looked out the window because she was afraid that Leningrad was going to start dying, like Buyan did, and she was right, but she was also wrong. Like I told you, nothing had changed yet, except that we could all hear the guns, all the time—first sirens, then guns, and then no sirens anymore because there were so many guns the sirens could not keep up

After reading only a few chapters I quickly fell in love with her writing style. As she would say: ‘Like a throat being cut. Just that fast.’ Unfortunately for me, I did have some issues with the lack of an actual coherent story. Halfway through I started thinking she was just showing off her technique. Her knowledge of Russian mythology was impressive considering she isn’t even Russian, but the story itself was just too much. There are a lot of quotes to be found here, but last time I checked I was reading a book and not a poem.  A plot is very important when you’re writing a story and Valente did not include one. (Maybe she missed this tiny bit of information when she arrived late at her class ‘How to write about chickenhorses and mad wizards 101’?) A plot is the guideline of the author so he/she doesn’t get lost on all of the ideas and characters that start to come up whilst the book is written. Valente was lost. Too much was happening and because of this I could not follow all the spins and turns this novel took.

I read a lot of other books while reading Deathless. I even finished all the bad books on my to-read shelf. The ones where I roll my eyes and vomit incessantly. But why would I do that? Why  would I rather read a bad book than a beautiful one with lots of beautiful words and beautiful characters? I think (and this is just a theory) it’s because I got exhausted after reading more than one or two chapters. These chapters were like pieces of chocolate. A few pieces are amazing, but after your third piece you start to get sick.

Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it. I liked it, but it wasn’t enough for me to keep reading it. Sometimes I did not have a clue of what was happening. For example that part when Marya was living in Yaicka. Is the reader not supposed to know if her main character is pregnant? Or when she delivers a child? Or if the child is even alive? I know strange. I like strange. Strange wakes up the brain cells.  But a world that resides in an egg is a bit too farfetched, even for me. Especially when this abnormality is not explained. (Okay. There was an explanation, but it did not really help. Valente tried to convince me that the egg was the child of Koschei and the Tsar of Birds. Wow. Writing it down is even more weird that thinking it.) Some readers might find this sort of abnormalities interesting, but Valente could have tried to make this world a bit more real. You know, a few laws of nature would have been nice. Those where a man can not have a child with a manbird.

My point is: the fairytale theme was just too present. It leaked in everywhere. I know she based it on a fairytale, but did that necessarily mean it had to be everywhere?One example:

A red bird came for Marya’s red dress and Ivan gave it to the red bird. The next day another bird came for her rifle and Ivan gave it to the bird. The next day another bird came for her silver brush and eventually Ivan gave it to the brown bird.

Valente sometimes used an entire chapter for this. I can’t say I really enjoyed it. When you’re really into the story this kind of thing can pull you out.

In short: Deathless was an interesting story that was presented with very good writing. Maybe it wasn’t so smart of Valente to really go into the fairytale genre, but I did really fall in love with her writing and her characters. So much so that the egg could be forgiven. I do confess, I could not get around the fact that there was no plot. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to read Valente’s other work. Who knows what those books hide between their pages? Because maybe it was me. Maybe I am not the kind of girl who still likes her fairy tales.

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Safe Haven: a romantic suspense

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Safe Haven tells the story of Katie, a young woman around her mid-twenties, who appears out of the sudden in Southport, a small town in North Carolina. She’s trying to build a new life in this town where everyone knows each other, works as a waitress at a local diner called Ivan’s and isolates herself from all the people living in Southport. She does her weekly grocery shopping at Alex’ store, a widower with two kids, Kristen and Josh. While Alex shows an interest for Katie, she still denies any social contact with anyone, even with her new neighbor Jo. But after a while, Katie puts her guard down and gets attached to Alex, and starts a friendship with Jo, who might not be who she pretends she is…

‘In order to learn to love again, you must learn to trust again.’

But nothing is what is seems. Katie’s ‘secret’ is still haunting her, and she can’t fight shy of telling Alex about her dark past with her husband Kevin, who abused her physically. Kevin is trying to locate Katie after she ran away from him, and things get steamy when he founds whereabouts she’s staying. How is Alex going to react to this, and which path is Katie going to choose: the safe or the riskier path?

Nicholas Sparks, born in Nebraska, is the author of the bestsellers such as The Notebook (1996) and A Walk To Remember (1999) and is one of one of the most popular American authors of this decade. He is well known for his romantic novels, somehow Safe Haven is different from his other books. It’s less ‘cheesy’ and more like a romantic suspense, especially because of all the traumatic instances in the book, which you wouldn’t expect in the first place.

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Sparks tries to outline our daily lifes and connects you with the characters in the book (except for Kevin, ofcourse. The only thing I could feel towards him was HATE.) You can really see them change through the story, especially Katie, of course. It’s like she turns into a complete other person, not only because she stops isolating herself from everything and everyone, but mostly because she tries to stand up for herself.

Nicholas’ writing style is simple and most of the time poetic (like in every Nicholas Spark novel), but different to get used to. He writes very detailed and the story is full of metaphors. Throughout the story, you can feel the pain of an abusive husband, because of those detailed descriptions of the mental and physical pain.

But like every other book, Safe Haven also has its imperfections. The ending of the book was very predictable in my eyes, but this didn’t ruin the story though. It’s still a good novel overall, and it shows you how life can bring two people together, in mysterious ways.
Nevertheless, it’s a page turner, and makes your heart race during some parts. The simplicity, the complexity of the characters and the mutual relationships are the things we’re used to with Nicholas Sparks.

– Julide Boyraz

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‘The Cement Garden’ by Ian McEwan

The Cement Garden

This book is about a happy, though slightly strange family that gets into a situation which you can’t quite imagine to happen in real life.

The family consist of six people including the parents. The children are called Jack, Julie, Sue and Tom in order of age. In this book Jack is the narrator.  The father of the family is a person who is more busy with his garden than his children. Their mother on the other hand is a very caring parent for her children. The names of their parents aren’t told. The names of the parents don’t actually matter that much because the father only play in the beginning of the book and dies, and the mother dies at the half of it. Jack states that he doesn’t really care his father died and that he only tells the story of his death to explain why he has a huge amount of cement with which he buried his mother. When his mother starts to get sick she doesn’t get out of the house anymore, and when it gets worse she doesn’t even leave her bed anymore. The children have to take over the tasks their mother normally does like preparing food, cleaning the house and shopping. Julie makes herself in a way head of the family and manages the funds of the family.

Their mother died as i told in the middle of the book and because their only remaining parent is gone they don’t have a funeral but they bury her in their basement because else they will be taken away from their house. I was kinda Shocked by this because they seemed more affected by having to leave the house than the fact that their mother just died. When their mother dies, the children have reached a state in which they can, although they don’t really put much effort in it, maintain themselves. It seems as if they do a great job given the fact that they have no parents, but the opposite is true. Jack starts hitting Sue, knowing nobody can stop him from doing it, and Tom starts acting like a transvestite and gets bullied at school.

Ian McEwan put the perspective in Jack, which is a good choice. The parents can’t have the narrator role because they die, and if he were to make Tom or Sue the narrator, all the problems the family had wouldn’t look the same. So Julie and Jack are left, leaving the personage Derek out of it because he entered the story later on. He made Jack narrator because he dislikes the presence of Julie’s boyfriend and he criticizes the authority of Julie all the time. Julie is too convinced of her own right and importance.

The story was a bit evenly until a new persona, Derek, came into the story. Derek is Julie’s ‘bloke’. When he joins the routine of the family, Jack starts to get really envious about him. Whether this is because he has a nice car and is a pro snooker player, or because he and Julie are together is questionable. Derek feels a bit excluded of the family when he finds out they buried their mother in the basement and they tell him it’s a dog. Julie’s attraction towards Jack builds up as the story continues building up to a certain turning point where Derek has enough of it and he seemingly calls the cops and make an end to the peculiar way of living of the odd family he tried to join.

I recommend this book to people with certain amount of patience when it comes to reading books, because the begin of the book is too uneventful, and slightly boring. Only when the mother dies, the story gets a bit interesting. But if you get through the begin of this book, its an entertaining story and its nice to read.

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“Welcome to the island of misfit toys”

Steven Chbosky – The perks of being a wallflower

The perks of being a wallflower tells the story of a socially awkward and sometimes autistic boy called Charlie. The book is a bundle of letters about his first year of high school he wrote. However he’s a freshman he makes friends with seniors like Patrick, Sam and their friends who are different then the other kids at school. Charlie is an outsider, but his friends accept him for who he is. They call Charlie a wallflower, because he hears and sees things and understands them. Charlie tries hard to participate, to fit in. He is being introduced to parties and drugs. Furthermore he has an attached band with his literature teacher, Mister Anderson, because he reads a lot and he’s the first friend Charlie made at his first day of school. Charlie has funny, but also confusing thoughts. Charlie likes Sam very much and he thinks she is the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. He can’t stop thinking about her and has a crush on her. When Sam and Charlie are having a romantic moment, Charlie’s memories return. After a visit at the mental hospital it turns out Charlie has been displacing his memories of his aunt who abused him. This is probably the cause of Charlie being socially weak. The doctors take care of Charlie at the hospital and he stays in touch with Sam.

The book contains a lot of inspiring passages. One in particular is at school. Mr. Anderson told Charlie when Charlie asked for advice that we accept the love we think we deserve. When Charlie had made a mistake and his friends didn’t want to see him he accepted that because of the teacher’s statement.

I think this book adds something to our society. It’s about one who’s different, one who’s gay, one who’s made several mistakes and one who is abused. It’s mainly about all the taboos in the world which are spoken here.

I’ve loved to read the crazy and funny and way too long thoughts of Charlie. I’ve loved read the letters he wrote because they were so real. There hasn’t been a moment in which I thought it could be fiction. Chbosky has made quite an impression on me. He made me think about things I’ve never thought of before. Like how one finds himself the tranquillity. In the perks of being a wallflower Charlie, Sam and Patrick find it by standing up in the back of the pickup truck while listening to the song -Heroes-. It made me think of how I find my tranquillity.

The guardian writes:

“What makes this book so special and authentic is its reality. As an adult it takes you back to when you were a teenager, as a child it shows you what lies ahead and as a teenager it inspires you. And as we all know there is no other time when finding out who you are and where you belong to is more immediate than when you are a teenager.”

I support this opinion. Like I said, the book really inspired me to think about things I’ve never thought of before. I think Chbosky did an awesome job and I really recommend everybody to read The perks of being a wallflower.

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John Boyne’s “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas”

Heil Hitler,” he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.”

A review of John Boyne’s “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas”,  by Marthe Wouters

1942; Bruno (nine years old) lives in Berlin. When his family moves to the countryside, Bruno has to leave everything behind for this unknown place. Arriving at the new house he finds out that there are no other children, no other families and no other interesting things. It’s just Bruno and his family. When Bruno starts exploring the new area (he calls himself a real explorer) he meets this other boy, also nine years old, called Schmuell, wearing striped pyjamas. During Bruno’s stay at the countryside he gets to know Shmuel more and more and they become best friends.

Bruno is really our typical nine year-old; he loves to play with his friends and he loves adventure stories. During the book, the reader gets to know Bruno very well and how naive he is. Although Bruno observes what is going on around him, with his father (who is a commandant at the nearby prison camp -Auschwitz, Out-with called by Bruno, where Shmuel is staying) and the soldiers around his home, he doesn’t really understand what’s going on and what it all means. And that’s just the facinating thing about this book; it is so disturbing that Bruno really has no clue what is going on, while, for the reader, it’s cristalclear; Shmuel is jewish and has to work at this concentrationcamp, while Bruno has a beautiful life with his family.
It’s great to see the similarities between Bruno & Shmuel and how these things blossom into a great friendship; both naive and both interested in the same things.

This story, about two boys who are (in the eyes of Hitler) so different but at the same time so much the same has reached people all around the world (for example this fan, who made a whole blog about Bruno). In 2008, director Mark Herman made it into a movie, with Bruno played by Asa Butterfield. Of course, most of the people think the book is better than the movie and that is really what John Boyne wants. The movie is a tribute to the book and not really a separate product.(for exemple;Bruno’s parents are named Ralf and Elsa, but in the credits of the film they are listed as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. This is a tribute to the novel, in which the narrative focuses solely on Bruno’s point of view).

This is a book everyone should read. Not only because it is such a beautiful story, but because it is written in such a different way. It is easy to read (what would you expect from a nine yeal-old boy), but at the same time it is difficult to read; all the things that happen are horrifying and Bruno doesn’t even know. What keeps the reader interested is that Boyne stays so close to Bruno’s nature and the book doesn’t result into terrible details of the holocaust and the prison camps.

Nevertheless, I loved reading the book. But do not read the end in public; tearsdrops will result into a waterfall falling of you nose.

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Clay of my Clay, thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not die!

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Feet of Clay, a book written by Terry Pratchett. Its genre is Fantasy and it consists of sharp and satiric humour combined with stunning mysteries and crimes waiting to be solved. Feet of Clay is the 19th discworld novel. The story follows the members of the city Watch especially Commander Vimes. Sam Vimes is Pratchett’s hero in this book.  He dislikes all the other races such as: trolls, dwarfs, werewolfs and vampires, especially vampires. According to him they’re not alive but not just dead enough. But he doesn’t judge them on what they are but on who they are. Therefore it’s really amusing reading about his wails concerning everything and everywhere but still finds a way to live with it and pointing out the good in people.

The story is about a golem serial killer, a poisoned patrician, a werewolf’s problems and a feministic dwarf with lipstick and a beard?  Of course Vimes is trying to solve a murder case and sergeant Nobby Nobbs gets a royal title.

Vimes is the commander of the Ankh-Morpork city watch. And he is married to his job, he has a wife but she seems less important. A priest has been murdered and the killer must be found. Pratchett takes you through an amazing story with hilarious dialogues and startling mysteries. For instance the way pratchett gives his characters different ways of speaking by writing the words how they would pronounce it: “Buggrit buggrit I told’em, stand it up and pull the end orf? I told’em sez I, and would they poke”

This book is a page-turner and with every page turned comes a chuckle. For example, the golem dorfl puts a chicken on his head. Then the chicken lays an egg. At last dorfl smashes this egg onto the head of his former master. This made me chuckle. Also captain Detritus, a troll, made me chuckle several times. Because he had only three questions he only asked to his suspects:

“Did you do it?”

“Are you sure it wasn’t you who dunnit?”

“It was you who dunnit wasn’t you?”

The golems in the book are lifeless magical creatures formed by clay in a human shape with triangle red glowing eyes. They are based on the Jewish Golem which was also made of clay and having a shem. A shem is a note that contains magical words inside a golems head to make them alive. But the golems are bound to the words. The golems are also a form of artificial intelligence. Because they work like machines, they don’t have to eat and they don’t have to sleep. They can work twenty-four hours a day for every day of its consistence.

But there’s one thing that separates Pratchett from the “other” fantasy writers. He writes about the issues we experience, sexism racism and political corruption, and describes them using the Discworld, with a lot of sublety. According to me that’s why this book is a great pleasure to read. Also Feet of Clay makes you think about morality and the workings of the world. There’s only one thing that bothered me and that is the fact that every five pages ends in a cliff-hanger and continues in another story. But it forces you to read the book without stopping.

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