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2019 TOB Shortlist Books > Call Me Zebra

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Let's talk about it...


message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen Brown (khbrown) | 54 comments Has anyone else read this? After listening to the author on Brad Listi's Other People podcast, my appreciation of the book increased. I did find myself pushing through to finish....


message 3: by Janet (new)

Janet (justjanet) | 635 comments Karen wrote: "Has anyone else read this? After listening to the author on Brad Listi's Other People podcast, my appreciation of the book increased. I did find myself pushing through to finish...."

Karen,
I plan to read it....thanks for the heads up about the podcast...I will check it out.


message 4: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 104 comments I'm 34 pages in and really struggling. I'm not sure if it was the author's intent for me to hate the main character. If it was, mission accomplished. I'm going to try the podcast Karen referenced to see if it helps me power through.


message 5: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 104 comments I listened to the podcast and read 10 more pages. This is going to the bottom of the pile. If I read all the other shortlisted books, I might pick this back up. The podcast didn't help me enjoy the book anymore, it just made me dislike the author on a personal level.

The book is so pretentious it hurts.


message 6: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments Karen wrote: "Has anyone else read this? After listening to the author on Brad Listi's Other People podcast, my appreciation of the book increased. I did find myself pushing through to finish...."

I am an Other People listener too and heard this podcast I think after I read the book but maybe before. The novel is not for everyone I am sure, but I loved it for the way she goes so deeply into literature and I did not hate the main character. I thought she was so interesting, her history and the way she processed her grief.


message 7: by Heather (new)

Heather (hlynhart) | 305 comments I finished it, but it was definitely a struggle. However, there were little bits of humor peppered throughout the absurdity that kept it from being a purely negative reading experience.


message 8: by Karen (new)

Karen Brown (khbrown) | 54 comments I was immediately drawn in by the main character”s early life in Iran and the traumatic experience fleeing the country during the Iraq/Iran war.(will I ever look at a date tree the same way?) In NYC, she then experiences the trauma of the death of her only remaining parent, her father. I experienced a bit of a slog to continue. But, I began to view the main character as a victim of trauma and grief and recognized similarities with Don Quixote and the main character of A Confederacy of Dunces all blended with the love of literature. This also pushed me on to finish the novel. Very interested in hearing judges weigh in on this book.


message 9: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments I thought at the start of chapter 1 that I was going to like it (the prologue tested my resolve!) but then...

I may go back and try to finish it, but so far I'm not compelled.


message 10: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 61 comments I just finished this book and have mixed emotions. I had a strong dislike for the main character despite trying hard to sympathize with her plight but I was also intrigued enough by the story to continue.

It was definitely my least favorite of the ones I've read so far and I will be very interested to see what is said about this one during the tournament.


message 11: by Charlie (new)

Charlie | 3 comments I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to the Don Quixote narrative that wraps in the current refugee crisis without making it a feel-good humanist project. It's prickly! I don't think Don Quixote would necessarily be seen as a 'likeable' character either.

I think Van der Vliet Oloomi is really successful in her dialogue with the larger tapestry of literature, and I think Zebra is wonderfully cantankerous in a way we don't often allow female characters. The romantic elements of her story are definitely a bit, uh, dire, but not in a way that doesn't accurately reflect some of the knottier relationships we've experienced or witnesed in real life. It's definitely my favorite of the books I've read in the tournament so far,.


message 12: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments Charlie wrote: "I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to the Don Quixote narrative that wra..."

I am with you Charlie!


message 13: by Heather (new)

Heather (hlynhart) | 305 comments Charlie wrote: "I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to the Don Quixote narrative that wra..."

I will say that although I struggled to finish this, I really liked the protagonist too...an angry young female who has lost everyone she loves and is obsessed with literature? Yes please.


message 14: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1060 comments I bailed on this last night at about the halfway mark. I'm still feeling guilty because I almost never quit on a book, but I just don't seem to have the concentration to read this book quickly, and my TBR is calling to me. I like reading about exile and immigration, and I enjoy the occasional unlikable protagonist. But Zebra just seems rude and even cruel, and I'm over her.

I'm doing a couple brain candy books to recover my equilibrium, and then will jump into my last two TOB titles: My Sister and America Is Not.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 604 comments Y'all. I'm trying to read Call Me Zebra in audio (it's in RB Digital free from my library) but three complaints so far:

1. The narrator voice is obnoxious, as in forceful and unlikeable (where in I use "voice" to mean the character itself)... I am not rooting for her as a "love to hate" character either, as she is mostly pretentious.
2. The narrator's voice is obnoxious, she sounds like Jan from The Office, and not in a good way
3. The author uses "lacuna" three times in the prologue, at least it sounds like it, maybe once as an adjective, and it's already showed up again in chapter 1. I mean really?!

The description of the book makes it sounds like it ends up in a sordid love story. Should I wait it out? Is it worth it? My heart says bail.


message 16: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 61 comments Jenny, I expect the narrator’s voice is intentional since Zebra is extremely obnoxious. Now I’m curious to hear whether it matches how I picture her voice. I was able to find some sympathy for Zebra but it was a challenge.

Funny you mention the use of lacuna since it annoyed me as well.


message 17: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Y'all. I'm trying to read Call Me Zebra in audio (it's in RB Digital free from my library) but three complaints so far:

1. The narrator voice is obnoxious, as in forceful and unlik..."


She does manage to redeem herself and overcome her trauma by the end if you can stick it out.


message 18: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 10, 2019 08:26PM) (new)

Elizabeth | 10 comments Charlie wrote: "I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to the Don Quixote narrative that wra..."

I really should finish Don Quixote some day. I left it off after the first half, I think. Anyway, I did not enjoy Call Me Zebra as much as you, and felt a bit more like the rest. I had nearly stopped reading it, several times, but since it was my first ToB book, I didn't want to.

But I am a bit curious about it.

For example, I wasn't sure I understood the part toward the end when Zebra gathered a bunch of people from around the neighborhood to meet up regularly and to eventually trek up the mountain. I had a hard time understanding why anyone would willingly go along with it ... the problem I had with it was that it felt contrived, because no one would agree to attend any of her meetings? And it was in the book because it was supposed to lead to a turning point -- toward the end of that part, she lost her chest and other things she had been carrying with her when the car was lost in the water. Is there a bit of Don Quixote-ness in this section of the book?

At first I had a hard time picturing Zebra in real life. But maybe she is a little like Gaby Hoffman's character in Girls, Caroline Sackler? She is completely bats, but there is still charisma there.

I agree with you that there aren't enough women characters like Zebra who are allowed to behave aggressively and badly. That is a big pro to the characterization. I felt somewhat the same way about Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen.

Definitely another pro of the book is that Van der Vliet Oloomi can really write. She has so much wit, and it felt original and there was depth to it. I almost wished she'd stuck to something more down to earth, something with less of the whimsical or picaresque or dada?

It was definitely an interesting experience (although I felt bored a lot, due to the plot) ... I now have a list of authors to read, including Dali who I had not realized wrote things too. And I read up on Spain -- had no idea of the history and politics whatsoever.


message 19: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1060 comments In case this book inspires anyone to read Don Quixote, I want to enthusiastically recommend the Edith Grossman translation read by George Guidall. It is monumental...40 hours long, and so immersive it takes a bit of time to reorient yourself to reality once it’s over.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 604 comments So basically this is a retelling of Don Quixote? I don't think I even would have tried it had I known. It is exceedingly rare that a retelling works for me, but it's always worse when I'm not very familiar with the source material ... It takes a fine writer indeed to make a new character and a new setting make the same plot points sensical. I didn't care for Home Fire for the same reason - I was completely into one of the characters and was so confused by the direction the story took and how some opportunities weren't followed - it wasn't until I finished it that I found out it was a myth retelling. The shoe horning just doesn't work for me, but I can understand why people super into DQ would be excited about it.


message 21: by Charlie (new)

Charlie | 3 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Charlie wrote: "I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to the Don Quixote na..."

I think there is definitely a fair amount of Quixote in that section, but it's been almost a year since I read Call Me Zebra and much longer than that since I've picked up Cervantes, so I don't know if I could draw direct connections. I think it's a very Quixotic trait to be able to curry attention and following in a goal that is self-evidently and comically doomed to haplessness. I'll have to ring up my Quixote scholar friends to get a better answer though.

I also want to note the Kathy Acker Don Quixote, which comes up a lot in the text too. I don't have much to say about it since it is one of the Ackers I haven't read yet, but it does lay out the precedent for a feminist reimagining of the narrative. If anyone has read it and wants to chime in, I would greatly appreciate it.

To respond to Jenny above, I don't think Zebra is a template retelling of Don Quixote in the slightest. I think that is one of the foremost referents for the character and mood of the novel, but I don't think it's necessarily trying to recreate Cervantes in a more literal way than that. What I appreciate with Call Me Zebra that I think is missing from a lot of other contemporary novels is its willingness to allude and build on a whole wealth of literary references without sweating it too hard, and either making itself into a strict one-for-one book-length reinterpretation of one piece of literature, or allude to a type of literature without engaging with it meaningfully. Something like A Terrible Country, for example, (which I liked but didn't love) seems designed to be appealing for people who like Russian literature/culture, but it doesn't really incorporate any classic Russian literature into itself in an enriching way, so it becomes your average non-experimental humanist American novel, just set in the trappings of Russia.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 604 comments Charlie wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "Charlie wrote: "I'm kinda disappointed in the lukewarm response to Call Me Zebra so far, so I'm going to stake out my claim for it here. I think it is a smart and funny update to ..."

I appreciate this clarification, thank you. I did get to the Kathy Acker mention and once again felt regret that I haven't gotten to her yet. I hadn't heard of her until I was in Red Emma's in Baltimore, bought a book from her, and it has lingered on my shelf....


message 23: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments I have checked this book out three times from the library and could not finish the first chapter. Perhaps I will try it again, but everyone's reviews have not convinced me to read it.


message 24: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Sund | 27 comments My library only has Call Me Zebra as an audio book. I started listening to it in the car with really low expectations yesterday but I could not stop smiling. The delivery is great and I love these ridiculous characters. My guess is it is not as funny in the written version.

This audio book seems to have just one narrator, but it also mentioned a director in the beginning. Does that explain why audio books are suddenly so good?


message 25: by Drew (new)

Drew (drewlynn) | 416 comments I'm only about 1/3 of the way through CMZ and usually don't read the discussions until I'm through but I'm finding it a bit of a slog and was looking for some moral support. I find I have to fight my urge to go back and reread sentences to make sure I got everything. There's always at least one ToB title that's a little over my head and I guess this fits that category. I will soldier on, though.

Am I the only one who keeps pronouncing "Zebra" in my head the British way, with a short e?


message 26: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1060 comments Drew wrote: "Am I the only one who keeps pronouncing "Zebra" in my head the British way, with a short e? ..."

You're not alone, Drew. I sort of figured it would be pronounced that way because of her country of origin and also her having lived in England. My brain also decided it should use that sound for Hero in America Is Not the Heart. :-)


message 27: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 451 comments I’m 60 pages in and I’m finding the writing turgid and smug. I didn’t give up on Savage Theories last year and I’ll finish this one but I’m not hopeful.

It doesn’t help that I’m also reading Milkman, a novel with a bright, innovative writing style.


message 28: by Saya (new)

Saya (motheroftherevolution) | 42 comments Ahhh, Savage Theories! A book I wish I could purge from my brain. I see similarities between the two books. In fact, I looked up my review of ST and I used the same word to describe CMZ - obnoxious.

I'm kind of at a loss for how this book made it in the Tournament. But I guess it's not the TOB unless they include one that makes me think - wtf is this?


message 29: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Sund | 27 comments I can totally see why everyone hates the written version, but the audio is so funny! I kept it on with my husband and daughter in the car this weekend and we could not stop giggling. Call Me Zebra is quickly becoming one of my favorite books of all time.

I'm glad the TOB always has such a wide variety of books because I find something surprising every year that I never would have read otherwise.


message 30: by Nadine - California (last edited Jan 22, 2019 09:13AM) (new)

Nadine - California (nadinekc) | 550 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I can totally see why everyone hates the written version, but the audio is so funny! I kept it on with my husband and daughter in the car this weekend and we could not stop giggling. Call Me Zebra ..."

The mental picture of the three of you giggling in the car may have won me over on this book. Maybe it's because 'giggle' is my favorite word in the english language.


message 31: by C (last edited Jan 23, 2019 02:26PM) (new)

C | 513 comments I'm around 30 pages into Call Me Zebra and I really like it so far. I TRIED to get through Savage Theories last year and just couldn't as it just seemed impossible for me to understand. That might have been the only book I gave up on in ages, so it takes a lot for me to give up on a book. With some of you comparing the two (I would NOT compare the two), I expected another inaccessible book, but it's easier going than I thought it would be.
So far, it reminds me a little of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in that the character is supposed to be very smart, so if you're reading the book as overly complicated or some might even say pretentious, maybe it's just the way the character was supposed to be written. (even Savage Theories might have had this problem.) I mean... this girl was literally born in a library and her dad had her memorizing books from day one. It's really not her fault. Or maybe I just feel bad as I was one of the people who said this book sounded interesting last year, so maybe I made you guys read a book you don't like, when it was finally included in the ToB? So possibly I'm trying to excuse the book. We'll see when I'm more than 30 pages in. sigh.


message 32: by Dianne (new)

Dianne (derbyrock) | 3 comments I think I can count on one hand the number of books I have failed to finish in my lifetime. I’m compulsive about it. CMZ was one of them. I’m 72 years old, so it is a pretty elite list.


message 33: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 81 comments This was very hard to like and I didn't entirely succeed. I get the connection with Don Quixote, but for me Zebra reminded me more of Ignatius J Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces. I was not a huge fan of that book either.

Deranged egomania and neurotic self-delusion do not make for fun reading even if the author is trying to have fun. Like Zebra's acquaintances in the novel, I found her exhausting with little reward.


Nadine - California (nadinekc) | 550 comments Daniel wrote: "Deranged egomania and neurotic self-delusion do not make for fun reading.....

I get enough of that reading US newspapers these days.....


message 35: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 451 comments Daniel wrote: "Deranged egomania and neurotic self-delusion do not make for fun reading even if the author is trying to have fun...

Yeah, I'm really struggling with this. I can theoretically see the humor in a deluded, narcissistic person thinking they're all that, but it would be really nice if she starts to develop some self-awareness soon and grows as a person. I'm a hundred pages in and feel that the author has sufficiently established that Zebra is terrible.


message 36: by C (last edited Jan 31, 2019 07:05PM) (new)

C | 513 comments I'm almost toward the end of Call Me Zebra, and I'm sorry guys.... but I think I really like this book. Sure, Zebra is annoying, but she has been through some S*&+. I give the girl a pass. This girl uses literature as her shield against the world, and I'd think readers could at least like that aspect of the book?

I wish some of you would explain why you didn't like it/gave up? No judgement, just interested. And if you liked or hated similar books with intentionally irritating characters? For example, I didn't read Stephen Florida but it sounded like people liked it, and the character was also not the best.

Edited to add: or save your explanations until the ToB, that's fine too. I'm just sad this book has been given up on.


message 37: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 104 comments C you don't need to apologize for liking a book that most people find horrible. I didn't enjoy the book because reading it felt like the equivalent of being talked down to by a teenager who knows less about the world than you, but thinks they know everything.


message 38: by C (last edited Feb 05, 2019 11:23AM) (new)

C | 513 comments Tristan wrote: "C you don't need to apologize for liking a book that most people find horrible. I didn't enjoy the book because reading it felt like the equivalent of being talked down to by a teenager who knows l..."

Yeah, but I think that is the point of Zebra to begin with? She has been force fed books her entire life. It's all she knows. She memorizes books and says that 99.9% of people definitely are not doing that.
I will definitely be seeking out interviews from the writer when I'm done reading the book, but I was thinking how tough it would be for a newer writer, who doesn't have too many other books out, to write an arrogant pretentious character. If it's a first book I'm reading from the writer, I'm questioning if this is the writer or the character (though the writer has another book out that I know nothing about 'Fra Keeler'). If a writer has more books out, then the fifth book can be about an unlikable character and as a reader, I'm not trying to distinguish between the WRITER vs.CHARACTER as much... if that makes sense. If I were a writer, I'd think it was a very risky move for my first book to have such unlikable characters. Maybe not my fifth book.
There is a part in the book Ludo asks Zebra "how have you been?" and Zebra realizes no one has asked her this before. It's entirely heartbreaking but also says so much about how she became who she is. And I find examples like this all through the book.


message 39: by Nadine - California (last edited Jan 31, 2019 09:44PM) (new)

Nadine - California (nadinekc) | 550 comments C wrote: "Tristan wrote: "I didn't enjoy the book because reading it felt like the equivalent of being talked down to by a teen..."

Yeah, but I think that is the point of Zebra to begin with? She has been force fed books her entire life. It's all she knows. She memorizes books and says that 99.9% of people definitely are not doing that.


C, you're really making me want to read this book! I hope the ToB judge does as interesting an analysis.....

I think I knew someone like Zebra in college - she drove me nuts at first, but then I got to like her - she was an acquired taste ;)


message 40: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Sund | 27 comments Zebra reminds me a lot of Stephen Florida, which I also loved. I would like the two characters to meet on a street corner, him in his gorilla mask, Zebra in her gas mask. They could try spitting on each other while saying cryptic things about literature and wrestling.

I connect with these two characters because they are true to themselves. Zebra and Stephen are f-ed up, just like the rest of us.


message 41: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 451 comments While both Stephen Florida and Zebra are deeply disturbed and not very sympathetic characters, Habash's writing was fresh and open and lively, while the writing in CMZ is turgid and overwrought. There's no inner heart to Zebra.


message 42: by Heather (new)

Heather (hlynhart) | 305 comments Alison wrote: "While both Stephen Florida and Zebra are deeply disturbed and not very sympathetic characters, Habash's writing was fresh and open and lively, while the writing in CMZ is turgid and overwrought. Th..."

I feel the opposite of this. I really didn't like Stephen Florida, because not only was he an unpleasant character, I also didn't think the writing was anything particularly special.

Whereas I really did like the writing in Zebra, and laughed out loud much more than I did with Stephen Florida. And I also felt a lot of sympathy for the main character who was clearly grieving in her own HIGHLY unusual way. However, I ultimately can't say I really enjoyed reading either book.


message 43: by C (new)

C | 513 comments Nadine wrote: "C wrote: "Tristan wrote: "I didn't enjoy the book because reading it felt like the equivalent of being talked down to by a teen..."

Yeah, but I think that is the point of Zebra to begin with? She ..."


Why thank you, Nadine. I'm humbled you like my analysis. I also don't want to over hype Zebra. It's not the best book I've ever read, but it's also not the worst book. I just want Zebra to get a fair chance. It's not like Savage Theories where I could find things to like about the book (the small bit I did read), but couldn't finish it because I knew it was WAY over my head anyway, as a whole.

Alison - I see what you're saying. I'm not rereading sentences over and over again like I was with Overstory or Dictionary of Animal Languages, but without Zebra's unique perspective, the book would be worse.

Heather - thanks for having a little bit of support for Zebra!


message 44: by Ruthiella (new)

Ruthiella | 340 comments Karen wrote: " ...recognized similarities with Don Quixote and the main character of A Confederacy of Dunces..."

I also thought of Ignatius C. Reilly while reading this book Karen!


message 45: by C (new)

C | 513 comments I finally finished Call Me Zebra and I think I love it. I can give Zebra a pass for being a know-it-all. So many things that Zebra says, I can relate to. I love my books about solitude and I think this is one of them. I also found out I'm the same age as the writer, so that usually helps me fit with a book. (This happened with the main character in The Animators last year.) The first sentence might be the most pretentious of the book. I think if the writer had toned down the arrogance of Zebra in the beginning, more readers would have stuck around. But the book explains why she is this way. (Believe me, arrogance is one thing I can not deal with, in real life and in books...) I read all the interviews I could find and I think the writer 1,000% nailed what she was trying to do. It's not a perfect book, but I can see the heart that this required. It's also an exaggeration of the writer's life. I hope to see it win over Warlight (which I haven't read, but I'm not hearing much enthusiasm.) Review to come soon.


message 46: by Ruthiella (last edited Feb 05, 2019 01:51PM) (new)

Ruthiella | 340 comments C wrote: "I finally finished Call Me Zebra and I think I love it. I can give Zebra a pass for being a know-it-all. So many things that Zebra says, I can relate to. I love my books about solitude and I think ..."

My Name is Zebra was not my favorite, but I think it does get better or rather clearer as to what she is doing with the character and why as one reads on. I agree that Oloomie totally could have written a more palatable version that would have appealed to more readers but that was not her agenda. It is clear to me she is very talented.


message 47: by C (new)

C | 513 comments Ruthiella wrote: "C wrote: "I finally finished Call Me Zebra and I think I love it. I can give Zebra a pass for being a know-it-all. So many things that Zebra says, I can relate to. I love my books about solitude an..."

100% agree with you, Ruthiella!


message 48: by Ehrrin (new)

Ehrrin | 114 comments I'm at the halfway mark, and I'm throwing in the towel. I almost never quit a book, but I just really can't stand it a moment more. It does remind me of Confederacy of Dunces, which I also do not like. But I loved Stephen Florida!

I get what the author is trying to do, but I feel annoyed every moment of reading it, and I'm trying to embrace the Nancy Pearl rule. I kept trying to like it, but meh. And I don't mind an unlikeable character at all! (The Secret History is exclusively unlikeable characters, and it's one of my favorites!) Zebra is making me dread reading, and so I have to DNF it.

And just when I thought I was going to at least like (vs love or really like) everything on this year's list.

Three more to go...
Parking Lot Attendant, America is Not the Heart, and A Terrible Country


message 49: by Alison (new)

Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 451 comments Ehrrin wrote: "Zebra is making me dread reading..."

I felt the same way, but I managed to drag myself through the whole thing. I kept waiting for the character development. There was none. I didn't buy her supposed shift at the end.

I'm hoping that some time away from this book will cause me to mellow in my assessment of it. I disliked this one more than Savage Theories.


message 50: by C (new)

C | 513 comments Alison wrote: "Ehrrin wrote: "Zebra is making me dread reading..."

I felt the same way, but I managed to drag myself through the whole thing. I kept waiting for the character development. There was none. I didn'..."


But I thought maybe part of the point of the book is that some "characters" can't/won't develop... at least in the short amount of time the book takes place in Zebra's life that is shown here. In an interview, the writer said there was a few hundred more pages of Zebra's story. And I think that would be.... a bit much for anyone.


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