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Literary Nonfiction

Factual stories told in fascinating style.

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Magdalena

- by Wade Davis

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From the award-winning, bestselling author and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence for more than a decade, a book that brings vividly to life the story of the great Río Magdalena--illuminating Colombia's complex past, present, and future

Travelers often become enchanted with the first country that captures their hearts and gives them license to be free. For Wade Davis, it was Colombia. Now Davis shares his travels on the mighty Magdalena, the river that made possible the nation. Along the way, he finds a people who have overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, informed by an enduring spirit of place, and a deep love of a land that is home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach verdant Andean valleys rising to soaring ice-clad summits.

Both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry and prayer, the Magdalena has served in dark times as the graveyard of the nation. And yet, always, it returns as a river of life. At once an absorbing adventure and an inspiring tale of hope and redemption, Magdalena gives us a rare, kaleidoscopic picture of a nation on the verge of a new period of peace. Braiding together memoir, history, and journalism, Wade Davis tells the story of the country's most magnificent river, and in doing so, tells the epic story of Colombia.

The Book of Eels

- by Patrik Svensson

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Los Angeles Times Bestseller

IndieBound Bestseller

One of USA Today's "5 Books Not to Miss"

One of Forbes' "Best Summer Reads" One of the LA Times' "21 New and Classic Books to Keep You in Touch with the Natural World"

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an OctopusThe Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world's most elusive fish--the eel--and a reflection on the human condition

Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the "eel question": Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth, and we still don't understand what drives them, after living for decades in freshwater, to swim great distances back to the ocean at the end of their lives. They remain a mystery.

Drawing on a breadth of research about eels in literature, history, and modern marine biology, as well as his own experience fishing for eels with his father, Patrik Svensson crafts a mesmerizing portrait of an unusual, utterly misunderstood, and completely captivating animal. In The Book of Eels, we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel's point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early twentieth century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea.

Blending memoir and nature writing at its best, Svensson's journey to understand the eel becomes an exploration of the human condition that delves into overarching issues about our roots and destiny, both as humans and as animals, and, ultimately, how to handle the biggest question of all: death. The result is a gripping and slippery narrative that will surprise and enchant.

The Hard Crowd

- by Rachel Kushner

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From a writer celebrated for her "chops, ambition, and killer instinct" (John Powers, Fresh Air), a career-spanning collection of spectacular essays about politics and culture.

Rachel Kushner has established herself as "the most vital and interesting American novelist working today" (Michael Lindgren, The Millions) and as a master of the essay form. In The Hard Crowd, she gathers a selection of her writing from over the course of the last twenty years that addresses the most pressing political, artistic, and cultural issues of our times--and illuminates the themes and real-life terrain that underpin her fiction.

In nineteen razor-sharp essays, The Hard Crowd spans literary journalism, memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about art and literature, including pieces on Jeff Koons, Denis Johnson, and Marguerite Duras. Kushner takes us on a journey through a Palestinian refugee camp, an illegal motorcycle race down the Baja Peninsula, 1970s wildcat strikes in Fiat factories, her love of classic cars, and her young life in the music scene of her hometown, San Francisco. The closing, eponymous essay is her manifesto on nostalgia, doom, and writing.

These pieces, new and old, are electric, phosphorescently vivid, and wry, and they provide an opportunity to witness the evolution and range of one of our most dazzling and fearless writers. "Kushner writes with startling detail, imagination, and gallows humor," said Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly, and, from Paula McLain in the Wall Street Journal: "The authority and precision of Kushner's writing is impressive, but it's the gorgeous ferocity that will stick with me."

"[Kushner] seems to work with a muse and a nail gun, so surprisingly yet forcefully do her sentences pin reality to the page." --Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine

"Kushner can really write. Her prose has a poise and wariness and moral graininess that puts you in mind of Robert Stone and Joan Didion." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times

On Time and Water

- by Andri Snae Magnason

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Finalist for the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize Asked by a leading climate scientist why he wasn't writing about the greatest crisis mankind has faced, Andri Snær Magnason, one of Iceland's most beloved writers and public intellectuals, protested: he wasn't a specialist, he said. It wasn't his field. But the scientist persisted: "If you cannot understand our scientific findings and present them in an emotional, psychological, poetic or mythological context," he told him, "then no one will really understand the issue, and the world will end." Based on interviews and advice from leading glacial, ocean, climate, and geographical scientists, and interwoven with personal, historical, and mythological stories, Magnason's resulting response is a rich and compelling work of narrative nonfiction that illustrates the reality of climate change and offers hope in the face of an uncertain future. Moving from reflections on how one writes an obituary for a glacier to exhortation for a heightened understanding of human time and our obligations to one another, throughout history and across the globe, On Time and Water is both deeply personal and globally minded: a travel story, a world history, a desperate plea to live in harmony with future generations--and is unlike anything that has yet been published on the current climate emergency.

Recollections of My Nonexistence

- by Rebecca Solnit

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Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography
Longlisted for The Orwell Prize for Political Writing

An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent


In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas. She tells of being poor, hopeful, and adrift in the city that became her great teacher, and of the small apartment that, when she was nineteen, became the home in which she transformed herself. She explores the forces that liberated her as a person and as a writer--books themselves; the gay community that presented a new model of what else gender, family, and joy could mean; and her eventual arrival in the spacious landscapes and overlooked conflicts of the American West.

Beyond being a memoir, Solnit's book is also a passionate argument: that women are not just impacted by personal experience, but by membership in a society where violence against women pervades. Looking back, she describes how she came to recognize that her own experiences of harassment and menace were inseparable from the systemic problem of who has a voice, or rather who is heard and respected and who is silenced--and how she was galvanized to use her own voice for change.

Hidden Valley Road

- by Robert Kolker

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OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
GLOBE AND MAIL and TORONTO STAR BESTSELLER

"Hidden Valley Road is a riveting true story of an American family that reads like a medical detective journey and sheds light on a topic so many of us face: mental illness." --Oprah Winfrey


The heartrending story of a mid-century American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand--even cure--the disease.
     Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the dream. After World War II, Don's work with the US Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years there was an established script for a family like the Galvins--aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony--and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen in one family?
     What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their shocking story also offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy and the premise of the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. Unknown to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment and even the possibility of the eradication of the disease for future generations.
     With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope.

Ice Walker

- by James Raffan

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From bestselling author James Raffan comes an enlightening and original story about a polar bear's precarious existence in the changing Arctic, reminiscent of John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce.

Nanurjuk, "the bear-spirited one," is hunting for seals on Hudson Bay, where ice never lasts more than one season. For her and her young, everything is in flux.

From the top of the world, Hudson Bay looks like an enormous paw print on the torso of the continent, and through a vast network of lakes and rivers, this bay connects to oceans across the globe. Here, at the heart of everything, walks Nanurjuk, or Nanu, one polar bear among the six thousand that traverse the 1.23 million square kilometers of ice and snow covering the bay.

For millennia, Nanu's ancestors have roamed this great expanse, living, evolving, and surviving alongside human beings in one of the most challenging and unforgiving habitats on earth. But that world is changing. In the Arctic's lands and waters, oil has been extracted--and spilled. As global temperatures have risen, the sea ice that Nanu and her young need to hunt seal and fish has melted, forcing them to wait on land where the delicate balance between them and their two-legged neighbors has now shifted.

This is the icescape that author and geographer James Raffan invites us to inhabit in Ice Walker. In precise and provocative prose, he brings readers inside Nanu's world as she treks uncertainly around the heart of Hudson Bay, searching for nourishment for the children that grow inside her. She stops at nothing to protect her cubs from the dangers she can see--other bears, wolves, whales, human beings--and those she cannot.

By focusing his lens on this bear family, Raffan closes the gap between humans and bears, showing us how, like the water of the Hudson Bay, our existence--and our future--is tied to Nanu's. He asks us to consider what might be done about this fragile world before it is gone for good. Masterful, vivid, and haunting, Ice Walker is an utterly unique piece of creative nonfiction and a deeply affecting call to action.

Underland

- by Robert Macfarlane

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A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

WINNER OF THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2019
WINNER OF THE STANFORD DOLMAN TRAVEL BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD 2020
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING 2020

'You'd be crazy not to read this book' The Sunday Times

A Guardian Best Book of the 21st Century

The highly anticipated new book from the internationally bestselling, prize-winning author of Landmarks, The Lost Words and The Old Ways

Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet...

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland's glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet's past and future.

Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane's long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2020


'Underland is a magnificent feat of writing, travelling and thinking that feels genuinely frontier pushing, unsettling and exploratory' Evening Standard

'Marvellous... Neverending curiosity, generosity of spirit, erudition, bravery and clarity... This is a book well worth reading' The Times

'Extraordinary... at once learned and readable, thrilling and beautifully written' Observer

Wagnerism

- by Alex Ross

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Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics--an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence.

For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil.

In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner's many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now.

In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

Breaking Bread with the Dead

- by Alan Jacobs

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From the author of HOW TO THINK and THE PLEASURES OF READING IN AN AGE OF DISTRACTION, a literary guide to engaging with the voices of the past to stay sane in the present

W. H. Auden once wrote that "art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead." In his brilliant and compulsively readable new treatise, Breaking Bread with the Dead, Alan Jacobs shows us that engaging with the strange and wonderful writings of the past might help us live less anxiously in the present--and increase what Thomas Pynchon once called our "personal density."

Today we are battling too much information in a society changing at lightning speed, with algorithms aimed at shaping our every thought--plus a sense that history offers no resources, only impediments to overcome or ignore. The modern solution to our problems is to surround ourselves only with what we know and what brings us instant comfort. Jacobs's answer is the opposite: to be in conversation with, and challenged by, those from the past who can tell us what we never thought we needed to know.

What can Homer teach us about force? How does Frederick Douglass deal with the massive blind spots of America's Founding Fathers? And what can we learn from modern authors who engage passionately and profoundly with the past? How can Ursula K. Le Guin show us truths about Virgil's female characters that Virgil himself could never have seen? In Breaking Bread with the Dead, a gifted scholar draws us into close and sympathetic engagement with texts from across the ages, including the work of Anita Desai, Henrik Ibsen, Jean Rhys, Simone Weil, Edith Wharton, Amitav Ghosh, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Italo Calvino, and many more.

By hearing the voices of the past, we can expand our consciousness, our sympathies, and our wisdom far beyond what our present moment can offer.

Vesper Flights

- by Helen Macdonald

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

From the bestselling author of H is for Hawk, a brilliant and insightful work about our relationship to the natural world


Our world is a fascinating place, teeming not only with natural wonders that defy description, but complex interactions that create layers of meaning. Helen Macdonald is gifted with a special lens that seems to peer right through it all, and she shares her insights--at times startling, nostalgic, weighty, or simply entertaining--in this masterful collection of essays.

From reflections on science fiction to the true story of an Iranian refugee's flight to the UK, Macdonald has a truly omnivorous taste when it comes to observations of both the banal and sublime. Peppered throughout are reminisces of her own life, from her strange childhood in an estate owned by the Theosophical Society to watching total eclipses of the sun, visits to Uzbek solar power plants, eccentric English country shows, and desert hunting camps in the Gulf States.

These essays move from personal experiences into wider meditations about love and loss and how we build the world around us. Whether more journalistic in tone, or literary--even formally experimental--each piece is generous, lyrical, and speaks to one another. Macdonald creates a strong thematic undertow that quietly takes the reader along piece to piece and sets them down, finally, at a place they've never been before.

This Is Not the End of Me

- by D. Bascaramurty

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A BEST BOOK OF 2020
CBC - The Best Canadian Nonfiction of 2020
The Globe and Mail's Globe 100: Our Favourite Books of 2020
Chatelaine's 10 Best Books of 2020
The Walrus's Favourite Books of 2020


For readers of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Will Schwalbe, the moving, inspiring story of a young husband and father who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of thirty-three, sets out to build a legacy for his infant son.


i can't make you feel what it's like to be a young, dumb, naïve thirty-year-old sitting in the back of a walk-in clinic waiting to be handed what is essentially a death sentence any more than i can show you what it feels like to have a husband or father or child who's dying and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it. i can only describe to you how i feel today. angry. at peace. scared. grateful. a giant, spiky, flowering heart-shaped bouquet of contradictions.

Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor--then came a melanoma diagnosis. Cancer startled him out of his arrested development--he returned home to Halifax to work as a wedding photographer--and remission launched him into a new, passionate life as a husband and father-to-be. When the melanoma returned, now at Stage IV, Layton and his family put all their stock into a punishing alternative therapy, hoping for a cure. This Is Not the End of Me recounts Layton's three-year journey as he tried desperately to stay alive for his young son, Finn, and then found purpose in preparing Finn for a world without him.

With incredible intimacy, grit, and empathy, reporter Dakshana Bascaramurty casts an unsentimental eye on who her good friend was: his effervescence, his twisted wit, his anger, his vulnerability. Interweaving Layton's own reflections--his diaries written for Finn, his letters to his wife, Candace, and his public journal--she paints a keenly observed portrait of Layton's remarkable evolution. In detailing the ugly, surprising, and occasionally funny ways in which Layton and his family faced his mortality, the book offers an unflinching look at how a person dies, and how we might build a legacy in our information-saturated age.

Powerful and unvarnished, This is Not the End of Me is about someone who didn't get a very happy ending, but learned to squeeze as much life as possible from his final days.

Trick Mirror

- by Jia Tolentino

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER o "From The New Yorker's beloved cultural critic comes a bold, unflinching collection of essays about self-deception, examining everything from scammer culture to reality television."--Esquire
 
Book Club Pick for Now Read This, from PBS NewsHour and The New York Times "A whip-smart, challenging book."--Zadie Smith o "Jia Tolentino could be the Joan Didion of our time."--Vulture


FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE'S JOHN LEONARD PRIZE FOR BEST FIRST BOOK o NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY AND HARVARD CRIMSON AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review Time o Chicago TribuneThe Washington Post o NPR o VarietyEsquire o VoxElle Glamour o GQ o Good Housekeeping o The Paris ReviewPasteTown & Country BookPage o Kirkus ReviewsBookRiot o Shelf Awareness

Jia Tolentino is a peerless voice of her generation, tackling the conflicts, contradictions, and sea changes that define us and our time. Now, in this dazzling collection of nine entirely original essays, written with a rare combination of give and sharpness, wit and fearlessness, she delves into the forces that warp our vision, demonstrating an unparalleled stylistic potency and critical dexterity.

Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine's journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die. Gleaming with Tolentino's sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.

FINALIST FOR THE PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD FOR THE ART OF THE ESSAY

Intimations

- by Zadie Smith

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
One of O Magazine's "top 20 of 2020"
On TIME's 2020 "Must-Read" list


Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lock down, by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time


"There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those--the year isn't half-way done. What I've tried to do is organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity."

Crafted with the sharp intelligence, wit, and style that have won Zadie Smith millions of fans, and suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these unprecedented times, Intimations is a vital work of art, a gesture of connection, and an act of love--an essential book in extraordinary times.

Two Trees Make a Forest

- by Jessica J. Lee

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER
WINNER
of the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize
Shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021
One of The Globe and Mail's "100 favourite books of 2020"
On CBC's list of "the best Canadian nonfiction of 2020"

An exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir, rooted in the forests and flatlands of Taiwan from the winner of the RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writers

"Two Trees Make a Forest is a finely faceted meditation on memory, love, landscape--and finding a home in language. Its short, shining sections tilt yearningly toward one another; in form as well as content, this is a beautiful book about the distance between people and between places, and the means of their bridging." --Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she seeks his story while growing closer to the land he knew.
Lee hikes mountains home to Formosan flamecrests, birds found nowhere else on earth, and swims in a lake of drowned cedars. She bikes flatlands where spoonbills alight by fish farms, and learns about a tree whose fruit can float in the ocean for years, awaiting landfall. Throughout, Lee unearths surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family and their beloved island. Joyously attentive to the natural world, Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, relying on and often effacing the labor and knowledge of local communities.

Two Trees Make a Forest is a genre-shattering book encompassing history, travel, nature, and memoir, an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.

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