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Even More African Book Covers by Victor Ehikhamenor

A couple of years ago I did a post showcasing a few of the African book covers, Nigerian artist, photographer and writer Victor Ehikhamenor has designed over the years - more than 25 book covers he stated during an interview in 2013 - as well as Ehikhamenor's book cover design process.

Art work via victorehi.com
Well, since then I've noticed a few more covers he has designed, and because (probably sick of hearing this at this point) I love me some book covers, here's a look at them.







What are some of your favourite Victor Ehikhamenor book cover designs?
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Off to Kampala

In less than a week, I'll be boarding a flight and making my way to Entebbe, and then Kampala for the 2016 Writivism Festival. Celebrating its fourth year, Restoring Connections is the theme - connections between African writing in English and French, and I am sure other connections will be explored along the way. This will be my first time in Uganda. 




Last year had panels on Anglophone and Francophone Literature with my girl-crush Ndinda Kioko, Aaron Bady and Edwidge Gro; as well as on non-fiction with Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Ikhide Ikelola and Michela Wrong to name a couple. This year, there will be readings, workshops, book launches, key note speeches and more. At the Festival will be publishers, journalists, academics, authors, visual artists, bloggers, activists and more - from over 10 countries. I'll be there as a blog partner, as an observer, as a moderator, but more than that, I'll be there as an African book lover.

I'll be honest, I don't know what to expect; but I do know I am excited to be in Kampala, to be at Writivism - to see what the city and festival has to offer. I will, of course, be sharing as much as I can while I am there - taking tons of photos, chatting to as many people as  I can, tweeting where I can; and will share as much as I can here on the blog when I get back. 

So here's to literature, to African literature, to literary festivals and to Writivism. Uganda, here I come!!!!


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'The Game is Real!': Joanne Macgregor's 'Recoil'

It has been four years since the plague began - the rat fever launched by the terrorists. Back then it was spread through human suicide bombs. Today, the terrorists mostly use rats. Jinxy Emma James - twelve at the time - also lost her father, to a heart attack; and her mother became a shell of her former self. Now sixteen, Jinxy is an expert sniper in The Game. So good that she finally won it - after eighteen months of playing it; and will now be heading to PlayState for the ultimate prize - a real-life simulated sniper mission.  This eventually leads to an even more ultimate prize - selected to join the Advanced Skills Training Programme at the Advanced Specialised Training Academy (ASTA), and be part of the first ever elite sniper squad. 

I should mention that we are in the US - a futuristic, dystopian one divided into three sectors: the Northeast, the Mid-and-West and the South. I should also mention that everyone wears Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) - masks, gloves, respirators and the extreme ones, disposable PPE suits - protection from the rat fever. Additionally, after the plague children stopped going out (to be safe), except on designated special occasions a number of times a year, and The Game really took off. Finally, there are many different roles you can play in The Game: a sniper (like Jinxy), a spy, a code-breaker and intel agent or even Ops Management. There are, of course, more things I could mention; but here's one more thing - this is the brilliant and dark world that South African author, Joanne Macgregor has created in Recoil - the first part in The Recoil Trilogy

I loved this book! But to be honest, after reading two other books by Joanne Macgregor, I am such a fan of her writing, that I can't wait for part two in the trilogy. I also really truly believe Joanne Macgregor can write anything. Macgregor also writes really nuanced and real female characters. 

Jinxy is bad-ass. She is without a doubt the best sniper in her unit; she is determined; she is eager to learn; she doesn't see failing as an option; and she is not afraid to call out anyone who sexualises her, such as Bruce her squad member, constantly fixated with her looks- Jinxy has blond hair, blue eyes with a streak of blue in her hair. 

Enough about Jinxy's looks, the first ever elite squads job is extremely important - eliminate the dangerous rodents. Very important, as they are the ones that spread the fever, and cause the plague. And you don't want to be infected by these rats -trust me! With time, Jinxy gets promoted to even more special ops work - that's just how good she is! There is, however, a problem! Well, two! 

One - as good as a sniper Jinxy is, she really struggles to shoot the animal targets - the tangos (T for targets) - even if they may be deadly and are infecting (and eventually killing) people. As bad-ass as Jinxy is, a soft interior could be seen as a bad thing for an elite sniper squadSecond, is eighteen-year-old Quinn O'Riley - also selected to join ASTA's training programme. 

Ah Quinn! Hottie Quinn - with his darker hair and skin and Irish accent; with his 'lean face and strong jaw' - who Jinxy is instantly attracted to (and it seems the feeling is mutual). Questioning Quinn, who doesn't take things at face value. Selected for Intel division Quinn, who is morally opposed to ratters - snipers like Jinxy. This, particularly becomes a major problem after their six week ASTA training, and Quinn finds out what division Jinxy has been training for (people were unable to talk about their training with non-division members). How do these new, and young, lovers survive this difference in opinion on the importance of ratters? 

Recoil was an absolute joy and pleasure to read, and I was hooked from the first line. I was totally immersed into this world Joanne Magregor created, and I also found it believable - a plague that affected the world, the Government's response, setting up a special ops unit with young people, particularly having a young girl as a sniper - especially, when women are usually the last ones people would expect to be expertly trained snipers, and especially young ones. I honestly can't wait for part two - Refuse; and if you're a fan of dystopian YA, with a kick-ass female lead, then definitely give this a read.
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The Many Faces of Sunny: 'Akata Witch' Fan Art

I haven't kept it a secret on this blog, I love book covers and design and illustrations - so much so I spent last October (my dedicated Naija month) celebrating Nigerian book covers and illustrations. Well, with the forthcoming release of the UK edition of Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch (titled What Sunny Saw in the Flames), I wanted to celebrate the fan art I've stumbled across over the last couple of years celebrating the main character in the book - Sunny. 


 
The US, Nigerian and UK covers

When I first read Akata Witch, I found it to be such a refreshing book, especially for someone who grew up reading and loving YA fantasy like Harry Potter. I was 13 the summer my mum came home with the first 3 books in the series (back then I had no idea what a great journey I was in for) and I fell in love instantly. To follow Sunny's magical education and training was absolutely fun, and her mission - along with the other magicians in the quartet - had me geeking out on many levels. Similar to Nnedi Okorafor's other YA novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, as I read I knew that the 13-year-old me who was reading Harry Potter would have loved to have read Nnedi Okorofar's books at that age.

Another thing that stood out for me when reading Akata Witch was Okorafor's portrayal of Sunny, a young albino teenager, without adopting the negative stereotypes often associated with albinism in literature. Indeed, while there are many novels with characters with albinism in them (e.g. Silas in The Da Vinci Code - religious fanatic/assassin) the most common depiction is often that of myths, danger and terror, and of villainous people - the hitman, assassin, sociopath or crime boss. Within African literature, a few cases I can think of with albino characters briefly mentioned in the story includes Ben Okri's Famished Road, where spirit albinos are mentioned a couple of times. There's  also the albino wife that is brought home to the village in Buchi Emecheta's The Moonlight Bride.

Yet, here was Sunny:
'I'm albino and I've known it all my life ... My hair is still light yellow, my skin is still the colour of "sour milk", and my eyes are still light grey-green like God ran out of the right colour. And I still hate the sun, too.'
Although I have to say, since I read Akata Witch, another book that doesn't fall solely on negative stereotypes is Petina Gappah's The Book of Memory. It follows Memory, an albino woman convicted of murder and sentenced to death, who writes her memories and her emotional and physical experiences of being an outsider. Gappah who 'wanted to say something about race without really saying anything about race' has explained why she chose to write about an albino character.


Sunny, as Okorafor once explained in a post, was inspired by the nine-year-old daughter of one of her mother's friends, who she spent a week with when she visited Nigeria, who has:
' ... a wonderfully strong personality. And she happened to be albino. She was paler than most white people and had blonder hair, yet she was as Igbo and nappy-haired as anyone in her family. 
She loved to make jokes and one day she just went off on a diatribe about the discrimination she experiences in Nigeria because she was albino.  After that week, I knew I'd write about her. I'd been kicking around an idea about Nigerian kids and magic and she fit right into the story.'
And it's clear that fans of Nnedi Okorafor, and specifically Akata Witch, have resonated with Sunny - with a number of fan art it has inspired:


This one is from Danielle George who wanted to draw both Sunny and her spirit face. 


This one's from Carey Pietsch


This one is from @Adxnna

This one's from That Gets My Goat


This one is from A-Nola of Sunny's new juju knife

This one from V. Martin goes beyond Sunny to include the magical quartet of magicians.
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19 Works of Historical Fiction by African Writers

So in the last few months, I've been noticing a lot of  lists on historical fiction (like this one BookRiot or this one on The Telegraph). And because I love my lists, I decided to put one together centred on African historical fiction. 

It's always tricky trying to figure out how far back to go - fifty years, a hundred years, two hundred years, more? To answer that, I consulted quite a few pieces, including this one defining the historical fiction genre to try and decide what my cut-off should be. In the end I settled for novels set sixty or more years in the past (so early to mid-1950s) - factoring to some extent (but not fully) the period prior to the first wave of Independence in African nations. So here are 19 works of historical fiction with settings that range from 5th century Egypt to 1940s Berlin. As always this isn't an exhaustive list, and only an indication of some of the works out there. 

Ama by Manu Herbstein
Winner of the 2002 Commonwealth Prize for Best Fist book, Ama personifies the experience of eighteenth century Africans during the slave trade. In it Nandzi - who was given the name Ama - is thrust into a foreign land, passed from owner to owner and stripped of her identity. Though forced into desperation, brutally seized, raped and enslaved Ama never lets her soul be consumed by fear. This is a story of defiance and spiritual fire. 


Azazeel by Youseef Ziedan
Set in the 5th century AD, Azazeel is the exquisitely crafted tale of a Coptic monk's journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church. Winner of the Arab Booker Prize, Azazeel highlights how one man's beliefs are challenged by the malice of the devil, but by the corruption with the early Church.



Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie
Set in multiple locations and eras - including modern day London, 1950s Lagos, 18th century Benin, it follows Joy who struggles to pull the threads of her life back together after the sudden death of her mother. She receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother - a large sum of money, her grandfather's diary and unique brass head, which takes us on a journey through from modern day London to 18th century Benin.



Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele
In a few months, fourteen-year-old Ali Banana goes from being a blacksmith's apprentice in his rural hometown. Now its winter 1944, the war is enterring its most crucial stage and Ali is a private in Thunder Brigade. His unit has been given orders to go behind enemy lines and wreak havoc. But the Burmese jungle is a mud-riven, treacherous place, riddled with Japanese snipers, insanity and disease. 



Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace Desire and Sugar Street) traces three generations of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain's occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century. At the centre is the patriarch - al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence.

Palace Walk introduces us to his wife, two daughter and three sons. Al-Sayyid Ahmad's rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz's vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the ageing patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist and one the lover of a powerful politician.  Throughout the trilogy, the family's trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. 



Cloth Girl by Marilyn Heward Mill
Matilda Quartey is fourteen years old when sophisticated black Gold Coast lawyer, Robert Bannerman, sets eyes on her and resolves to take her as his second wife. For Julie, his first wife, this is a colossal slap in the face; for Matilda it is an abrupt - and cruel - end to childhood. Entwined with their story - by turns funny and heartbreaking - is that of Alan Turton, new ADC to the Governor and his dissatisfied wife, Audrey, a hard-drinking accident waiting to happen, who is appalled by her new life. Cloth Girl's Ghana is a cauldron of contradictions - outwardly Christian, yet profoundly superstitious and reliant on fetish priests; exhausting, but exhilarating. For Matilda, it is her passionately loved homeland, for Audrey it is a prison. For the men it is a land of opportunity, where careers can be made and broken, fortunes lost and won. And for all of them the events of these ten years will shape and define their lives forever.



Creole by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
As he travels across three continents, Fradique Mendes, Portuguese aristocrat and adventurer, will bear witness to the Portuguese slave trade and the empire's painful attempts to reinvent itself for the modern age. His journey will bring him into contact with slaves and aristocrats, slave-owners and abolitionists, capoeira fighters and witch-doctors. Most importantly, he will meet Ana Olimpia Vaz de Caminha, a former slave-girl, but now one of Angola's richest women and said to be the most beautiful woman in the world - and fall deeply in love with her. Creole is a tale of romance and redemption that examines the fortunes of the Creole bourgeoisie of Luanda.



The Fire of Origins by Emmanuel Dongala
First published in French in 1987, Makunku, a 'destroyer' - who is born in mysterious circumstances in a banana plantation and whose identity is as variable as that of his land. The novel traces his development along with that of his unnamed country, from the precolonial era, through the horrors of European subjugation, to independence and the complexities of the postcolonial nation. Along the way. charlatans and saints, workers and bureaucrats, warriors and peacemakers are introduced in a moving melange of laughter and terror. 

Kinda preferred this cover to the English version
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Set in Baltimore, Berlin and Paris, Half Blood Blues spans from just after the Great War to the 1990s. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid Griffiths, Hero's bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip Jones, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero's fate was settled. Half Blood Blues chronicles the black experience in Nazi Germany. 


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasa
In Homegoing two half sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asant nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonisation. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth century Harlem, right up through the present day. 


The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
In 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt where she falls in love with Sharif, an Egyptian Nationalist utterly committed to his country's cause. A hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are found notebooks and journals which reveal Anna and Sharif's secret. The Map of Love weaves an account of the consequences of British imperialism and the fierce political battles of the Egyptian Nationalists through the love story of Anna and Sharif. 


The Moors Account by Laila Lalami
In 1527 the Spanish conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez arrived on the coast of modern-day Florida with hundreds of settlers, and claimed the region for Spain. Almost immediately, the expedition was decimated by a combination of navigational errors, disease, starvation and fierce resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year, only four survivors remained: three noblemen and a Moroccan slave called Estebanico. The official record, set down after a reunion with Spanish forces in 1536, contains only the three freemen's account. The force, to which the title of Laila Lalami's novel alludes, is Estebanacio's own. Lalami gives us Estebanico as history never did: as Mustafa, the vibrant merchant from Azemmur forced into slavery and a new name, and reborn as the first black explorer of the Americas discovering and being discovered by various tribes both hostile and compassionate. 

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Born in East Africa, Yusuf has few qualms about the journey he is to make. It never occurs to him to ask why he is accompanying Uncle Aziz or why the trip has been organised so suddenly, and he does not think to ask when he will be returning. But the truth is that his 'uncle' is a rich and powerful merchant and Yusuf has been pawned to him to pay his father's debts. Paradise is a rich tapestry of myth, dreams and Biblical and Koranic tradition, the story of a young boy's coming of age against the backdrop of a Tanzania that is increasingly corrupted by colonialism and violence. 



Philida by Andre Brink
The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of slaves. Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. Francois has reneged on his promise to set her free and his father has ordered him to marry a white woman from a prominent family, selling Philida on to owners in the harsh country in the north. Unwilling to accept this fate, Philida tests the limits of her freedom by setting off on a journey. She travels across the great wilderness to the far north of Cape Town - determined to survive and be free.


Queen of Flower by Gabriella Ghermandi
Mahlet, a young Ethiopian girl with a gift for storytelling, has a special bond with Yacob, the oldest in her household. When Yacob tells her stories of how he and the other warriors fought in the resistance against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, Mahlet vows to become the keeper and teller of her family’s stories. From the time of Menelik to the present, Mahlet's long voyage through time and space links thousands of stories between Africa and Europe. Intensely personal, this powerful and beautifully narrated novel tells the story of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia as well as of others around the globe who have suffered under colonialism or have been forcibly exiled from their homelands.


Thread of Gold Beads by Nike Campbell-Fatoki
Amelia, daughter of the last independent King of Danhomè, King Gbèhanzin, is the apple of her father’s eye, loved beyond measure by her mother, and overprotected by her siblings. She searches for her place within the palace amidst conspirators and traitors to the Kingdom. Just when Amelia begins to feel at home in her role as a Princess, a well-kept secret shatters the perfect life she knows. Someone else within the palace also knows and does everything to bring the secret to light. A struggle between good and evil ensues causing Amelia to leave all that she knows and loves. She must flee Danhomè with her brother, to south-western Nigeria. In a faraway land, she finds the love of a new family and God. The well-kept secret thought to have been dead and buried, resurrects with the flash of a thread of gold beads. Amelia must fight for her life and what is left of her soul. Set during the French-Danhomè war of the late 1890s in Benin Republic and early 1900s in Abeokuta and Lagos, South-Western Nigeria, Thread of Gold Beads is a delicate love story, and coming of age of a young girl. It clearly depicts the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversities.



What the Day Owes the Night by Yasmina Khadra
As a boy Younes' life is irrevocably changed when he leaves his broken home in the Algerian countryside for the colourful and affluent European district of Río Salado. Renamed Jonas, he begins a new life and forges a unique friendship with a group of boys, an enduring bond that nothing – not even the Algerian Revolt – will shake.Yet with the return to Río Salado of Emilie – a beautiful, beguiling girl who captures the hearts of all who see her – an epic love story is set in motion that will challenge the bond between the four friends and force Jonas to choose between two worlds: Algerian or European; past or present; and at last decide if he will surrender to fate or take control of his own destiny.



Which historical fiction by African writers is missing?
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Read it! Loved it! African Literature on the Interweb

After a 3 week hiatus, it's Sunday and I'm back with Read it! Loved it! - a round-up of what I've been reading on the interwebs the last few weeks; and since it's been a while since I've done this, there's been quite a lot of reading. Let's go!
Image via Pinterest
If there is one thing on top of my Loved it read this week, it is this excellent piece from Geoff Ryman on 100 African Writers of SFF. This is part one, and it's in Nairobi.
After a snapshot of Nairobi cultural life, the piece will take the form of interviews with writers, arranged in alphabetical order by first name. This will help give them voice, leave the reader free to also make connections, and also back up some of the conclusions I make for myself. Where appropriate the sections each begin with an extensive quotation from the writer's work.  
Occasional mini articles "About..." will help set context. 
The series will continue based on different locations. 
June 20 was refugee day, and Darf publishers shared an interview with Abu Bakr Khaal who discussed his book, his thoughts on the current migrant crisis and how his own story and experiences influenced African Titanics. It was also the start of Refugee Week, and Refugee Tales was also published that week - offering rare, intimate glimpses into refugees otherwise untold suffering, with stories from Abdulrazak Gurnah and Inua Ellams among the 14 contributors. 

There are also a number of new releases coming our way in the next few months including Helon Habila's The Chibok Girls, which tracks down some of the escaped Chibok girls and their families to hear their stories and to offer the most complete and intimate account yet the horrible tragedy. BooksLive announced Kopana Matlwa's new novel, Period Pain, which 'provides vivid insights into contemporary South Africa - from its under-resourced state hospitals, corruption and graft, to its racial tensions and prejudices against foreigners' - and the cover (including the redesigns of Matlwa's first two novels) - gorgeous! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a short story, The Arrangements, about the American election, and specifically Melania and Donald Trump, at the request of the New York Times Book Review. 

Image via @projectjennifer
Speaking of new releases - that never should have been released - a gap-year memoir was recently published by a Western writer. I shall say no more about it, but here are some awesome articles on how Zambians, in particular, responded to it: on OkayAfrica, on the Guardian

I also read a number of essays. On the theme of identity, Yaa Gyasi writes about what it means to be black in America. While A Igoni Barrett writes about meeting Nadine Gordimer: the first time they met, he was in 'Ile-Ife, Nigeria on August 25, 2006.' Aretha Phiri writes about 'the value of contemporary literature written by Africans who live in the diaspora.' The relevance of the Caine Prize debate continued with Aaron Bady asking if it is 'for emergent African writing, or the best African writing?' Dele Meiji Fatunla explores the state of play in African literature today, particularly 'in a year of milestones.'
Alongside the challenge of langugae stood the marginalisation of female African writers, and the alleged predominance of the West in determining who is celebrated or not as a great African writer. Add to that the preoccupation with how Africa is portrayed by African and non-African writers and you have a cocktail for a conversation about African literature; whether in fiction or non-fiction, these faultlines have been some of the most rigorously debated questions amongst Africa's literati and indeed beyond; but increasingly, "African Literature", always an elusive beast to pin down, is becoming a moveable feast that defies the easy conversations of yesteryear.
In the world of podcasts, Hisham Matar speaks about leaving Libya as a boy, his fathers imprisonment and disappearance and returning to Libya in the wake of the Libyan revolution. 

On lists, M L Qualey let's us know about 10 books by Arab women that should be translated, while Malaka Grant put together this beginner's guide to steamy sex in African literature, and Sarah Ladipo Manyinka introduces seven bold and new international voices, which includes Yemisi Aribisala and Chinelo Okparanta. And then there was the Millions most anticipated the great second-half 2016 book preview. Awesome as always, even if it was very African literature lite. 
Image via The Millions
On awards Irenosen Okojie was one of the Betty Trask Award winners for young authors of 'outstanding literary merit' with her debut, Butterfly Fish and Nigerian-born, London-based author, Abiola Oni won the BAME Short Story prize with her 'warm and clinical vision of dystopia' in her story 75. While South African writer, photographer and filmmaker, Lidudumalingani, won the Caine Prize for his short story, Memories We Lost. He speaks a bit about his win on BBC Africaand the Guardian has this piece on the role online spaces, including literary magazines plays for writers, such as Lidudumalingani  While the judges for the Man Booker International Prize were announced, including Chika Unigwe. 

In sad news, the renowned Nigerian author, Elechi Amadi, passed away at 82, and Chibundu Onuzo explains why everyone should read The Concubine, while Abubakar Adam Ibrahim reflects on the influence of Amadi on his own literary development.


... and that's it for this week's Read it! Also Watched and Listened to It! Loved it! 
  

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