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Volume 64 / Humanities


CAROL MAIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University
DAPHNE PATAI, Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
MAUREEN AHERN, Professor of Spanish, Ohio State University
KATHLEEN ROSS, Professor of Spanish, New York University
STEVEN WHITE, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, St. Lawrence University


THE PERIOD UNDER REVIEW HERE (2004–2007) saw the publication of a wealth of work in translation by a variety of translators, many of them highly accomplished. Regarding anthologies, it is a pleasure to note that neither anthologists nor translators seem to be daunted by what Jeffrey J. Williams has referred to as "anthology disdain"[1] or by the "second-class" citizenship the academic world customarily awards to anthologies.[2]

In fact, both the number and quality of new anthologies suggests an awareness of the anthology as a valuable resource for students, teachers, and scholars alike. Volumes such as An Anthology of Spanish-American Modernist Poetry (item #bi2008003809#), Daughters of the Diaspora (item #bi2006002286#), or Narrativa del trópico boliviano (item #bi2008003857#) not only introduce texts and their authors to English-language readers, but also challenge and expand readers' understanding of Spanish American literatures and literary traditions. Two innovative publications showcasing the work of contemporary poets in both Spanish and English, Connecting Lines: New Poems from Mexico (item #bi2007001159#), with its companion volume of poets from the US,[3] and Voces dobladas/unfolded voices (item #bi2007002482#), offer the possibility of increased international dialogue between Mexico and the US. Another groundbreaking anthology, of a different nature, is Words of the True Peoples: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers (item #bi2007003349#). Its beautifully annotated format is a model for publication of indigenous literature throughout the Americas. These are anthologies "on the edge [that] push forward the frontiers of the literary world."[4]

Two monumental efforts with the poetry of César Vallejo stand out among the poetry selections: Clayton Eshleman's single, comprehensive volume of Vallejo's complete poetry (item #bi2007002252#) and the four individual volumes by translators Valentino Giannuzi and Michael Smith (items #bi2008003826#, #bi2008003623#, #bi2008003827#, and #bi2008003828#). One may or may not agree with the approach that guided their translations but in each case that approach is explained extensively and with candor. The complete poems of Mexican Xavier Villaurrutia are now also available (item #bi2008003850#), although Eliot Weinberger's translations of his Nostalgia de la muerte (HLAS 54:4989) seem to have been executed more effectively. The Bolivian poet Jaime Sáenz continues to be of interest to major US university presses (HLAS 62:3238), most recently from Princeton (item #bi2008003851#). One needs to ask, however, if the translators, Gander and Johnson, are not trying too hard to market the poetry by means of the poet's "bizarre" personality, anecdotes about which entirely define the content of their introduction to the volume. Two additional collections deserve special mention: Jen Hofer's outstanding translations of Laura Sólorzano (item #bi2008003824#) and a volume by another Mexican poet, Gloria Gervitz (item #bi2008003854#). Both Sólorzano and Gervitz merit more recognition from US readers than they have received. With respect to Gervitz, one hopes that critics will not reduce her highly affecting work to solely the Jewish Latin American category.

As in previous periods, there are relatively few titles in brief fiction and theater, but several are of particular interest: Lilus Kikus and Other Stories (item #bi2008003626#), the first work by well-known Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska; The Red Sea (item #bi2008003624#), the intriguing collection that represents Uruguayan Rafael Courtoisie's first volume to be published in English; and Casablanca and Other Stories (item #bi2006002258#) by Argentine author Edgar Brau, which is also Brau's first collection in English translation. One hopes to see more translations of both his work and that of Courtoisie; the two contemporary Southern Cone writers were born in the same year (1958). Other significant new translations of short fiction include the collection of Álvaro Mutís' first fiction writing, The Mansion (item #bi2008003495#); Eduardo Galeano's Voices of Time: A Life in Stories (item #bi2008003494#); and Brianda Domecq's When I Was a Horse (item #bi2008003496#).

In discussing novels, the titles are so diverse that one can hardly speak of trends. Three 19th-century classics from Mexico, Altamirano's El Zarco (item #bi2008003627#), Frías' The Battle of Tomochic (item #bi2007000649#), and Lizardi's The Mangy Parrot (item #bi2008003628#) are finally available in their entirety with excellent introductory material. Such publications respond to a long-standing need for translation editions that include critical supplementary materials to orient students and scholars alike. Among the more contemporary titles, the biggest "splash" was unquestionably The Savage Detectives (item #bi2008003813#) and two additional novels (items #bi2006002081# and HLAS 62:3266) of Roberto Bolaño, who has been well served by outstanding translators Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer. Other notable entries include The Potbellied Virgin (item #bi2006001748#), one of the best modern Ecuadorian novels by one of its most important narrators, in an edition that includes a useful introduction and glossary that orient readers to historical events and regionalisms. Quite a few of the works in fiction could be considered historical novels (for example, those by Belli, Cozarinsky, Esquivel, Fresán, Moya, and Suez). Kaufmann, Eloy Martínez, and Piglia also incorporate historical research into their plots. The volumes by Kaufmann and Piglia represent special cases, since one could consider them novelized documentaries (items #bi2008003818# and #bi2007002481#). Recent history also plays an important part in Chavarría and Restrepo (items #bi2007002273# and #bi2008003840#). Sharing prominence with the historical novel is the genre of crime writing, or at least writing with a plot that involves mystery and violence. This characteristic is also found in Belli, Chavarría, Cozarinsky, Eloy Martínez, Fresán, Martínez, Piglia, Recacochea, and Restrepo. However, Cortázar, Eltit, Glantz, Kaufmann, Sarduy, and Steimberg write from a more internal space. Eltit's work is intensely political as well, in its examination of the violation of just that private space. One may discern some echoes of realismo mágico in work by Belli or Restrepo, for example, but otherwise the dominant tones are historical and realistic.

The period brought a smaller number of translated essays than in past years. The volumes reviewed were highly varied, representing authors from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. All but one were either edited for the first time as a collection in English, or originally published in Spanish within the last 10 years. The lone exception, Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop's 1983 travel diary Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (item #bi2008003834#), joins the novel Diary of Andrés Fava(item #bi2008003842#) to make Cortázar's lesser-known oeuvre available in English. Two volumes, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Temptation of the Impossible (item #bi2008003829#) and The Noé Jitrik Reader (item #bi2008003833#) comprise traditional literary criticism (or "critical work," Jitrik's preferred term), focusing on Latin America in Jitrik's case and on Victor Hugo in the case of Vargas Llosa. Three authors or editors published volumes centered on Mexico: cellist Carlos Prieto combined autobiography, history, and musicology to tell the story of his 1720 instrument and of Latin American music and literature in a larger cultural context (item #bi2008003830#); editor Lee Gutkind criss-crossed the border to gather crónicas (or "creative nonfiction") written in English by Mexican American and North American writers or by Mexicans writing in Spanish (item #bi2007002274#); and Margaret Sayers Peden collected prose and poetry from the colonial period to the 1990s Crack movement to consider the meaning of writing for writers in Mexico across the centuries (item #bi2008003831#). Finally, in the area of the testimonio, Beebe and Senkewicz in Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848 (item #bi2007002633#) combined rich scholarly interpretation with careful transcriptions of women's voices to create a milestone in women's history of 19th-century America. The testimonios by Uruguayan Carlos Liscano (item #bi2008003832#) and Colombian María Eugenia Vásquez Perdomo (item #bi2008003810#) record experiences of resistance and imprisonment under repressive dictatorships in their respective countries and afford the reader a valuable perspective on the long aftermath of state terror.

A major development for this biennial is the significant and long-overdue attention to outstanding translations and editions of important primary texts in cultural history and indigenous literatures. Noteworthy is the publication of three translations, each with a different flavor and format, of the extraordinary Incan account of the conquest of Peru dictated in Quechua to King Phillip II of Spain from the last Inca site of resistance in Vilcabamba by Titu Cusi Yupanqui, grandson of Huayna Capac (items #bi2007001643#, #bi2007002498#, and #bi2007001644#). Of special significance in this context is Hackett Publishing Company's series of colonial Latin American primary texts in paperback editions ideal for undergraduate and graduate classroom use, and for the general reader. Some, such as the Instrucción del inqa don Diego de Castro titu kusi Yupanki (item #bi2007001644#), are bilingual and en face, and most are excellent, careful English translations by distinguished scholar-translators and compilers who also have written substantial introductory essays. All are annotated with reader-friendly footnotes and glossaries. Such important texts as Guaman Poma's Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (item #bi2008003629#), Inca Garcilaso de la Vega's Comentarios reales (item #bi2008003630#), and Bartolomé de las Casas' Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (item #bi2004001754#) are available in either abridged or full English-language editions for the classroom at modest prices. A true boon for Latin American studies in general! A new translation of the great K'iche' Maya creation story, Popol Vuh (item #bi2007002483#) by Allen J. Christenson with extensive annotated commentary, photos, and drawings is a versatile tool for classroom use. Vol. II presents the literal translation of the Ayer Ms. 1515 with transcription of the K'iche' text in a facing column (item #bi2007002484#).

A second major development for the period under review is the dramatic increase, in the area of Bibliography, Theory, and Practice, of material concerning the history of translation in the context of Latin American literature (in both Spanish and Portuguese). On the one hand, this increase is to be expected, considering the growth of translation studies as a discipline and the related interest in translation theory noted in previous volumes. On the other hand, however, it reflects the relatively recent interest noted by Georges L. Bastin and Paul F. Bandia among translation scholars themselves in "the history of translation... [as] a viable independent research area within translation studies."[5]

It also reflects, and Bastin and Bandia allude to this when they explain that the writing of translation history "is linked to themes such as otherness, ideology, and power,"[6] the current questioning and reconfiguration of Latin American studies as a discipline, in particular of what Alberto Moreiras has referred to as "the Latin American cultural studies paradigm from the 1990s."[7]

Consequently, most discussions, whether focused on the work of translators or translation in a particular period or geographical area, seek to be more analytic than descriptive. In addition, methodological issues are addressed with increasing frequency, a trend exemplified by the essays in Bastin and Bandia's volume (item #bi2008003606#). That this trend will continue and intensify is suggested by the recent publication of work such as Edwin Gentzler's Translation and Identity in the Americas (2007) and Jeremy Munday's Style and Ideology in Translation (2008), both of which will be reviewed in HLAS 66.[8]

Other noteworthy work in Bibliography, Theory, and Practice (although one hesitates to single out individual titles in a group that as a whole must be considered outstanding) includes Deborah Cohn's studies (items #bi2008003351#, #bi2007000193#, and #bi2008003352#) of the often complex interaction of not only translators and writers but also publishers, politics, and cultural factors in the translation, publication, and reception of contemporary Latin American literature in the US; Lowe and Fitz's explanation of translators as influential agents of cultural exchange (item #bi2008003614#); Patricia Willson's discussion of translations and translators in 20th-century Argentina (item #bi2008003621#); Hugh Hazelton's comprehensive overview of Latin American writing in Canada (item #bi2008003609#); and Bernice W. Kliman and Rick J. Santos' collection of essays about the highly varied translations of Shakespeare's work in Latin America (item #bi2006002282#). Although it does not address translation per se, Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola's Censorship Files: Latin American Writers and Franco's Spain throws light on the work of the Spanish censors whose particular—and peculiar—criteria and decisions, along with the negotiations and maneuvering of the Spanish publishing industry, led to the publication of the Latin American Boom writers in Spain and, consequently, the international renown that prompted the translation of their work throughout the world.[9]

It is also important to point out the valuable role played by special issues of such journals as TTR: Traduction, terminologie, rédaction (items #bi2008003617# and #bi2008003618#) and Americas (item #bi2008003619#). Like anthologies, these journal issues draw attention to, document, and disseminate work in new areas of research or on new perspectives in areas previously addressed in terms of conventional methodologies.

In conclusion, it is encouraging to note that one of those new perspectives focuses attention on the translator as opposed to translations as the most appropriate point of departure for the study of translation history. As Anthony Pym has pointed out,[10] as Lowe and Fitz indicate, and as studies such as Lydia Fossa's essay on Juan de Betanzos (item #bi2008003608#) or Constance G. Janiga-Perkins' study of José Juan Arrom's Relación acerca de las antüedades de los indios (item #bi2008003611#) exemplify, the shift of focus opens many new possibilities for the understanding of not only the history of translation, but also history in general. Ironically, however, all too frequently the work of contemporary translators continues to be overlooked, even in reviews published in major journals and newspapers, despite the considerable recognition that a few individual translators have begun to receive—one thinks, for instance, of Gregory Rabassa or Edith Grossman. It is only appropriate, then, that the last words of these paragraphs recognize and pay tribute to an exemplary translator, the late Alexander "Sandy" Taylor, who passed away during this review period. Sandy was an accomplished translator and poet, although he was best known for his work as founder and codirector (with his wife Judith Ayer Doyle) of Curbstone Press. Without his generosity, courage, and vision, no small number of works from Latin America that most other publishers might well have considered too controversial, too experimental, or too unlikely to turn a profit would not have seen publication in English translation. [CM with MA, KR, and SFW]


The Brazilian translation scene is becoming increasingly complex, and this is perhaps a welcome situation. Small independent presses are evidently discovering the enormous riches of Brazilian literature and the result is the increased publication of noncanonical works by contemporary Brazilian writers. Particularly noteworthy is the publication between 2005 and the present of a number of Brazilian poets whose work is largely unknown in North America. In most cases, individual poems by these writers have had prior publication in North American journals, but the publication of an entire volume of poems by one writer is a cause for celebration, especially given that poetry is usually a hard sell.

As new translators enter the field, the work they do reflects the familiar problems of translators everywhere. Regarding prose, the single most distracting issue is a tendency on the part of translators to explain too much. They stretch out elliptical sentences, connect disjointed phrases, and engage in other superfluous gestures, as if English-language readers were not able to deal with experimental and unconventional narratives, or were intolerant of nontraditional prose. Yet the translators' concerns are unnecessary; their readership is not as unsophisticated as they seem to fear. English-language fiction is immensely multifaceted, obviously so, and that makes more mysterious still the tendency of translators to tame the Brazilian texts they endeavor to translate. I do not think this is "domesticating" in the critical sense Lawrence Venuti gives to the term; these are not political decisions, nor do they imply condescension to the original. More than the translator's invisibility (to my mind, usually a desirable feature), they bespeak the translator's anxiety.

In the current crop of books under review there occasionally appear translators who do not have an adequate command of the source language and/or the target language. This seems to be the case especially in works appearing from small and specialized presses. While a translation can survive a variety of errors, when these become too numerous and too frequent, they can produce fatal results. It is quite a challenge to "read past" persistent errors and try to envision the potential text behind them, a burden that the reader should not have to shoulder.

On the other hand, sometimes reading only the translation—when it is fluent and not marred with obvious errors—without even a glance at the original, provides an entirely satisfactory experience, even though a subsequent comparison with the original may reduce one's evaluation of the translator's skill. Absent poor grammar, stodgy sentences, and obvious errors, readers tend to accept a text without reservation. As I have often noted in these pages, the experience of reading a translation may be quite different from appraising that translation, and this is important to keep in mind, particularly in view of some of the critical comments for the Portuguese translations in this chapter. Most of the translations reviewed here read perfectly well in English, and it is only in the process of comparing the English with the original that the translator's failures become evident.

It is primarily the commitment of small presses that is making the publication of Brazilian poets and lesser-known writers possible. In 2007, Chad Post, formerly associate director of Dalkey Archive Press, founded Open Letter. Affiliated with the University of Rochester, Open Letter is devoted to international literature and is intended to complement the university's academic programs for literary translators and writers. The press expects to publish a dozen books a year. Post also writes Three Percent, a blog devoted to international literature, which includes excerpts from translations, reviews of untranslated books, and information regarding grants and prizes for translation [ http://www.rochester.edu/threepercent].

Meanwhile, Dalkey Archive Press continues to publish translations of literature from around the world, including Brazil, and is particularly receptive to reprinting works that have gone out of print in English. Dalkey also publishes the Review of Contemporary Fiction (see http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/catalog/review), which contains numerous reviews of foreign literature in addition to its main articles; and it runs the online magazine Context (available at http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/context).

Brazilian poetry of late has had a strong presence in Rattapallax magazine and press, founded in 1999 by Ram Devineni, known as a poetry impresario. Rattapallax prides itself on being the only poetry publisher in the world to include a CD featuring poets and translators reading their work in every book and every issue of the magazine. The press works closely with the UN and UNESCO in programming events around the world for World Poetry Day. For its issue devoted to Brazilian poetry, edited by Flávia Rocha and Edwin Torres, published in conjunction with the Brazilian publisher Editora 34, see: http://www.rattapallax.com/rattapallax9_issue.htm Rattapallax has two editors especially interested in Brazilian poetry, Flávia Rocha and Idra Novey, and is an important outlet for poetry from Brazil. Novey, a poet in her own right, is also one of the very best translators of poetry working today (see, for example, item #bi2008004017#).

Although bilingual editions of poetry are important contributions, they are often marred by typographical errors in the Portuguese. The editors of these volumes (who are often the translators themselves) should devote more time to producing error-free texts, especially when the typographical errors give an alternative sense to a line, making it difficult to know whether the error is in the Portuguese original, or if the translator has misread the line. Proper copyediting and proofreading, lost crafts it appears, are critical to the success of a translation. If these texts are worth translating into English, they are worth the effort required for them to be error-free.

An older small publisher that recently published a book of poems by a Brazilian writer (again, see item #bi2008004017#) is BOA Editions Ltd., founded in 1976 by the late poet, editor, and translator A. Poulin Jr. BOA is a nonprofit publishing venture devoted primarily to publishing poetry. At the moment it enjoys the financial support of the Lannan Foundation, of Santa Fe, N.M., which is sponsoring the publication of contemporary international poetry. Nonetheless, an editor at BOA recently wrote to me: "We strive to represent many different countries in our translation series, so it is unlikely that we will do another Brazilian author for quite a while."

A somewhat younger press that has been very active in publishing translations of Brazilian literature is Host Publications. Founded in 1987 by Joe W. Blatcher III and his wife Elzbieta Szoka (she holds a PhD in Portuguese), Host is dedicated to publishing international literature as well as US writers. It has also published, for the past 20 years, a biannual journal called DG: The Dirty Goat, which highlights contemporary literature from around the globe. Unfortunately, its volumes are often marred with printing (or other) errors. Another small publisher—in this case producing small books, in a 6" x 4.25" format—is Green Integer, which publishes "significant international writers," including Brazilians, and has a special interest in poetry. It also produces an online magazine, the Green Integer Review, now in its third year (available at http://www.greeninteger.com/green_integer_review/issue_10/index.cfm).

In addition to translations of new works, translations of popular novels that were first published in the US by trade presses are now being reprinted, by both university presses and small independent presses. Thus, Brazilian literature is finding many new venues, thanks primarily to the labor of translators and sympathetic editors.

Several reprint series, however, have come and gone. Most notably, the short-lived University of Wisconsin Press series The Americas, edited by Ilan Stavans, which reprinted only three translations of Brazilian novels (in 2003), in paperback, with new introductions. As Stavans wrote to me in 2008: "You ask about Brazilian literature in English translation—a sorrowful state! Almost nothing makes it across the geographic and linguistic divide. As a series editor with University of New Mexico Press and University of Wisconsin Press, I've made an effort at bringing [to publication] works that attract me: Moacyr Scliar, Jorge Amado, Samuel Rawet, et al. And I'm currently doing a Penguin Classics version of Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões. All in all, publishers show little interest. Brazil is not in the cultural radar, sales are low. On occasion, a small, boutique house will bring out a selection by a canonical poet. But the effort doesn't receive any attention.... Latin America, as a whole, fares far better. Even though complaints are constantly heard, Mexican, Cuban, Argentine, Colombian, and Central American writers travel into English. There's a selection process in place, no doubt: not always the best, not always the most popular, not always the fittest." Similarly, the excellent series entitled The Library of Latin America, codirected by historian Richard Graham, which Oxford University Press began 10 years ago, is winding down after publishing 33 key books by Latin American writers (including four novels by Machado de Assis, in new translations). Only two further books, of José Martí, will be published.

Publishers are notoriously reluctant to discuss precise sales figures of their books, so I am particularly grateful to the editors at several presses who provided me with specific figures to help elucidate the situation of Brazilian literature in translation. According to Cybele Tom, of Oxford University Press, the book that has done the best in sales is Dom Casmurro (1998), with more than 10,000 copies sold in paperback. In second place is the Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas (1997), with paperback sales of nearly 7,000 copies. Most of the books in the Library of Latin America series, she explained, sold between 2,000 and 3,000 copies in paperback, and approximately 500 in cloth. But the series was a special project, made possible through the financial support of various foundations. She noted that "print-on-demand" has a positive side for translations and other publications because it extends the life of books and thus can keep them from going permanently out of print. Oxford, meanwhile, intends to continue publishing books on and by Latin American writers, even if not in its LOLA series. A biography of Clarice Lispector, the first in English, is currently in production.

The University of Texas Press was for years a major publisher of translations of Brazilian literature. Executive editor Theresa May wrote to me last year about the ever-decreasing market for what she called "serious fiction." Among the financial problems faced by publishers today is the decreasing number of new books that university students are buying, even if the books are required for their courses. In the past, publishers often had a few years before their books would appear in used bookshops; today the Internet provides ready access to used books, giving publishers only one sales year to recuperate their investment. Older books now in the public domain, meanwhile, are often freely available online. Furthermore, May said, translations always required significant funds. Publishing a translation costs about 20,000 dollars, she explained, just to break even after paying the author and the translator. This level of financial support rarely exists today for university presses.

Casey Kittrell, another editor at the University of Texas Press, provided me with sales figures for some of the press' past translations of Brazilian works. A number of classics are no longer in print in English. Graciliano Ramos' Barren Lives went out of print in 2004, having had a good run: it sold 2,400 copies in cloth and 19,500 in paperback. Raquel de Queiroz's The Three Marias has been out of print since 1998, having sold 2,150 copies in cloth and 3,200 in paperback. Some books, however, have been kept in print by Texas. Clarice Lispector's Family Ties has been in print since 1984, and has sold nearly 1,800 copies in cloth and over 11,000 in paperback.

Perhaps a smaller press, such as Dalkey Archive, which in 2003 reprinted Ivan Ângelo's The Celebration, translated by Ellen Watson, and in 2007 published an English translation of an earlier novel by Brandão (see item #bi2008004005#), will consider reprinting those out-of-print classics that many of us have taught with for years. Other presses, such as New Directions, Bloomsbury, Grove, HarperCollins (proud publisher of Paulo Coelho, whose books have been translated into more than 50 languages and have now sold over one hundred million copies worldwide), and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, publish occasional translations from Brazilian literature, typically continuing to support authors whose work they were the first to introduce to English-language audiences. [DP]

  1. See Jeffrey J. Williams, "Anthology Disdain," On Anthologies: Politics and Pedagogy, ed. Jeffrey R. Di Lio (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2004), p. 207–221.
  2. Jeffrey R. Di Leo, "Analyzing Anthologies," On Anthologies, p. 10.
  3. Líneas conectadas: nueva poesía de los Estados Unidos, ed. April Lindner (Louisville, Ky.: Sarabande Books, 2006).
  4. Jeffrey R. Di Leo, "Anthologies and Literary Landscapes," American Book Review (Jan.–Feb. 2007), p. 3.
  5. See the introduction to their Charting the Future of Translation History (item #bi2008003606#), p. 2.
  6. Bastin and Bandia, p. 2.
  7. Alberto Moreiras, "Mentoring Past the Ruins," LASA Forum, 39/2, Spring 2008, p. 8.
  8. Edwin Gentzler, Translation and Identity in the Americas (London and New York: Routledge, 2008) and Jermey Munday, Style and Ideology in Translation: Latin American Writing in English (London and New York: Routledge, 2008).
  9. Albany: SUNY Press, 2006.
  10. See Anthony Pym, "On Method in Translation History" (2002). http://www.tinet.org/~apym/on-line/intercultures/methodleon.html Read 21 Sept. 2008.

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