The 10th annual Best Translated Book Awards were announced this evening at The Folly in New York City. Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, won for fiction, and Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert, won for poetry (read our review here). With four books on the Best Translated Book Award Fiction longlist, Margaret Jull Costa had pretty good odds that one of her projects would win the prize. This is the first time Jull Costa, Robin Patterson, and Open Letter Books have received the award. According to BTBA judge Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), “Though it took longer than 50 years to finally appear in English, Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House was well worth the wait. Epic in scope and stunning in its execution, the late Brazilian author’s 1959 masterpiece is a resounding accomplishment. Thanks to the translational prowess of Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, Cardoso’s saga of familial scheming and salacious scandal deservingly comes to an even wider audience.” Fellow judge Mark Haber (Brazos Bookstore) adds “Chronicle has hints of Dostoevsky, García Márquez, and William Faulkner, yet the DNA is wholly Cardoso's, who was not only a friend, but a mentor to Clarice Lispector. This novel is not only beautifully written and strangely profound, but a joy to read. The dramas of a prestigious family in a provincial Brazilian jungle, complete with gossip, backstabbing, cross-dressing and suicide attempts all take place beneath a single roof. There’s a fully-formed universe in this run-down mansion rotting away in the woods. Chronicle of the Murdered House is a novel about family, trust, madness, betrayal, human nature, all heavy themes really, yet handled with aplomb. . . . Its translation feels long overdue.” Extracting the Stone of Madness is the fourth collection of Alejandra Pizarnik’s to be translated by Yvette Siegert, but the first to win the Best Translated Book Award. It is published by New Directions -- which has won the BTBA on three past occasions, twice for fiction, once for poetry -- and collects all of Pizarnik’s middle and late works, including some posthumous pieces. Judge Emma Ramadan (Riffraff Bookstore) said, “The judges were extremely impressed by Donald Nicholson- Smith's translation of Abdellatif Laâbi's In Praise of Defeat, but ultimately chose Yvette Siegert's translation of Alejandra Pizarnik's Extracting the Stone of Madness as this year's poetry winner. It's a book screaming and barking with jagged solitude and beautiful pain, each poem's broken melody attempting to fill a void we can all see lurking. Yvette Siegert perfectly inhabits Pizarnik's tortuous, vivid world and allows us to do the same.” For the sixth year in a row, the winning books will receive $10,000 each (split equally between the authors and translators) thanks to funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership. Over this period, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $120,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA. “By sharing new voices with English-language readers, the Best Translated Book Awards highlight literary excellence from around the globe while also shrinking the world a bit, fostering empathy through storytelling,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s Director of Author and Publishing Relations. “The Amazon Literary Partnership is proud to continue its support of the diverse voices of BTBA’s international authors and their translators.” Nine judges served on this year’s fiction jury: Trevor Berrett (The Mookse and the Gripes), Monica Carter (Salonica World Lit), Rachel Cordasco (Speculative Fiction in Translation), Jennifer Croft (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), George Henson (World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, University of Oklahoma), and Steph Opitz (Marie Claire). The poetry jury was made up of: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore). Past winners of the fiction award include: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen; Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal. In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan; Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong; The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander. For more information, visit Three Percent, the BTBA site and Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter.
Last month, we unveiled the longlists for the Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA), an award founded by Three Percent that comes with a $5,000 prize for author and translator alike. Below, behold the finalists. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York and at The Millions on May 4. For more information on the award, its history, the judges, etc., please visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Best Translated Book Award 2017: Fiction Finalists Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press) Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books) Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum) Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books) Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press) War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon) Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld) Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press) Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf) Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press) Best Translated Book Award 2017: Poetry Finalists Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books) Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press) Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books) In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books) Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions) (read our review)
Listed below are the 35 titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists for fiction and poetry -- the 10th time that these lists have been released. And the sixth year in which, thanks to an Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Founded in 2008 by Three Percent at the University or Rochester, the award has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. The focus on finding the best books in translation from the past year has been constant, but the pool of eligible titles has expanded from 360 in 2008 to more than 600 for this year’s award. For these longlists, the 14 judges -- nine for fiction, five for poetry -- considered works written by authors from 87 countries in 54 different languages, and published in English by 179 distinct presses. This increase in the number of books coming out is incredibly impressive, but so is the fact that so many more translators are getting their works published in comparison to a few years back. Reflecting that, of the 40 translators included on these longlists, 29 (73 percent) are receiving this honor for the first time ever. In short, it’s an exciting time for international literature, and the breadth and diversity of these longlists reflect that. From established authors like Javier Marías to new voices like Basma Abdel Aziz, from works of speculative fiction like Wicked Weeds to family sagas from Senegal like Doomi Golo, there’s something on here for every type of reader. To help you find the books that you most want to read, Three Percent will be running short “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” posts for all 35 titles over the next few weeks as we build up to the announcement of the finalists on Tuesday, April 18. (Also right here at The Millions.) For more information on the award, it’s history, the judges, etc., please visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Best Translated Book Award 2017: Fiction Longlist The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House) (read Abdel Aziz's Year in Reading) The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions) Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press) Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books) On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions) Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum) Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books) A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press) Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press) Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions) Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Germany, Archipelago Books) (read our review) War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon) Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld) Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions) Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press) Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf) In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books) Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf) Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press) Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG) Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions) Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions) My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books) Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press) Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books) Best Translated Book Award 2017: Poetry Longlist Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books) Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press) Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System) Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books) In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books) Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions) (read our review) Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press) tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen (Cuba, co-im-press) Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk (Poland, Tavern Books) Antígona González by Sara Uribe, translated from the Spanish by John Pluecker (Mexico, Les Figues Press)
“I speak the way I speak inside,” wrote the great Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. “Not with the voice intent on sounding human, but with the other one, the one that insists I’m still a creature of the forest.” Pizarnik, whose ubiquity in 20th-century Latin-American literature is indicated by the fact that many critics refer to her simply as “Alejandra” or “A.P.,” has not, historically, been on a first-name basis with English-reading audiences; that may change following the publication of Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972, an invaluable 2016 release from New Directions that compiles new translations of three full-length collections and numerous uncollected poems Pizarnik left behind. This volume charts the final decade of the poet’s life, a period of her career in which she turned her gaze away from the world, facing inward to focus on the dark voices she channeled. On the page she carves out spaces of solitude and silence in which language is reduced to its very essence, a limited collection of recurring images and symbols. “When the roof tiles blow away from the house of language, and words no longer keep—that is when I speak,” Pizarnik resolved. Drawing from the dream-languages and word games of the surrealists, Pizarnik turns notions of lyrical subjectivity inside out with her kaleidoscopic procession of masks and personae; the strange music of her poems invites the reader in, and her revelations -- cathartic and unsettling -- are very nearly overwhelming. Pizarnik’s friend Alberto Manguel described her small apartment as having “a small blackboard on which she worked out her poems, like a sculptor chipping away at a block that, she knows, contains a few essential, precious words.” The poems in the atmospheric Works and Nights (1965) bear out this effort with severely compressed forms, only a few stretching longer than eight brief lines. True to the collection’s title, these poems speak of the feverish, sleep-starved spaces of the night: Someone, sobbing, measures the lengths before dawn. Someone punches her pillow in search of an impossible place of rest. Masterfully evocative portraits in miniature, these poems summon the pregnant stillness of late evening, as well as an alluring darkness. Loneliness permeates these dark visions, but there are moments of sensual languor in this void: “Space. Blazing silence,” the poet intones, then breaks the line, a move that may evoke a lowered voice, a downward flick of the eyes: “What is it that shadows give each other?” By 1965 Pizarnik had already established many of the recurring symbols and images most frequently associated with her writing, many seemingly drawn from a world of dark fairy tales. Her shipwrecked girls, beggars, and orphans lend a haunting quality to the work, as in “Dispatches”: The wind had eaten away parts of my face and my hands. They called me ragged angel. I lay waiting. Much has been made of Pizarnik’s reliance on this particular set of tropes -- which, in a decade-spanning volume like this one, occasionally risks feeling a bit repetitive. Most critics connect Pizarnik’s unique language of symbols with a fascination with dreams and esoteric symbols drawn from her reading of surrealists like André Breton and Antonin Artaud. Pizarnik builds on these images in 1968’s Extracting the Stone of Madness (from which the omnibus derives its name), incorporating the visions of “tragic ladies in red” into more ambitious and expansive poems and prose works, some spanning multiple pages. She also toys with subjectivity, confiding, “I am alone and I write,” then correcting herself: “No, I am not alone. There is someone here who is trembling.” Just who this trembling other might be remains ambiguous; Pizarnik, in her diaries, diagnosed herself with manic depression, and spoke of her “fear of all the selves struggling inside me,” but the power of these lines invites us into a more complicated (and disorienting) relationship with this work and its creator: invited in by Pizarnik’s hazy confessions, the reader begins to suspect that perhaps this someone is us. Despite the presence of a few ladies in red, the poems in Extracting the Stone of Madness frequently dispense with the elaborate metaphors of Pizarnik’s early work in favor of a heightened sense of urgent candor, voices that speak frankly (if opaquely) of various sorts of deep alienation. It is as though the defamiliarizing exercises of the surrealists have been pushed to a further extreme, losing any sense of playfulness or winking absurdity. “If I’d had it close at hand, I would’ve traded in my soul to be invisible,” Pizarnik admits here, landing on a central theme. “Drunk on poems and on (why not just say it) the void of absence.” The terror and the allure of invisibility and silence—in short, the will to disappear—remain focal points in A Musical Hell (1971), wherein Pizarnik presents words themselves as a means of concealment or defense, announcing: i’m going to hide behind language and why is that i’m afraid The precise nature of this fear remains elusive. In an interview near the end of her life, Pizarnik ascribed an almost superstitious quality to her writing process: “Among other things, I write so that what I fear won’t befall me…To write a poem is to repair the fundamental wound, the break.” In Pizarnik’s work, this break exists between reality and the language we use to describe it, inhibiting, by extension, the ways we connect with the people around us. To repair this break, however, called the poet to plumb the darkest depths of her visions, parsing an existential dread no language could convey. “I can’t just speak and say nothing,” Pizarnik insists. “That’s how we lose ourselves, the poem and I, in the hopeless attempt to write the things that burn.” And where does her exploration lead her, once she admits the hopelessness of her endeavor? “To blackness, to the sterile and the fragmented,” she concludes. It is difficult to read Pizarnik’s work without shuddering at what can only be described as profound depression. The poet’s full-length collections, here, are followed by an assortment of uncollected work, including poems written in the days leading up to her suicide, and if some lines manifest a crippling existential paralysis, others presage an irrevocable departure. “The poem takes me to the limits,” she writes, “far from the houses of the living. And where will I wander when I leave and don’t come back?” Only in recent years have large parts of the Pizarnik oeuvre been accessible in English: besides the New Directions volume, readers can also enjoy the poet’s seminal 1962 collection Diana’s Tree, and can look forward, in 2017, to her 1955 debut, The Most Foreign Country -- these last two chapbooks put out by Ugly Duckling Presse, all three in crisply evocative translations by Yvette Siegert. Despite Siegert’s efforts, a clear understanding of the liminal spaces Pizarnik wanders is not, ultimately, what we are left with. This is, after all, a language of dreams, of the hinterlands of the mind; many poems grip us with the insistent logic of nightmares, so convincing in the moment of reading, so hard to explain afterward. Like the work of Artaud and Pizarnik’s other spiritual forebears, Extracting the Stone of Madness is perhaps more strongly felt than understood, best experienced when read aloud, which is not to say that these texts aren’t utterly successful in their dark invitations. “I want to go / nowhere if not / down into the depths,” Pizarnik wrote near the end of her life, and went. The reader who lets her guard down may feel dangerously inclined to follow.
Inevitably this year, as every year, when the darkness creeps in on both sides of the day and the snow begins to fall and remain, I become newly aware of the weight of unread books in my vicinity: the pile on my desk growing, having spread to the table beside my desk, multiplied into stacks on the window ledge and the chest of drawers, and eventually creeping out into the hallway. They’re in a holding pattern, beckoning to be read before being returned to the shelves. Collecting and its relationship to hoarding and of both to loss, is the subject of a wonderful, rambling essay by Douglas Coupland in e-flux, which touches on collecting across varied art forms. He writes about how the acquisition of objects fills an emptiness, a longing. This is true for my desire for books, as I imagine it is for many of you. And it’s many other wondrous things too, but come December the growing stacks become a commentary on the passage of time; the awareness of another cycle passing and outpacing me. Soon with the new year, these shortcomings will be transformed into new resolve and focus, the possibility of remaining abreast. But for now I hunger for these books to devour me too. Which isn’t to say I haven’t read and adored a number of books, this year. I have. The books that stayed with me seem so intrinsically entangled with these ideas of time’s passage, of regret, of collecting and fracturing narratives, of the need to live through art and the desire be devoured by it. A heightened awareness of the passage of time and to the arc of a life carries Jenny Erpenbeck's elegant and gorgeously observed The End of Days. The protagonist dies within the first pages as a baby, her parents filled with regrets, with could’ves and should’ves. The narrator is resurrected again and again, and so she dies again and again, too, the cycle of loss never-ending, and the characters always prisoners to time. It’s a novel too of marveling at life’s ephemerality and the objects (the books!) that outlast; it’s filled with the wish to defy time, to reverse it, to manipulate the ways the unseen future slips into a past riddled with loss and regret. Janice Lee’s Reconsolidation is an elegy for her mother, a laconic meditation in line with Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diary. Writing the book was a way of engaging with the obscene presence of her mother’s absence. And yet, as the book’s title suggests, there is a looming awareness and sadness that this act of conjuring only further distances and distorts her memories. Included too is the soon-to-be published translation of Argentenian poet Alejandra Pizarnik's Extracting the Stone of Madness, a bilingual collection of the poet’s middle to late work. Pizarinik died of a deliberate drug overdose at the age of 36. Her poems portend this with their gnawing desire for solitude and death and birthing poetic bodies. Her words and imagery conjure a terrifying beauty best described by Rainer Maria Rilke: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure.” Suzanne Scanlon's Her 37th Year: An Index is an emphatic, fiery examination of female aging, art, longing, and desire. As she writes under the entry DISCOURSE: “I don’t want to write a mommy narrative or a menopause narrative. As Eileen Myles said, I want to...[be] punk about aging. I won’t fit into what is allowed.” And she doesn’t. The book confronts loneliness, infidelity, and boredom that intermingles with restlessness, depression, inquiry: “Does it mean that, like Fanny Howe, I believe that art must show that life is worth living by showing that it isn’t?” Scanlon retools the female narrative with language and observations that are at times piercing, and yet at others so tender. Consider JOY: “Four-year old musing & inquiry; for a moment I wish that Magoo would be four years old forever, that I might spend a life in this room...There are times it feels like Heaven, to have this life.” On its surface Jesse Ball's A Cure for Suicide is a tale about the relationship between two people, a claimant, who awakes with no memory, though is told he was sick and almost died, and an examiner, who teaches the claimant how to live in the world again. Their dialogue waxes philosophical, almost Socratic as they discuss the nature of being and interaction: what is an organism? what is a city? are twins different people? how to interact? Later we learn of a tender love story that ends with overwhelming loss and a potential cure, and asks the question, is it possible to start over? Dodie Bellamy's never-complacent essay collection, When the Sick Rule the World, contains her iconic essays “Barf Mainfesto” and “Phone Home,” which is where I first recall encountering her writing: a tender essay about dealing with the loss of her mother, the way they overcame differences and distances and how the movie E.T. became mythic within this context. Bellamy writes of her conflicted admiration for icon Kathy Acker, even after her death -- “I didn’t touch the ashes. I didn’t want to and she wouldn’t have wanted me to” -- and laments witnessing her San Francisco neighborhood’s gentrification. Also and significantly, too, she writes of her Midwestern roots and the burning desire for art that’s shaped her life: With her mother in the kitchen her father cussing and smoking, she with her notebooks and writing dreamed of escape: “hover[ing] above the world craneless, educated and beautiful, with a mind lofty and brilliant enough to defy.” Paul Beatty's The Sellout breaks the mold. It’s the most roiling, irreverent, and raucous ride of a novel, with blunt-toking Bonbon Me at the helm, child subject of his social scientist father’s racial experiments, and with his father’s death he takes over the family farm in the L.A. outpost of Dickens, Calif., (with hopes of catering to the new fad for ostrich meat). The book opens with Bonbon’s case being heard by the Supreme Court: he’s violated the 13th and 14th Amendments by reinstating segregation and by owning a slave, and why? Because he’s lost faith in the system and so he “did what worked.” The book blows up every black stereotype, leaving the detritus in his wake: Bonbon’s just trying to figure out who he is and how to be himself in a world that’s always trying to label him. More from A Year in Reading 2015 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? 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