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Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the exceptional literary merit of California writers and publishers. This makes it one of the oldest awards that we cover on the whole literary award network!

Each year a select jury considers hundreds of books in search of the very best in literary achievement. Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident of California, and they must be published during the year under consideration. Awards are presented in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, First Work of Fiction, Poetry, Californiana, Notable Contribution to Publishing, Juvenile Literature and Young Adult Literature

2009 - 79th California Book Award Winners

Gold Medals

Poetry:
D.A. Powell, Chronic. Graywolf Press
Nonfiction:
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell. Published by Viking Adult
First Fiction:
Lori Ostlund, The Bigness of the World. Published by University of Georgia Press
Fiction:
Yiyun Li, The Vagrants. Published by Random House
Juvenile:
Susan Patron, Lucky Breaks. With illustrations by Matt Phelan. Published by Ginee Seo Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers (An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division)
Young Adult:
Sherri Smith, Flygirl. Published by Putnam Juvenile
Contribution to Publishing:
Daniel C. Matt (Translation and Commentary), The Zohar Pritzker Edition, Volume Five. Published by Stanford University Press
Californiana:
Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi, Wherever There's a Fight. Published by Heyday Books

Silver Medals

Nonfiction:
William T. Vollmann, Imperial. Published by Viking Adult
Nonfiction:
Minal Hajratwala, Leaving India. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Fiction:
Maile Meloy, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. Published by Riverhead

2008 (77TH) California Book Award Winners

Poetry | Nonfiction | Fiction | First Fiction | Young Adult | Juvenile | Contribution | Special

Recognition | 2007 (76th) | 2006 (75th) | 2005 (74rd) | Winners from 1931 to 2005 | California Young Readers

Widely-known authors who have received Commonwealth Club Gold Medals in the past:

  • C.S. Forester for The Good Shepherd (1955)
  • Wallace Stegner for All the Little Live Things (1967) and The Spectator Bird (1976)
  • Harriet Doerr for Stones for Ibarra (1984)
  • T. Coraghessan Boyle for World's End: A Novel (1987) and Talk, Talk (2006)
  • Amy Tan for The Joy Luck Club (1989)
  • Ethan Canin for The Palace Thief (1994)
  • Diane Johnson for Le Divorce (1997)
  • Michael Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001)
  • Richard Rodriguez for Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002)
  • William T. Vollman for Europe Central (2005)
  • Kay Ryan for Niagra River (2005)
  • Michael Pollan for The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006)
  • Ishmael Reed for New and Collected Poems 1964-2006 (2006)
  • Jared Diamond for Collapse (2005) and Guns, Germs and Steel (1997)
  • Ishmael Reed for New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006 (2006

77th California Book Awards

Awarded in 2008 for books published in 2007

   

Poetry
Gold
Chinese Apples by W.S. Di Piero (Knopf)

This selection of W. S. Di Piero’s poems, covering eight individual collections over the last quarter century and offering fifteen strong new poems, is a chance to savor the career of a poet enthralled by the seductive music of life as it is lived. Here are Di Piero’s consuming preoccupations: the pull of faith and the suspicion of transcendence; urban worlds and the mysterious jazz of street language; desire and sexual need and love and loss, everything marked by what one early poem calls “the bruise of chance.” Through it all, Di Piero delivers what he has called, in William James’s phrase, “the hard, bright particulars of physical existence.”

No poet is more visceral; these poems carry the sparkling tension and urgency of an artist who does not write or live intellectually, but locally. Di Piero’s sensibility seems to spring from the mood on the streets of San Francisco or float down from the flung-open shutters in his ancestors’ Italian villages; the economy of his language has its source in his native South Philly, where “When I was young, they taught us not to ask. / Accept what’s there . . . Brick homes, Your Show of Shows, / the mothball fleet and flaring oilworks.”

“Poetry exists not to simplify our sense of life and death but to absorb and express its complexities and mixed tones,” Di Piero has written. Throughout this volume, those tones are at play, as this essential poet squares up in front of experience and all it brings

 
   

Nonfiction
Gold
Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad (Knopf)

Product Description
Ralph Ellison is justly celebrated for his epochal novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953 and has become a classic of American literature. But Ellison’s strange inability to finish a second novel, despite his dogged efforts and soaring prestige, made him a supremely enigmatic figure. Arnold Rampersad skillfully tells the story of a writer whose thunderous novel and astute, courageous essays on race, literature, and culture assure him of a permanent place in our literary heritage.

Starting with Ellison’s hardscrabble childhood in Oklahoma and his ordeal as a student in Alabama, Rampersad documents his improbable, painstaking rise in New York to a commanding place on the literary scene. With scorching honesty but also fair and compassionate, Rampersad lays bare his subject’s troubled psychology and its impact on his art and on the people about him.This book is both the definitive biography of Ellison and a stellar model of literary biography.

About the Author
Arnold Rampersad is Senior Associate Dean for the Humanities at Stanford University, where he is also Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities and a member of the English department. He is a recipient of fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has written for The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post.

 
   

Nonfiction
Silver
What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe (Oxford)

Product Description
The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, a New York Times bestseller, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent.
Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information. These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an ovwalker_howeerwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture. In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the true prophets of America's future. He reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion culminates in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United States.
By 1848 America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative of this formative period in United States history.

About the Author

Daniel Walker Howe is Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Political Culture of the American Whigs and Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. He lives in Los Angeles.

 
   

Fiction
Gold
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)

Product Description

For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

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About the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children


 
   

Fiction
Silver
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead)Product Description


After 103 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and with four million copies of The Kite Runner shipped, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today.

Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.

About the Author
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. His first novel, The Kite Runner, was an international bestseller, published in 34 countries. In 2006 he received the Humanitarian Award from the United Nations Refugee Agency and was named a U.S. goodwill envoy to that agency. He lives in northern California.

 
   

First Fiction back to top
Silver
Sons & Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour (Grove)

Product Description

Compared by Danzy Senna to "the young Philip Roth" for her "lashing, dark humor tinged with deep melancholy," Porochista Khakpour is one of her generation's most outrageously gifted new talents.  Sons and Other Flammable Objects is at once a comedy and a tragedy, a family history, and a modern coming-of-age story with a distinctly timeless resonance.

Growing up, Xerxes Adam is painfully aware that he is different¡ªwith an understanding of his Iranian heritage that vacillates from typical teenage embarrassment to something so tragic it can barely be spoken. His father, Darius, obsesses over his sense of exile, and fantasizes about a nonexistent daughter he can relate to better than his living son; Xerxes' mother changes her name and tries to make friends; but neither of them can help their son make sense of the terrifying, violent last moments in a homeland he barely remembers. As he grows into manhood and moves to New York, his major goal in life is to completely separate from his parents, but when he meets a beautiful half-Iranian girl on the roof of his building after New York's own terrifying and violent catastrophe strikes, it seems Iran will not let Xerxes go.
 
   

Californiana back to top
Silver
Reinventing Los Angeles by Robert Gottlieb (MIT)

Review
"Bob Gottlieb is an organizer extraordinaire, a practical visionary, and a tactical genius. When Friends of the Los Angeles River partnered with Occidental College for a year's worth of collaborative events, one of the great pleasures for me was working with Bob, who has an astonishing ability to work not just a system but all kinds of systems for the public good. A lot of people make fun of the idealism of the late 60's, but Gottlieb is one of those whose idealism has only been sharpened and refined by the ensuing years and made more effective. Everybody who reads this book will be inspired to make their community, their city and the world into a better place, I promise."
Lewis MacAdams, Friends of the Los Angeles River

"No complaining diatribe, this book proffers solutions and heralds successful programs already in place...Gottlieb dissects and discusses origins, failures, successes, and future ramifications of nature, community, water, transportation, migration, and globalization in the city in a way that is neither preachy nor accusatory, but informative and—I dare say—inspiring."
Society & Architectural Historians News

"Robert Gottlieb has long been a pioneer in redefining environmentalism, turning ideas into action, and forging coalitions in the often murky atmosphere of Los Angeles. This book offers a timely account of the promising work in the City of Angels to forge a political movement that integrates social, economic, and environmental health."
Jennifer Price, author of Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America

"Robert Gottlieb reminds us that cities, and the political actors within them, can and do change. Los Angeles came of age by shoving nature around. But in these early years of the 21st century, grassroots and community action hint that the environmental future of the city and region may not be so dire. Written by a scholar/activist who has been at the center of much of the recent excitement, this book is a scholarly report, a celebration, and a further call to action."
William Deverell, Department of History and Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, University of Southern California

 
   

Young Adult
Silver
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Penguin)

Review
...compelling reading. -- Booklist

A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a gifted new author. -- Kirkus, starred review

Review
“A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a talented new author.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Breakneck pace and dizzying emotion." -School Library Journal --This text refers to the Paperback edition. back to top

Product Description
Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.
About the Author
JAY ASHER has worked at an independent bookstore, an outlet bookstore, a chain bookstore, and two public libraries. Jay’s first writing award earned him a free fruit smoothie every day for an entire year. More recently, Thirteen Reasons Why won him the Smartwriters.com Write-It-Now Award, and the 2003 SCBWI Work in Progress grant. He was also named one of the “Hot Men in Children’s Literature” by the librarian-run website A Fuse 8 Production

 
   

Young Adult

Silver
Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine (Henry Holt)

Product Description
Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao’s political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and, soon, for herself and family. Over the course of four years, Ling manages to grow and blossom, even as she suffers more horrors than many people face in a lifetime.

Drawing from her childhood experience, Ying Chang Compestine brings hope and humor to this compelling story for all ages about a girl fighting to survive during the Cultural Revolution in China.

About the Author
YING CHANG COMPESTINE grew up in China and now lives in Lafayette, California, with her husband and son. She is the author of several picture books and has written three cookbooks for adults. This is her first novel. back to top
 
   

Juvenile
Silver
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman (Henry Holt)

Review

* “Endings don’t get any happier than in this global tour de force.”

School Library Journal, starred review


Product Description
Once upon a time, in Mexico . . . in Ireland . . . in Zimbabwe . . . there lived a girl who worked all day in the rice fields . . . then spent the night by the hearth, sleeping among the cinders.

Her name is Ashpet, Sootface, Cendrillon . . . Cinderella. Her story has been passed down the centuries and across continents. Now Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis craft its many versions into one hymn to the rich variety and the enduring constants of our cultures.
 
   

Contribution to Publishing
Silver
Impressions of the East by Deborah Rudolph (Heyday Books)

Review
The C.V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkeley, which was established in 1947, has a comprehensive collection of rare print holdings including manuscripts, imprints, rubbings, and maps. The collection serves to document the historical, cultural, and social developments of China, Japan and Korea. The text by Rudolph (UC-Berkeley), which nicely highlights this collection with full color and extensively annotated illustrations throughout, is divided into two parts focusing on the technical and cultural aspects of these works. The first section , "Technical Impressions", concentrates on the development of printing in East Asia through a discussion of the technical processes surrounding the making of books, manuscripts, and rubbings. The second section, "Cultural Impressions", attempts to delineate the larger social meaning of these items by placing objects in their societal, historical and cultural contexts. Prior knowledge of Asian history and culture is not assumed, so the text is easily accessible to those unfamiliar with Asian printing. The volume clearly explains the conventions for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean names and dates.It includes a complete bibliography and full identifying information for featured works. Summing up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.--K. M. Keogh, Virginia Commonwealth University --CHOICE: Current reviews for Academic Libraries April 2008

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Product Description
An opulent look at East Asia s printed and handwritten treasures Color woodblock prints, early maps of Asia and beyond, and gorgeously detailed scrolls are just some of the highlights in the collection of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkeley. From oracle bones to twentieth-century manuscripts, Impressions of the East presents selections from the Library s rare book collection in their technological and cultural contexts. Embedded in the descriptions of the works featured is a lucidly sketched history of the lands where the works originated and the ways in which they influenced each other. Opulently produced and brilliantly designed, the book brings excitement and scholarly insight to the print and manuscript traditions of East Asia.

About the Author
Deborah Rudolph is senior editor at the East Asian Library. She holds a PhD in classical Chinese from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master s in library science from UCLA. Both her father and her husband s father collected early Japanese and Chinese books and manuscripts.

 
   

Special Recognition

Plaque
The Book of Psalms Translated by Robert Alter

Product Description
A brilliant new translation and commentary of one of the Bible's most cherished and powerful books.
Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives.

This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text.

About the Author
Robert Alter is a widely acclaimed literary scholar. He is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

 


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76th California Book Awards

GOLD MEDAL - FICTION
Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (Pantheon)

SILVER MEDAL - FICTION
Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle (Viking)

SILVER MEDAL - FIRST FICTION
Artificial Light by James Greer (Akashic Books)

GOLD MEDAL - NONFICTION
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press)

SILVER MEDAL - NONFICTION
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario (Random House)

SILVER MEDAL - CALIFORNIANA
The Great Black Way by R.J. Smith (Public Affairs)

GOLD MEDAL - POETRY
New and Collected Poems, 1964-2006 by Ishmael Reed (Carroll & Graff)

SILVER MEDAL - YOUNG ADULT
A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

SILVER MEDAL - JUVENILE
Landed by Milly Lee (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

SILVER MEDAL - CONTRIBUTION TO PUBLISHING
Children's Book Press

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75th ANNUAL CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS WINNERS IN BRIEF

Gold Medal - Fiction: William T. Vollmann, Europe Central
Gold Medal - Poetry: Kay Ryan, The Niagara River
Gold Medal - Nonfiction: Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains
Silver Medal - Fiction: Judy Budnitz, Nice Big American Baby
Silver Medal - Fiction: Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Silver Medal - First Fiction: Yiyun Li, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Silver Medal - Nonfiction: Jared Diamond, Collapse
Silver Medal - Californiana: Philip L. Fradkin, The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906
Silver Medal - Young Adult: Joyce Maynard, The Cloud Chamber
Silver Medal - Juvenile: Jon Agee, Terrific

74th ANNUAL CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS WINNERS IN BRIEF

Gold Medal - Fiction: Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Gold Medal – Nonfiction: Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire
Gold Medal - Poetry: Adrienne Rich, The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004
Silver Medal – Fiction: Chris Abani, GraceLand
Silver Medal - First Work of Fiction: Michael Jaime-Becerra, Every Night is Ladies' Night
Silver Medal – Young Adult: A. LaFaye, Worth
Silver Medal – Fiction: Stephen Elliott, Happy Baby
Silver Medal – Juvenile: Barbara Kerley, Walt Whitman: Words for America
Silver Medal – Californiana: Richard Steven Street, Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913

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73rd ANNUAL CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS WINNERS IN BRIEF

Gold Medal - Fiction: Marianne Wiggins, Evidence of Things Unseen
Gold Medal – Nonfiction: Rebecca Solnit, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West
Gold Medal - Poetry: August Kleinzahler , The Strange Hours Travelers Keep
Silver Medal – Fiction: Tobias Wolff, Old School: A Novel
Silver Medal - Fiction: Adam Johnson, Parasites Like Us
Silver Medal – First Fiction: ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Silver Medal – Nonfiction: Bram Dijkstra, American Expressionism: Art and Social Change 1920-1950
Silver Medal – Young Adult: Jeanne DuPrau, The City of Ember
Silver Medal – Juvenile: Yuyi Morales, Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
Silver Medal – Californiana: Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, The King of California: J. G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire
Silver Medal – Notable Contribution to Publishing: McSweeney's Books & William T. Vollmann, Rising Up and Rising Down
Special Acknowledgement: Joan Didion, Where I Was From

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California Book Award Winners frow 1931 Onwards

To download complete lists of CA Book Award winners for the past 77 years in PDF format, click on one of the links below. Links to Official California Awards Website at The Commonwealth.org

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