Saturday, February 8, 2020

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle - A book review

Patrick Clarke is a boy of ten. From Barrytown in Dublin. A growing boy with a lot to discover. A brat at times, a caring child at other times. A quick learner, an interested and curious student.

The book is his ramblings about what he sees around him, the way he behaves, and the way others around him do. At times, you feel ‘I’m happy I’m not neighbors with him’.

Literal translations of his thoughts, gibberish, heartlessness, care, fear, dare, adventures, and childish analysis fill the pages of this book. And his friends are as grown up as he is and as child-like as he is; their thoughts and actions only complement his.

We have heard it like a million times that a child’s upbringing, what he sees and does at home, what he sees his parents doing and talking about has a strong influence on and manifests his/her personality and attitude.

And still there is shouting and abusing in their presence, hidden in the shrouds of normal behavior. A smack heard in the kitchen – did something fall, oh! It was the table. They aren’t fighting! They are! No, they’re just talking; grown-ups do that all the time.
We don’t need mentally strong children now, do we? Not altered in this way. We don’t need them to say ‘I understand’ and really understand the forced brutalities of life. We’d rather let them worry about that unsharpened pencil than the sobs of a parent. We need to let them be what they are – children.
Easier said than done! Grownups have their lives too and let’s be practical, incidents happen; you make mistakes, you realize your mistakes, sometimes you let go, sometimes it’s awfully difficult. But never let it escape you that you’re being watched. By innocent eyes. And what you’re doing is taking away that innocence little by little; a permanent uncontrollable damage that probably will be presented to a shrink to analyze and comment on, later in life.

Parents who think that their behavior doesn’t affect children - read this book please.

Grownups, who think they can hide their emotions, keep things secret, fight and abuse when no-one is looking, think again! – read the book please.
The book reminded me of ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night time’ by Mark Haddon.

Roddy Doyle is Paddy Clarke. Paddy Clarke is Roddy Doyle. And I enjoyed their story. 
I only wish I had penned down all my experiences as a child; then I would’ve shown Paddy Clarke what an obstreperous child I was, more than him; probably given him the Chinese torture and a dead leg!
Obstreperous obstreperous obstreperous

My rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Unexploded by Alison Macleod – A book review

A melancholic song is playing in the background. It seeps into the aural sense. It affects but surprisingly I don’t want it to end. And it doesn’t; it goes on.
What is war? A conflict carried on by force of arms between nations or between parties within a nation. Force there is, arms there are – fire from the skies, fear there is, and war there is. And then there are other conflicts, within; there are wars in the head, in relationships; a sense of betrayal, there is hatred dripping, there is a tacit shelling of unspoken words, of feelings.
‘There is no invasion as fearful as love, no havoc like desire. Its fuse trembles in the human heart and runs through to the core of the world. What are our defences to it?’
It’s World War II, Germany is planning to invade Britain. George Beaumont is a bank manager but the war has voluntarily turned him into Superintendent of the infirmary. Evelyn is his wife, happy with him and their son Phillip. The war has bought a tremble in her life like everyone else’s. George’s decision to take up an assignment away from them, for the country, has imbibed a sense of betrayal in her that she can’t free herself of.
A feeling of abandonment engulfs her; George hasn’t left yet but the thought of him being able to leave them; her and her son, is killing her, is straining their normalcy. And the green pills of death lying there below the spade in their garden, kept by him, is an evidence of his torture; a death before dying. 
When relationships have been lived long and though the strands are strong, there is an inevitable abrasion due to circumstances. That is when the transparency turns to translucency, a slightly opaque layer shrouds and suddenly it becomes unimportant to reveal things. You ask and answer for yourself, ‘what difference will it make?’ – the first signs of a strain.
‘She had to look away. Sometimes, it was still an effort: to hate him so she would not love him. He’d always been such a good father.’
Otto Gottlieb, a prisoner of war, a Jew, an artist, finds himself in Geoffrey’s infirmary. But he’d been disowned even before he reached the infirmary, by the Germans. He’s an outcast; do we not know why.
Evelyn has decided to read at the infirmary to the prisoners; there are only two; the dying Italian and Otto. What starts as an indifference towards the confined Jew, unknowingly develops into love - time, situation, betrayal and most importantly, an imposed loneliness in the head play their roles. Can one infidelity justify another?
‘Life would hobble on. Indeed, perhaps it was only by accepting the inevitable failures of intimacy that one’s married life moved forward and passed into the muted successes upon which anniversary parties, retirement dinners and obituaries ultimately depended.’

According to the biblical narrative, Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, was summoned by King David, who had seen her bathing and lusted after her. David had Uriah himself carry the message to be placed on the front lines of the battle that led to his death.
This disturbing piece of Bathsheba’s story has an apparent influence on ‘Unexploded’s’ central theme, both literally and otherwise. As the story unfolds, the writer unveils the characters to the yearning reader as they wince and gasp in anticipation. 
‘Yes’, he (Otto) told the young critic, ‘I think that is fair to say. One is always, also, painting oneself. It’s inevitable, though one’s focus is necessarily trained upon the subject. I suppose all of life, whether off the canvas or on it, is made from’ – he’d allowed himself to smile carelessly for the first time that opening night – ‘the intercourse of two things.’
Through Ms. Macleod’s chisel arises another grotesque effigy of hatred which represents the thoughts of children in war; their perspective. A nation is probably already dead when its children fall prey to hatred, when their minds are polluted, when their innocence is no more the innocence of harmless sport but becomes a criminalized innocence; the innocence remains but is veneered in pure hatred. 
What is more disturbing - the everyday anticipation of war or the war itself? Which is more tiring?
‘She wanted life, she wanted it badly. She needed the world to burst open. To go up in smoke. She wanted the enemy to invade the shore and be done with it. Fear was exhausting, but nothing tired a body like hope.’
‘Then, as if in reply to some reckless act of the collective will or an unspeakable communal wish, something in the atmosphere gave way that July night. Squalls and showers blew in from the west. The lid of summer came off. And in a moment that was, after so many months of waiting, as much longed for (secretly, ashamedly) as it was dreaded, the first bomb was tipped into the early morning of the new day: a fifty-kilogram falling star, gravid, lethal and indifferent.'
When you see a plane firing bullets in the distance, a character says in one of the paragraphs, never run away from it; run towards it if you want a chance to survive. And run towards disaster is what every character in this story does but does anyone survive?
It’s a well crafted, intelligently written story; I loved the simplicity of the narrative. It struck a chord and it’ll stay with me for a long time. The melancholic tune still resonates as Evelyn visits Otto’s representation of Bathsheba in his painting on the church dome. 
And as a tear finally falls, I am there to witness it.
My rating - 8/10

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

A fairly honourable defeat by Iris Murdoch - A book review

Goodness is a virtue. And Iris Murdoch seems to be possessed with it. Be it this particular book or ‘The Nice and the Good’, she seems to be amazed and possibly irritated by the varieties of it. Her characters drip of this disparateness as her brush strokes the story. But goodness cannot exist by itself, it inevitably co-exists; with love, friendship, innocence, sacrifice and more importantly power.

There’s a strong connection between goodness and power and most of the times we don’t realize we’re donning this invisible cloak. We, in all our nonchalance, make ourselves believe in the goodness in us but conveniently ignore the power demon lurking behind the veil. But do we make ourselves believe at all? Or is it an inane innate defect of humanity. Murdoch cruelly makes us chant, pushing each bead of nicety, love, friendship, relationship, deceit, anxiety, despair and many others against the disturbing string of dominance.

Characters in this story are few but intense; the intensity lies in their strength and for a few in their timidity and weaknesses. Morgan, an eccentric, shallow and hopelessly callous person shelters herself at her sister Hilda’s house. She’s running away from relationships, she wants to find herself she says. She doesn’t want to let go of Tallis, her haunting husband, who she hasn’t met for two years because she’s been in an illicit relationship with Julius King and now she’s left Julius too. Hilda and her husband Rupert, the epitome of goodness and morality, don’t know what they are getting into as they harbor the wild mare into their stable; their lives are about to change because of her frivolity. Axel and Simon are the other two essential parts. Simon, Rupert’s brother is gay and madly in love with the guileless Axel.

Murdoch improvises on the proverb ‘What you give, you get back’, the reader experiences strong renderings of ‘What you get, you give back’. The deranged Morgan is treated like dirt as she tries to go back to Julius. She amuses herself in the most lowering and disgusting manner to Julius’s apathy. And then she becomes Julius with her husband Tallis, she treats him like a well tamed animal showing that offence is the best defense while sulking and playing the victim all along; how cute!

As Morgan displays her histrionics by introducing the unique concept of ‘loving innocently’ and making herself and others gulp this potion, Julius King, to challenge her nonsense and expose the fragility of relationships, plays Shakespeare and writes and directs the screenplay for an horrendous act. But should we blame Julius, or Murdoch for that matter? Murdoch’s eloquence portrays the strongest of characters crumbling to the feeblest of cunningness and it sounds so believable that one wonders – are all relationships in such a latent and decrepit state that a single blow can shatter the opaque glass of misrepresented conscience. Do we humour ourselves by believing in what we are; are we that, or are we the magician’s rabbit that pops out of the intricate and unsettling mesh of the brain and the heart each time, every time?

Murdoch plays around with the power that holds and with the powerlessness that yields. Her characters like most of us are so full of themselves, though in different ways. She shows how easy it is to pull a single strand of doubt or suspicion to create a mess of relationships, how easy it is to fall, to get lost in the meandering light of a new pleasing and refreshing something. She reinforces the effortlessness of inducing fear where the heart is timid; she mocks at the vulnerability of what we call the strength of love, of belief and trust. The plot shows how ugly people can get or probably are deep inside, beyond the ostentatious façade of goodness. She probes into the cause of goodness and derides its fragility.

It’ll be wrong to end without putting Murdoch’s characters on a pedestal for their amazing mental strength; or is it hard heartedness! Even in the wiliest of infidelity, or a treacherous contrivance, they are large hearted enough to understand, to let go and at times to find innocence in the act; a fairly honourable defeat indeed. Wow! I wish I meet more of this kind in real life, the forgiving ones. This book did make me think of the so called goodness of many people, and analyze them, it; such an ugly thing to do, isn’t it!

Loved the book, loved the mockery.
My rating: 8/10
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Book cover:
Irisi Murdoch image:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Silas Marner by George Eliot – A book review

Silas Marner is a weaver. And so is George Eliot. 
As Marner relentlessly, dedicatedly and dolefully weaves for the village folk, so does not Eliot; she pauses every now and then, she smells the blossom, she listens to the gossip of the multitude, she gives in to the blind faith of the rustic brethren, she runs her hand lovingly over the simplicity of neighbours, through her needle she looks into the cunningness and heartlessness of the affluently powerful and while doing so, infuses in the pages, one after the other, a warmth the reader isn’t ready to forsake.
Stabbed in the back by one considered closest, Marner takes his craft to the village of Raveloe where he lives a life of solitude. In the village, where being neighbourly isn’t an option, Marner has made himself an outcast; the village folk leave him alone. At intervals, incidents happen that not only change the course of his life but also the way he lives it and the way people change their thoughts about him. From losing his money to theft - the sole happiness in his life then, to the finding, keeping and making of Eppie his daughter, Marner’s life transcends his misfortune.
Silas Marner is pure in his thoughts. And so is George Eliot with her characters.
Eliot effortlessly contrasts beliefs of the poor and the rich, of the simple and the powerful. Is it naivety, ignorance or goodness in Mrs.Winthrop, one of Marner’s uneducated neighbors to declare that she hardly understands anything that the priest preaches in church but has the thought that it definitely has to be good? In fact, she goads Marner to go to church, to listen, to be accepted, for Eppie to be accepted.
On the other hand, the design of thoughts of the elite Casses are so hurtful but deemed pragmatic by them. How easily the frivolous Dunsey Cass starts thinking about Marner’s money, to beguile him out of it and starts anticipating what he’ll do with it even when it’s not his. What gives him the right to think and decide for others? And how different is Godfrey Cass, the sensible son, who reprimands himself for lying, believes he has a conscience but lays his entire life on deceit? And he too attacks Marner; this time unlike his brother, the imposition is for much more than money. Eliot unveils the rich class to show how money brings in complacency, an inevitable confidence and an ego which ridicules their thoughts and carries them away from being sensible.
I found a strange purity, simplicity and calmness in Eliot’s writing. The reader is never kept in suspense, though the characters are. It’s there and you know it but still keep reading for the joy of it, to feel, to laugh, to shame, to feel sorry, to despise and ultimately, to rejoice in the plainness of Marner’s life.
The edition I read has an introduction by Q. D.Leavis which is equally interesting and full of thoughts on the lives in and around the times of the story and the author.
My rating: * * * * * * * * * * - 8/10
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Thursday, April 4, 2019

'The woman who walked into doors' by Roddy Doyle – A book review

A lady on a swing, a full smile, a happy one. Night time for sure, a disappearing tinge of blue in the black. Probably the moonlight, probably not. There’s something eerie about the cover. And it makes me wonder, walk into or walk through; is it to do with the supernatural? And then I read praises written on the back cover and they put my mind to rest and I venture on.

‘Walk into’ it is! Bang! Again. And again. And again. Battered, bruised, shattered, broken, bleeding, hurt – inside and out, dead – almost – inside, not out. But unnoticed. No veil, yet unnoticed. Invisible.

How did you get that? – I walked into a door. So sad. Ha ha ha.

Paula was born an O’Leary, had to fall in love to be a Spencer. Married at 18 to Charlo, this the story of Paula’s married life. If it can be called one. Married - yeah, life – not very sure. Set up in a suburb of Dublin where girls were either sluts or not, and boys were either a good ride or not.

Paula is a good ride, thinks Charlo. Charlo is a good ride, thinks Paula.

And one day Paula is there on the floor. And the next day too. And as Paula lies curled up, whimpering on the floor almost every day, or night, or the times in between, the author writes on. He takes you there; in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. You look and that’s all you can do. All you can do is nod grievously as the bottle takes over her.

Roddy Doyle’s brilliance is evident in Paula’s humoring herself and her life. Please don’t tell me she actually believed love still existed; till the very end. Did it, Mr. Doyle? Or is it that unseen, empowering shit called positive thinking where you train your mind to believe things. “He loves me. He can’t live without me. He said that.”

The gory violence is only subdued by her relentless pursuit for normalcy, a hope that negates despair. And in the end it is the mother in her that fights back; the wife is merely a believer, the mother thankfully treads the path beyond the realm of belief. The beast is finally put in place.

Roddy Doyle is a powerful writer. He’s drilled a hole into Paula’s mind. He’s managed to connect the wires to a giant screen and he sees and he writes. There is no tarnishing, there are no blemishes as he captures the ramblings. Paula talks to you; she does. And more often than once you want to scream, ‘Get up bitch, get a life. Wake up, wash your face, lose your pain, lose him’. And you do. Compelling!

And I look at the cover again. Is that a toothless smile I see? Is that a black eye hidden by a shadow? Let’s see, no, can’t be a broken finger curling on to the chains. Or is it?
My rating : * * * * * * * * * * (9/10)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Half of a yellow sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – A book review

Olanna unfurled the cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.

 “There are two answers to the things they will teach you about our land: the real answer and the answer you give in school to pass.” says Odenigbo to Ugwu, his house-help.

The land is Nigeria. The time – 1967 to 1970. The real answer? So often is it lost in the labyrinths of history, buried deep, until a wanderer unearths the fossils and the truth is then attempted to being understood, theories invented and situations created. The journey from ‘was’ to ‘might have’ is traversed on an uncertain drive. And the real answer? Is most of the times lost forever, was known only to those who lived the moment, maybe isn’t as dramatic as history reveals it to be, maybe is, maybe – always a point of view.

 Adichie’s book is based on the Biafran war and her protagonists are educated, politically opinionated and knowledgeable people, thinkers and believers. The story unfolds through the affected and altered lives of Odenigbo and Olanna, then Nigerians, now fighting for the Biafran cause and their family, friends and close associates. The point of view of a foreigner, Richard, a white man, having learnt the local dialect, in love with Olanna’s sister Kainene and now one of them makes it more real. Through his lens and others, the abrupt and brutal changes that war brings are presented.  

The demand is for a separate country called Biafra. By the Igbo (a Nigerian tribe) people. And why? There’s always a spark. To light the fire. The disdainful massacre of the Igbo people in the north is supposedly the cause for the unrest. But is it really so? And what caused the massacre? And has there ever been a war without British involvement?

“David Hunt thinks we are all mental children.” It was Okeoma. “The man should go home. Why is he coming to tell us how to put out a fire, when it is he and his fellow British who collected the firewood for it in the first place?”

Richard writes in his book ‘No doubt these groups also fought wars and slave-raided each other, but they did not massacre in this manner. If this is hatred, then it is very young. It has been caused, simply, by the informal divide-and-rule policies of the British colonial exercise. These policies manipulated the differences between the tribes and ensured that unity would not exist, thereby making the easy governance of such a large country practicable.’

Odenigbo said while arguing with Kainene “The white man brought racism into the world. He used it as a basis of conquest. It is always easier to conquer a more humane people.”

An interminable dissection of the war has always been the norm of the day, after it has killed millions. The war epilogue is not just banal but longer than the contrived war itself. But to what result; has it ever been able to stop the next one? How many times has it been concluded that the civilians who fight for the war never benefit from it, only the powerful with ulterior motives do, how many candles have been burnt at war memorials, how many tears shed! And what have we learnt? Nothing! We read, we talk, resent, argue at times of normalcy but the hatred is always there, locked inside with an easily accessible key that unlocks itself at the slightest instigation. We cease to be humans, we cease to think. We are imbeciles not naïve to not accept the disparate differences in people, we are ugly to be so easily brain washed and carried away by religion, caste, fanaticism; we are a hatred hungry creed, we frenetically turn to monsters, we crave for power only to realize in the end that we have none. It’s so laughable to hear that a war is being fought for peace. Which civil war has actually been civil?

“What peace are we looking for? Gowon himself has said that a basis for unity does not exist, so what peace are we looking for?” Odenigbo asked.

“Yes! Yes! Ojukwu, Give us guns! There is anger in our hearts.” The chanting was constant now.

And there is damage beyond the eye can see. Irreparable damage, irreversible damage. The lives of the Biafrans are changing every single day; from the comforts of their homes they are shoved to the abuses of stifling shanties. Beyond the hunger and the bullets and beatings, does war change something deep inside? Adichie answers that through Ugwu’s complicity in the stoic rape of a bargirl, the priest satiating his hunger with the young kids before satiating their need for protein food to stay alive, in Kainene’s forgiveness of her sister for her immoral act.

Beyond the bloating stomachs of starvation and the loss of tufts of hair, do we, as individuals lose ourselves in war or do we find ourselves; can we still hold on to our sanity? How steadfast can morality be in the proximity of death? Should a bereft stomach justify adultery just because it’s the time of war, can friendship hold more weight than the caste, creed or religion you’re fighting for, and can forgiveness replace barbaric acts?     

Richard’s book – He writes about starvation. Starvation was a Nigerian weapon of war. Starvation broke Biafra and brought Biafra fame and made Biafra last as long as it did. Starvation made the people of the world take notice and sparked protests and demonstrations in London and Moscow and Czechoslovakia. Starvation made parents all over the world tell their children to eat up. Starvation aided the careers of photographers. And starvation made the International Red Cross call Biafra its gravest emergency since the Second World War.

His Excellency would come back from his foreign visit with justice and with salt.

Was it risible then that Olanna asks of her husband if he slept with her starving neighbor when their car wouldn’t start while the bombing and shelling were fast approaching them? Why couldn’t she get that out of her mind even when the next bullet could’ve rendered her or her husband dead? And was his complicity in the rape of the bargirl an incredulity for Ugwu, a simple, honest, loyal, conscripted, god fearing teenager; why did he do it, did the moment define him? Would he have done that if it wasn’t war time and does that speak something about who we are and who we can be?

Finally Ugwu looked at the girl. She stared back at him with a calm hate.

Olanna thought “how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery.

As Chinua Achebe quotes ‘One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.’

Richard about Kainene – there was something brittle about her, and he feared she would snap apart at the slightest touch; she had thrown herself so fiercely into this, the erasing of memory, that it would destroy her.

Richard, a British writer, now turned into a war journalist and a local unfolds and unveils the unrelenting gruesomeness of happenings and his rendition spurts vividness to the reality of matters. His book on the war is aptly titled ‘The world was silent when we died.’

Richard’s book – He writes about the world that remained silent when Biafrans died. He argues that Britain inspired this silence. The arms and advice that Britain gave Nigeria shaped other countries. In the United States, Biafra was “under Britain’s sphere of interest.” In Canada, the prime minister quipped. “Where is Biafra?” The Soviet Union sent technicians and planes to Nigeria, thrilled at the chance to influence Africa without offending America or Britain. And from their white-supremacist positions. South Africa and Rhodesia gloated at further proof that black-run governments were doomed to failure.

Adichie’s pedantic pen is calm as she unnerves the Biafrans from their lucidity. No furtive glance is cast; her lurid delirious description frames the brevity of human life. You read it and visualize it as a documentary video. Nothing is misconstrued, not even feelings.

Finally before Richard fell asleep, Moliere’s words came to him, strangely comforting: Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills – A Book Review


The restraint of who? – The restraint of beasts!
But where are the beasts?

Two workers, Tam and Ritchie, and the foreman, the narrator, are responsible for building high tensile fences on their clients’ farms. Their manager, Mr. Donald is a fastidious boss. So, they drive, smoke, rest, have tea, sleep, work, visit the local pub, look for women, have beer, get drunk, sleep. And again, and again. They need to be prodded, instigated, Tam and Ritchie, for them to be out of their beds and do some work. If not, they would rather have beer and sleep all day, and night of course. The fence is finally built and it’s looking good. Oh, but the client is accidentally killed. And buried.

So they move on to the next assignment. They drive, smoke, rest, have tea, sleep, work, visit the local pub, look for women, have beer, get drunk, sleep. And again, and again. The fence is finally built and it’s looking good. Oh, but the client is accidentally killed, and buried, yet again.

And then they move to the next assignment.......

The fences are built, but there’s no sign of no animals, and now there are no owners as they peacefully lie in the depth of the buried earth.

I surprised myself by not getting bored with the ludicrously trite routine of the characters; rather enjoyed their idiosyncrasies. I grinned at their indolence as they reminded me of some people I’ve had the misfortune to work with.

The author, Magnus Mills has subtly and metaphorically drawn the need to restrain the two legged creature as much as is deemed necessary for the four legged ones (Between 1979 and 1986 Magnus Mills built high-tensile fences for a living, an experience he drew upon for this novel). The need to be tamed, disciplined, berated, to move, to be motivated to move to greener pastures is felt needed by both; the safety in confines is the disposition of both. Like the beasts, we are born, live and die; we don’t give much thought to the goat that was served for dinner, do we, except maybe to the tenderness of the meat? Maybe, that explains the dead-pan humour (discovered this phrase when reading about the author) in the cold (accidental) killings of the clients. Was it sorrowful – no, was it deliberate – no, did it evoke reproach – no, was it funny – no, why should it? Was it forgotten – easily! Life goes on...

On another note, we feel free, safe in our confines, don’t we? We aren’t born to be free, we are born to be restrained – to do as we are told, do this, don’t do that, do it this way, behave, sit, stand, brush, eat, travel, go to work, return home, sleep, ready yourselves for another day of a mundane struggle – the more taut the string, the more effective the fence. An introvert would feel as free in a crowded party as would a garrulous person on a marooned island.

We are tethered by the invisible shackles of our thoughts and imposed values and we roam around feeling free only till we feel the tug of the chain, and then we saunter back to our safer grounds. We are herded into the influential lives that we live; only few choose to, resolve to break free and live in the wilderness.

As Oscar Wilde said “To define is to limit.” But then again, was that for humans? :)
My rating: * * * * * * * * * * - 6/10 

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