Color of the Sea

( 7 )

Overview

Growing up in a time between wars, Sam Hamada finds that the culture of his native Japan is never far from his heart. Sam is rapidly learning the code of the samurai in the late 1930s on the lush Hawaiian Islands, where he is slowly coming into his own as a son and a man.

But after Sam strikes out for California where he meets Keiko, the beautiful young woman destined to be the love of his life, he faces crushing disappointment - Keiko's parents take her back to Japan, forcing ...

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Color of the Sea

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Overview

Growing up in a time between wars, Sam Hamada finds that the culture of his native Japan is never far from his heart. Sam is rapidly learning the code of the samurai in the late 1930s on the lush Hawaiian Islands, where he is slowly coming into his own as a son and a man.

But after Sam strikes out for California where he meets Keiko, the beautiful young woman destined to be the love of his life, he faces crushing disappointment - Keiko's parents take her back to Japan, forcing Keiko to endure their attempts to arrange her marriage. It is a trial complicated by how the Japanese perceive her - as too Americanized to be a proper Japanese wife and mother - and its pain is compounded by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ignites the war that instantly taints Sam, Keiko, and their friends and family as enemies of the state." Sam himself is most caught between cultures when, impressed by his knowledge of Japanese, the U.S. Army drafts and then promotes him, sending him on a secret mission into a wartime world of madness where he faces the very real risk of encountering his own brother in combat.

From the tragedies of the camps through to the bombing of Hiroshima, where Sam's mother and siblings live, Sam's very identity both puts his life at risk and provides the only reserve from which he can pull to survive. In this beautifully written historical epic about a boy in search of manhood, a girl in search of truth, and two peoples divided by war, Sam must draw upon his training, his past, and everything he has learned if he's ever to span his two cultures and see Keiko, or his family, again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hamamura's broad debut follows a Japanese language teacher raised in Hawaii as he finds love and as the U.S. and Japan drift into war. Isamu "Sam" Hamada, born in Hawaii to Japanese parents and raised in Japan until age nine, leaves Japan in 1930 to be reared by a Japanese-American family in Hawaii, before moving to California. A constant for the intense but likable Sam is his dedication to the martial arts, a passion shared by Yanagi Keiko, the American-born young woman he meets in California. Their love is haunted by an earlier liaison of Sam's, but Keiko and Sam press on until she leaves for Japan in the spring of 1940 to finish high school and, it is planned, marry a man chosen by her grandparents. As the war begins, Keiko's family is deported from Japan to the U.S., while Sam is recruited by the U.S. military intelligence, and a slim second chance comes into view. The romantic material is solid if idealized; various martial arts chapters have a clumsily formal quality; Sam's final military adventure at Okinawa strains credibility; an extended passage on the bombing of Hiroshima is motivated only by placing Sam's parents and siblings there. But Hamamura has a real command of the relevant history and packs a great deal of it into several dense but lucid and accessible story lines. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Nola Theiss
This is truly a multicultural story of a young man born in Japan, raised in Hawaii and Japan and forced to confront his nationality as he moves between the Japanese and American culture as he comes of age right before Pearl Harbor. At the age of 13, Isamu, or Sam in America, begins his training as a samurai by learning to see the many colors in everything. His intelligence and calm spirit help him when he moves to Hawaii to be with his father and has to deal with the lower status of the Japanese there. Sam is tricked into a relationship with a young woman who is the mistress of her employer, but his true love is Keiko, a girl he has grown up with. When he receives a letter saying the first girl has had his son, his sense of honor forces him to give up his love for Keiko, and he is torn by his conflicting loves. He is also torn between his loyalty to the US, in spite of the maltreatment of the Japanese Americans, including his family and friends, and his love for Japan. The book is beautifully written, drawing the readers into the character of Sam and creating an unusual picture of that difficult time in Japan's and America's history. Reviewer: Nola Theiss
Library Journal
Presented through a series of short chapters and divided into five major sections, this multilayered first novel spans 1930-47 and recounts the Japanese American experience through the life of Isamu "Sam" Hamada, the Hawaiian-born eldest son and descendant of a samurai family. As a nine-year-old, he leaves his mother and siblings in Japan to work on a Hawaiian plantation with his alcoholic father. Upon the older man's return to Japan, he suddenly dies, leaving Sam to fulfill his destiny as the family's "winning lottery ticket." He moves to California to attend college, and a blooming romance is interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After proudly serving his country, Sam contemplates suicide through the ancient samurai ritual of seppuku (disembowelment) when he learns the fate of his family back in Hiroshima. Overall, these plot highlights hardly delineate Hamamura's fine characterization. His writing honestly portrays the individual struggles of the immigrant experience as well as defines the equally difficult struggles of their American-born offspring. Hamamura shines as a storyteller and is definitely a name to watch. Highly recommended for Asian American fiction collections and for most public and academic libraries.-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Before and during WWII, Japanese-Americans find both countries inhospitable in this heartfelt debut. The protagonists are Isamu-later Americanized to Sam-and Keiko, both beautiful, bright and brave, and both tormented by racism. Sam, whose formative years are spent in Hawaii and California, experiences the unvarnished, in-your-face U.S. brand of hate. Keiko, a California girl, suffers the somewhat subtler Japanese variation when she's taken there by her parents in June 1940. In this tale of two countries, it's up for grabs as to which form of the disease Hamamura considers more virulent. On the day Pearl Harbor is bombed, Sam, 20, is arrested as an enemy alien, and, together with stunned friends and neighbors, unceremoniously hauled off to prison. In response to their cry of, "Why are you treating us like this, we're Americans," the FBI retorts, "No, you're not, you're Japs." Transplanted Keiko encounters the kind of arrogance that is the concomitant of nationalistic fervor. Which are you, a teacher demands-American or Japanese? Both, replies a confused, torn 18-year-old, enraging her teacher. For Keiko, challenges to defend boorish America are frequent, and intensifying, of course, when war breaks out. The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor; the U.S. employs the atom bomb; and Sam and Keiko, star-crossed lovers, lead complicated and troubled lives against a turbulent background, searching for identity and ways they can be together. A poignant, fresh story told with feeling and sincerity.
From the Publisher
A San Francisco Chronicle bestseller!

"Hamamura writes deftly and powerfully, whether about the subtle vibrations of the human heart or the bloody convulsions of war."—David Maine, author of The Preservationist and Fallen

"Hamamura's writing is sleek and powerful, and his evocation of the Japanese-American experience compelling. A haunting, beautiful story of love, honor, and dedication, Color of the Sea is a remarkable novel."—Holly Payne, author of The Virgin's Knot and The Sound of Blue

"Hamamura's first novel is a marvel, a revelation, the story of a man torn between two great loves, two great cultures, two complex and evolving worlds. Bravo."—James Dalessandro, author of 1906 and Bohemian Heart

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307386076
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/6/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,372,611
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

John Hamamura was born in the final year of WWII in a U.S. Army hospital in Minnesota. His father was a GI Japanese language instructor. His mother's family was behind barbed wire at a camp in southern Arkansas. His father's mother and siblings lived in Hiroshima; two of them survived the atomic bomb. He lives in Oakland, California.

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Read an Excerpt

PART

ONE

January 1930-December 1938

Snow Dance

JANUARY 1930

The boy's breath steams in the gray winter light as he runs toward Ogonzan hill. Black school cap askew, uniform jacket flapping unbuttoned over a blue and white padded cotton kimono, his thin bare legs and feet flashing, he runs. The clacks of his wooden clogs echo off the houses and walls along the narrow rain-wet streets of Honura village.

Isamu spots them--Mama, his brother, Bunji, and sister, Akemi--beyond the houses on an exposed section of the trail that climbed through the pine and bamboo forests of Ogonzan hill. Before he can shout or wave, they disappear into the trees. Isamu runs harder. On either side of him, deep stone-lined gutters gurgle with clear water rushing downhill.

When Isamu comes to the bend between the last house and the edge of the forest, he gives two long hoots, cranks his arms, and runs puffing like a train around the curve. Slowing to catch his breath, he considers jumping off the tracks onto the secret fox trail that he and his friends had discovered. But this afternoon the bamboo groves look dark and spooky. In the cold still air he can hear water dripping like rain off the long thin leaves. Isamu shivers and decides to keep to the main path.

He catches up with his family just before they reach the cemetery. Three-year-old Akemi beams and puts out her arms. Isamu kneels. She climbs onto his back and wraps her chubby arms around his neck. Straightening and lifting her, Isamu speaks with the unself-conscious authority of a Japanese eldest son. "Hang on tight, Akemi, here we go." Six-year-old Bunji trotting at his side and Mama following closely, Isamu leads them up the steps through the terraced graveyard until they come to Grandfather and Grandmother's stone.

Three days of rain have washed the tall stone clean; nevertheless, they ladle water over it as they have always done. The children sweep away fallen leaves and bits of debris around the base. The boys dump out the two water cups and fill them with fresh water from a nearby cistern. Mama gives Akemi pine boughs to place in the cups, then lights sticks of incense, which the children carefully poke and stand in the wet sand and ashes of the incense bowl. Then they all put their hands together and bow.

Close behind them is a small temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The humble wooden structure has only one bare, unadorned room. Leaving their grandparents' stone and approaching the temple, the children see that today the temple doors are chained and locked shut. Mama gives each child a coin to drop in the offering box, and she lights sticks of incense for them to place in the temple's incense burner.

The children put their hands together, dip their heads, then immediately run to peek through cracks and knotholes in the unpainted wooden walls of Kannon-sama's temple. Akemi tugs at her big brother's jacket. "I want to see!" Isamu lifts her to a knothole. She moves her head from side to side, surveying the empty interior. Gray light falls through gaps in the roof, through cobwebs sagging from the beams, to the wooden floor carpeted with dust and shriveled leaves, where it glistens on the surface of several small rain puddles. Isamu lowers his sister to the ground. She gives a little sigh of disappointment. "No one home."

From the front of the temple, it is only a few steps across the clearing to Kannon-sama's bell. Four sturdy posts support a black tile roof. Under the shelter of the roof hangs a beautiful old bronze bell. One after the other Mama lifts Akemi then Bunji, helping them take hold of the rope and swing the suspended log against the side of the bell.

Isamu waits for his mother and takes his turn last. He loves ringing the bell. He loves the depth and age and purity of its voice. Especially today, his last full day in Honura village, he savors the bell's song. Eyes closed, Isamu lets the final reverberations soak into him like sumi ink into rice paper.

In the stillness left by the bell, Isamu becomes aware of a soft chattering. Looking down, he discovers the sound comes from his brother's teeth. Bunji is shivering like a wet puppy. Isamu removes his school cap and drops it crookedly onto Bunji's head. Then Isamu takes off his uniform jacket and holds it while Bunji slips his arms into the too-long sleeves. Isamu wraps and smooths the jacket over Bunji's chest, then together the two brothers close the brass buttons.

Isamu feels his mother's hand on his shoulder. He turns to look at her face and sees the bell and temple behind her.

"Isamu, you are nine years old and starting a great circle in your life. Someday you will return to close that circle and begin a new one. We will be waiting to welcome you home."

Isamu nods. But feeling the ache growing in his heart and wanting desperately not to break into tears, he points at Kannon-sama's temple. "Maybe you'll be here, but I bet that creaky old temple will have fallen down."

Mama blinks, taken aback, then understanding her son's need for bravado, she smiles gently. "One of your ancestors built the first temple with his own hands. It will stand as long as Kannon-sama lives in it."

Akemi and Bunji turn to stare at the temple. Quickly Isamu knuckles the tears from his eyes. Akemi's voice chimes sweetly as crystalline bells in the still air. "Mama, I always look for her, but I never see her."

"She's in there right now."

Bunji shakes his head. "No, she's not. It's cold and dark and empty inside. And the doors are locked."

"Yes, but she didn't lock them."

Bunji grows agitated. "You're saying that Kannon-sama's in there right now?"

"Of course."

Akemi hides behind her mother and peeks timidly at Kannon-sama's temple.

"But how do you know?" demands Bunji. "How do you know she's in there?"

Suddenly Akemi lets go of Mama's hand and begins dancing in circles. "Oh, look! Look!"

"Ah, there . . ." says Mama. "The goddess has sent you a sign."

Open-mouthed, Isamu and Bunji stare at the locked temple and the last wisps curling from their incense. They look from their mother's knowing smile to the radiant wonder in Akemi's face as she laughs and twirls and lifts her tiny hands to catch the enormous snowflakes drifting silently down from the ash gray sky.

Spear

JANUARY 1930

The following morning, Isamu kneels on the station platform and says good-bye to his little sister. Akemi sobs, locking her arms around his neck, refusing to let go. He hugs and gently pats her on the back. "I'll send you a letter from Hawaii."

"Really?"

"Yes. I'll put your name on it and write it just for you."

"But you always read to me. I can't read by myself."

"Mama will read it. I'll paint and draw you pictures."

"I can do that, too. I can make pictures. Of Mama and Bunji and me."

"Then Mama will teach you how to mail them. I'll be waiting." Isamu inhales deeply, wanting to absorb everything about this moment: the blade blue morning light; Akemi's wavering smile; the weight of his mother's hand on his head; the face of his younger brother, Bunji, awestruck in the damp wind washing over the platform as the snow-clad locomotive pulls in, all whistle, bell, and hissing steam; the smell of burning coal, hot iron, and grease; Akemi's icy hand in his; his own hand sizzling slick with sweat, cooked pink with fear and excitement; his heart hammering--leaving home, leaving home . . . Leaving Japan. Leaving Mama, Bunji, and Akemi. Leaving Honura village. Going to Hawaii with Papa. To live on the sugarcane plantation where the twins sleep in the cemetery on the grassy slope between the black volcano and the sudden cliffs, the wind-washed sky and the dream-dark sea.

The train rolls toward Tokyo, Yokohama Harbor, and the waiting ship. Father and son, Yasubei and Isamu, sit in the dining car. Yasubei slips his silver cigarette case from the pocket of his navy blue suit coat, tips his white panama hat to shade his eyes. The winter sun slanting through the window glints off his gold tie clip. Squinting through cigarette smoke, Yasubei sips sake and frowns at his son. At the boy's new white shirt dusted with rice-cracker crumbs, striped burgundy and navy tie askew, collar gaping around a scrawny neck. Yasubei focuses momentarily on Isamu's hair, shiny as a raven's wing, bangs and sides scissored to resemble an inverted bowl--Can't do a damn thing about those pink cheeks, but maybe a short haircut will make him look a little tougher. Yasubei searches for signs of himself, but in the boy's soft, moist mouth and big innocent puppy-dog eyes, all he can see is his fragile, long-suffering wife.

Yasubei sighs. "Your mother came to me as a twenty-one-year-old picture bride. She arrived in Honolulu on the same day the Titanic sank. An old Hawaiian woman told your mother it was a bad omen. That's why your mother moved back to Japan after you were born, and why she refuses to leave. She's hoping all her bad luck lies buried with the twins in Hawaii.

"Two babies lost. Ten years slaving in the cane fields until we saved enough to return to Honura village and build our house. But then I couldn't find work . . . well . . . none that I could stomach. So I returned alone to Hawaii and sent money home. I've worked my way up from field hand to assistant manager of the plantation store. But now no matter how hard I try, I can't climb any higher. Haole rules and laws block me.

"But you, Isamu, you were born in Hawaii. By birthright you're an American citizen. That makes you our family's winning lottery ticket. First you will go to school and master the English language. You will study hard and excel in all your subjects. After high school, you will go to university on the mainland."

"America?"

"Yes, America. You will plant the Hamada family crest on American soil."

"I'll try, Papa."

"Isamu, you are the eldest son of a samurai family. We speak once, then live or die according to our word. Understand?"

The boy nods solemnly. "I will do it."

"Good. As the final expression of my destiny, I will throw you like a spear . . . all the way to the American mainland."

Isamu beams, sits tall, puffs out his chest, eager, proud, ready.

Haole

FEBRUARY 1930

In yokohama they check into a small inn. The owners know Yasubei well--each time he returns home for a visit, he stays with them. Passing through inbound from Hawaii last month, Yasubei had posted flyers on the announcement board outside the inn and at shops, restaurants, and bars in the neighborhood. The innkeeper tells Yasubei, "Lots of fish in your net!"

Yasubei lights a cigarette. "Any keepers?"

The innkeeper shrugs and smiles politely.

In the morning after a breakfast of miso soup, broiled sole, pickled radish, and rice gruel, Isamu peeks outside at a line of men extending down the street and around the corner. He sits at a table next to his father while the men shuffle forward to be interviewed. By lunchtime Yasubei has signed twenty new workers for the sugarcane plantation. The next day they board a ship called the Taiyo Maru and steam out of Tokyo Bay. Two weeks later they exit Customs in Honolulu and catch an interisland ferry to Hilo, where Yasubei, swaggering like a samurai warlord, leads his ragtag army down the gangplank.

"Aloha!" Exposing crooked tobacco-dyed teeth in a hard tanned face, Papa's best friend, Kojiro, waves from the shade of a flatbed truck parked on the Hilo docks. "Hey, Yasubei, you brought your boy? Welcome to the Big Island."

Yasubei's work gang begins loading supplies onto Kojiro's truck. The new field hands, grateful to be on solid ground, glad to flex the sea-

stiffness from their bodies, work eagerly, bare arms glistening with sweat.

Isamu, all knobby joints and twig limbs, dances around them like a colt among draft horses. Isamu, spinning in a cloud of loud voices, laughter, tobacco smoke, and body odor, bouncing on his toes, wanting to help and trying to get out of the way, trips and sprawls facedown at his father's feet.

Yasubei glares, reaches down with one big hand, grabs the boy by the belt, shakes off the dust, sets him on his feet. "That's it. Everyone in back."

The men jostle past Isamu, toss their suitcases and cloth-wrapped bundles over the boy's head and scramble aboard the flatbed.

"Isamu, in front."

Sitting between Kojiro and Papa, Isamu can barely see over the dashboard.

Yasubei removes his panama hat and wipes his brow. He loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar. Kojiro turns the key. The engine roars, backfires. A rasp of gears, a neck-jerking lurch, and they're off.

Kojiro drives through Hilo, leaves the town behind. Over the truck rattle and engine noise, Kojiro and Papa shout the latest news, gossip, and dirty jokes. They laugh and hawk and spit out the windows. Isamu hugs the moment to his heart, thinking he is learning a great secret: This is how men live when they're away from women.

Isamu is both thrilled and intimidated by Papa and Kojiro's powerful voices and crude language. Reinforced and amplified by the growling jouncing truck, the energy emanating from the two men seems edged and volatile as the vanity of drunken samurai. Isamu peeks at his father. Yasubei snaps open his ornately engraved silver cigarette case, lights two cigarettes, gives one to Isamu to pass to Kojiro. From Papa's hand, rough as tree bark, Isamu lifts the cigarette, and Kojiro snaps it away with callused crab-claw fingers, leaving Isamu pondering the silky softness of his own small hands.

Inhaling deeply, reveling in the tobacco smoke and humid wind pouring through the wide-open windows, Isamu stares out at the vegetation, dense as a tunnel around the winding road. Amid enormous leaves, black branches curl like snakes in the shadows. Strange flowers glow in shafts of sunlight.

Then the truck rolls out of the jungle onto a vast tilting landscape of sugarcane rippling like green fur under the stroking hands of the wind. They pass beneath a lacework of timber supporting an aqueduct two hundred feet above the road. Isamu bumps his head against the dashboard as he cranes his neck to marvel at it. Papa's voice deepens with pride. "The Awaopi'o high flume. Kojiro and I helped build it."

Kojiro leaves the main road, climbs through the cane toward the immense cloud-capped volcano. They rumble by a graveyard.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    "Color of the Sea" is a captivating story told in vivi

    "Color of the Sea" is a captivating story told in vivid, breathtaking images. The story is written in spare, clear prose that echoes the Zen mentality of the protagonist Sam’s early training in martial arts. I especially loved the descriptions of Sam’s martial arts training in Hawaii—swimming with the current, catching the butterflies, and the scene of his final testing in the rain. 
    The two main characters are so admirable they are almost perfect, yet still complex and magnetic: Sam is continuously torn between romantic passion and a strong, innate sense of honor, and the beautiful, fearless “samurai woman” Keiko is at the same time a jitterbug-loving California teenager. 
    Plot-wise, this isn’t a thriller, and there are long segments of the story where tension is low in terms of external danger or conflict, and yet it’s so exquisitely told—the world, the relationships, the personalities, the imagery—that the reading never becomes boring. The intrapersonal tension in this story between honor and passion, and between the love of two homelands, is unforced, understated, and deeply felt. I was fascinated by the dynamics of honor and respect, especially between Keiko and B-Sensei and between Sam and Captain Oshima. It is a thoughtful and lovely portrait of Japanese-American identity from within at a pivotal and very complex time in history.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    Gf

    Ggj

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    Wonderful story.

    This was a beautifully written novel that will be hard to forget. I highly recommend it. I think this novel brought forth the Japanese sense of honor and respect. And it explained Japanese American hardships suffered during World War II. It was a well written story of love and loss. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    A very good read.

    I was delighted by the passionate writing of John Hamamura. I felt a connection to both the characters and the setting of this story. It will give you an insight to the honor and bravery of the Japanese peple that were caught between two worlds during the war. I laughed and cried with these characters and was sorry to let them go.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2007

    A wonderful story that will make you forever respect Japanese-American soldiers and civilians of the World War II era

    John Hamamura tells an unbiased story of the hardships Jpansese-Americans went through in his novel, Color of the Sea. He gives readers no mercy with the many sad events, forbidden loves, and loss of lives that occur in this novel. The characters all create a very real-seeming scenario that is sure to keep you turning the pages. Sergeant Sam Hamada, the main character of this novel, moved to Hawaii at a very young age, leaving his mother and siblings behind in Japan. He excels quickly in American life and is trained to become a samurai by one of my favorite characters, Fujiwara-san. Fujiwara-san is an old man whose supreme physical and mental strength would impress any reader. Throughout the rest of the book, Sam lives many places, accomplishes many tasks, and goes through many hardships, so do his family and long-time friends. This historical fiction novel is a must read for everyone. Pick it up today!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2006

    A MUST READ for everyone!

    This book is not only beautifully written, but the story is both heartbreaking and uplifiting at the same time. There is appeal for both sexes. It's a story about the strength of love in war and about overcoming all of the challenges we face on a daily basis. I couldn't put this book down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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