Galapagos

( 76 )

Overview

Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race. In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry–and all that is worth saving.

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Overview

Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race. In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry–and all that is worth saving.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The best Vonnegut novel yet!”—John Irving

“Beautiful . . . provocative, arresting reading.”—USA Today

“A madcap genealogical adventure . . . Vonnegut is a postmodern Mark Twain.”—New York Times Book Review

Lorrie Moore
Although certainly the novel has something to do with the giant crush America has on celebrity, the famous people never really do make it into the story, and what we end up with is a madcap genealogical adventure - a blend of the Old Testament, the Latin American novel and a lot of cut-up comic books - employing a cast of lesser-knowns that includes a schoolteacher named Mary Hepburn, an Ecuadorean sea captain named von Kleist, a former male prostitute named James Wait (whose skin color is ''like the crust on a pie in a cheap cafeteria''), a dog named Kazakh (who, ''thanks to surgery and training, had virtually no personality''), plus a narrator who turns out to be none other than the son of Kilgore Trout, that science fiction hack from Mr. Vonnegut's earlier books.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
For many Vonnegut fans, Galapagos will be a disappointment. The story is set ``one million years ago, back in 1986 A.D.'' and concerns the maiden voyage of the Bahia de Darwin to the Galapa gos Islands. The narrator is a ghost, and the main characters are those involved with the cruise. As the narrative devel ops, we learn that people have evolved from having ``big brains'' that always get them in trouble, to creatures with flippersbut they keep getting eaten by sharks. The narration jumps back and forth between past and future, so that there is no real sense of what life is like in the ``present'' of the story, and it is difficult to grasp what these new hu mans are really like. Vonnegut's usual stylistic devices just don't work here. Buy for demand. Susan Avallone, ``Library Journal''
School Library Journal
YA Leon Trout, the ghost of a decapitated shipbuilder, narrates the humorous, ironic and sometimes carping decline of the human race, as seen through the eyes and minds of the survivors of a doomed cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Vonnegut's cast of unlikely Adams and Eves setting out in a Noah's ark includes Mary Hepburn, an American biology teacher and recent widow; Zenji Hiroguchi, a Japanese computer genius who does not make it to the ship, although his language-translating and quotation-spouting computer does; his wife, Hisako, carrying radiated genes from the atomic bombs; James Wait, who has made a fortune marrying elderly women; and Captain Aolph von Kleist. Also included: six orphaned girls of the Kana-bono cannibal tribe, who will become the founding mothers of the fisherfolk after bacteria render all other women infertile. Serious fans of Vonnegut's wry and ribald prose will welcome this tale of the devolution of superbrained humans into gentle swimmers with small brains, but others may find this Darwinian survival tale too packed with ecological and sociological details that trap the story line in a series of literary devices, albeit very clever ones. Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School, Upper Marlboro, Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385333870
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Series: Delta Fiction Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 108,885
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Biography

Born in 1922, Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His architect father suffered great financial setbacks during the Depression and was unemployed for long stretches of time. His mother suffered from mental illness and eventually committed suicide in 1944, a trauma that haunted Vonnegut all his life. He attended Cornell in the early 1940s, but quit in order to enlist in the Army during WWII.

Vonnegut was shipped to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured behind enemy lines and incarcerated in a German prison camp. As a POW, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, an event of devastating magnitude that left an indelible impression on the young soldier.

After the war, Vonnegut returned home and married his high school sweetheart. In addition to two daughters and a son of their own, he and his first wife adopted three children orphaned in 1958 by the death of Vonnegut's sister Alice. (He and his second wife adopted another daughter.) The family lived in Chicago and Schenectady before settling in Cape Cod, where Vonnegut began to concentrate seriously on his writing. His first novel, the darkly dystopian Player Piano, was published in 1952 and met with moderate success. Three additional novels followed (including the critically acclaimed Cat's Cradle), but it was not until the publication of 1969's Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut achieved true literary stardom. Based on the author's wartime experiences in Dresden, the novel resonated powerfully in the social upheaval of the Vietnam era.

Although he is best known for his novels (a genre-blending mix of social satire, science fiction, surrealism, and black comedy), Vonnegut also wrote short fiction, essays, and plays (the best known of which was Happy Birthday, Wanda June). In addition, he was a talented graphic artist who illustrated many of his books and exhibited sporadically during his literary career. He died on April 11, 2007, after suffering irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 11, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      Indianapolis, Indiana
    1. Date of Death:
      April 11, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The Thing Was:

One million years ago, back in 1986 A.D., Guayaquil was the chief seaport of the little South American democracy of Ecuador, whose capital was Quito, high in the Andes Mountains. Guayaquil was two degrees south of the equator, the imaginary bellyband of the planet after which the country itself was named. It was always very hot there, and humid, too, for the city was built in the doldrums—on a springy marsh through which the mingled waters of several rivers draining the mountains flowed.

This seaport was several kilometers from the open sea. Rafts of vegetable matter often clogged the soupy waters, engulfing pilings and anchor lines.

. . .

Human beings had much bigger brains back then than they do today, and so they could be beguiled by mysteries. One such mystery in 1986 was how so many creatures which could not swim great distances had reached the Galápagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic peaks due west of Guayaquil—separated from the mainland by one thousand kilometers of very deep water, very cold water fresh from the Antarctic. When human beings discovered those islands, there were already geckos and iguanas and rice rats and lava lizards and spiders and ants and beetles and grasshoppers and mites and ticks in residence, not to mention enormous land tortoises.

What form of transportation had they used?

Many people were able to satisfy their big brains with this answer: They came on natural rafts.

. . .

Other people argued that such rafts became waterlogged and rotted to pieces so quickly that nobody had ever seen one out of sight of land, and that the current between the islands and the mainland would carry any such rustic vessel northward rather than westward.

Or they asserted that all those landlubberly creatures had walked dry-shod across a natural bridge or had swum short distances between stepping-stones, and that one such formation or another had since disappeared beneath the waves. But scientists using their big brains and cunning instruments had by 1986 made maps of the ocean floor. There wasn't a trace, they said, of an intervening land mass of any kind.

. . .

Other people back in that era of big brains and fancy thinking asserted that the islands had once been part of the mainland, and had been split off by some stupendous catastrophe.

But the islands didn't look as though they had been split off from anything. They were clearly young volcanoes, which had been vomited up right where they were. Many of them were such newborns out there that they could be expected to blow again at any time. Back in 1986, they hadn't even sprouted much coral yet, and so were without blue lagoons and white beaches, amenities many human beings used to regard as foretastes of an ideal afterlife.

A million years later, they do possess white beaches and blue lagoons. But when this story begins, they were still ugly humps and domes and cones and spires of lava, brittle and abrasive, whose cracks and pits and bowls and valleys brimmed over not with rich topsoil of sweet water, but with the finest, driest volcanic ash.

. . .

Another theory back then was that God Almighty had created all those creatures where the explorers found them, so they had had no need for transportation.

. . .

Another theory was that they had been shooed ashore there two by two—down the gangplank of Noah's ark.

If there really was a Noah's ark, and there may have been—I might entitle my story "A Second Noah's Ark."

Chapter Two

There was no mystery a million years ago as to how a thirty-five-year-old American male named James Wait, who could not swim a stroke, intended to get from the South American continent to the Galápagos Islands. He certainly wasn't going to squat on a natural raft of vegetable matter and hope for the best. He had just bought a ticket at his hotel in downtown Guayaquil for a two-week cruise on what was to be the maiden voyage of a new passenger ship called the Bahía de Darwin, Spanish for "Darwin Bay." This first Galápagos trip for the ship, which flew the Ecuadorian flag, had been publicized and advertised all over the world during the past year as "the Nature Cruise of the Century."

Wait was traveling alone. He was prematurely bald and he was pudgy, and his color was bad, like the curst on a pie in a cheap cafeteria, and he was bespectacled, so that he might plausibly claim to be in his fifties, in case he saw some advantage in making such a claim. He wished to seem harmless and shy.

He was the only customer now in the cocktail lounge of the Hotel El Dorado, on the broad Calle Diez de Agosto, where he had taken a room. And the bartender, a twenty-year-old descendant of proud Inca noblemen, named Jesús Ortiz, got the feeling that this drab and friendless man, who claimed to be a Canadian, had had his spirit broken by some terrible injustice or tragedy. Wait wanted everybody who saw him to feel that way.

Jesús Ortiz, who is one of the nicest people in this story of mine, pitied rather than scorned this lonesome tourist. He found it sad, as Wait had hoped he would, that Wait had just spent a lot of money in the hotel boutique—on a straw hat and rope sandals and yellow shorts and a blue-and-white-and-purple cotton shirt, which he was wearing now. Wait had had considerable dignity, Ortiz thought, when he had arrived from the airport in a business suit. But now, at great expense, he had turned himself into a clown, a caricature of a North American tourist in the tropics.

The price tag was still stapled to the hem of Wait's crackling new shirt, and Ortiz, very politely and in good English, told him so.

"Oh?" said Wait. He knew the tag was there, and he wanted it to remain there. But he went through a charade of self-mocking embarrassment, and seemed about to pluck off the tag. But then, as though overwhelmed by some sorrow he was trying to flee from, he appeared to forget all about it.

. . .

Wait was a fisherman, and the price tag was his bait, a way of encouraging strangers to speak to him, to say in one way or another what Ortiz had said: "Excuse me, Senor, but I can't help noticing—"

Wait was registered at the hotel under the name on his bogus Canadian passport, which was Willard Flemming. He was a supremely successful swindler.

Ortiz himself was in no danger from him, but an unescorted woman who looked as though she had a little money, and who was without a husband and past childbearing, surely would have been. Wait had so far courted and married seventeen such persons—and then cleaned out their jewelry boxes and safe-deposit boxes and bank accounts, and disappeared.

He was so successful at what he did that he had become a millionaire, with interest-bearing savings accounts under various aliases in banks all over North America, and he had never been arrested for anything. For all he knew, nobody was even trying to catch him. As far as the police were concerned, he reasoned, he was one of seventeen faithless husbands, each with a different name, instead of a single habitual criminal whose real name was James Wait.

. . .

It is hard to believe nowadays that people could ever have been as brilliantly duplicitous as James Wait—until I remind myself that just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn't imagine and execute.

So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogram brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?

A second query: What source was there back then, save for our overelaborate nervous circuitry, for the evils we were seeing or hearing about simply everywhere?

My answer: There was no other source. This was a very innocent planet, except for those great big brains.

Chapter Three


The Hotel El Dorado was a brand-new, five-story tourist accommodation—built of unadorned cement block. It had the proportions and mood of a glass-front bookcase, high and wide and shallow. Each bedroom had a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass looking westward—toward the waterfront for deep-draft vessels dredged in the delta three kilometers away.

In the past, that waterfront had teemed with commerce, and ships from all over the planet had delivered meat and grain and vegetables and fruit and vehicles and clothing and machinery and household appliances, and so on, and carried away, in fair exchange, Ecuadorian coffee and cocoa and sugar and petroleum and gold, and Indian arts and crafts, including "Panama" hats, which had always come from Ecuador and not from Panama.

But there were only two ships out there now, as James Wait sat in the bar, nursing a rum and Coca-Cola. He was not a drinker, actually, since he lived by his wits, and could not afford to have the delicate switches of the big computer in his skull short-circuited by alcohol. His drink was a theatrical prop—like the price tab on his ridiculous shirt.

He was in no position to judge whether the state of affairs at the waterfront was normal or not. Until two days before, he had never even heard of Guayaquil, and this was the first time in his life he had ever been below the equator. As far as he was concerned, the El Dorado was no different from all the other characterless hostelries he had used as hideouts in the past—in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in San Ignacio, Mexico, in Watervliet, New York, and on and on.

He had picked the name of the city where he was now from an arrivals-and-departures board at Kennedy International Airport in New York City. He had just pauperized and deserted his seventeenth wife—a seventy-year-old widow in Skokie, Illinois, right outside Chicago. Guayaquil sounded to him like the last place she would ever think of looking for him.

This woman was so ugly and stupid, she probably never should have been born. And yet Wait was the second person to have married her.

And he wasn't going to stay at the El Dorado very long, either, since he had bought a ticket for "the Nature Cruise of the Century" from the travel agent who had a desk in the lobby. It was late in the afternoon now, and hotter than the hinges of hell outside. There was no breeze outside, but he did not care, since he was inside, and the hotel was air conditioned, and he would soon be away from there anyway. His ship, the Bahía de Darwin, was scheduled to sail at high noon on the very next day, which was Friday 28, 1986—a million years ago.

. . .

The bay for which Wait's means of transportation was named fanned south from the Galápagos Island of Genovesa. Wait had never heard of the Galápagos Islands before. He expected them to be like Hawaii, where he had once honeymooned, or Guam, where he had once hidden out—with broad white beaches and blue lagoons and swaying palms and nut-brown native girls.

The travel agent had given him a brochure which described the cruise, but Wait hadn't looked inside it yet. It was supine on the bar in front of him. The brochure was truthful about how forbidding most of the islands were, and warned prospective passengers, as the hotel travel agent had not warned Wait, that they had better be in reasonably good physical condition and have sturdy boots and rough clothing, since they would often have to wade ashore and scramble up rock faces like amphibious infantry.

. . .

Darwin Bay was named in honor of the great English scientist Charles Darwin, who had visited Genovesa and several of its neighbors for the five weeks back in 1835—when he was a mere stripling of twenty-six, nine years younger than Wait. Darwin was then the unpaid naturalist aboard Her Majesty's Ship Beagle, on a mapping expedition that would take him completely around the world and would last five years.

In the cruise brochure, which was intended to delight nature-lovers rather than pleasure-seekers, Darwin's own description of a typical Galapagos Island was reproduced, and was taken from his first book, The Voyage of the Beagle:

"Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life. The dry and parched surface, being heated by the noon-day sun, gave to the air a close and sultry feeling, like that from a stove: we fancied even that the bushes smelt unpleasantly."

Darwin continued: "The entire surface . . . seems to have been permeated, like a sieve, by the subterranean vapours: here and there the lava, whilst soft, had been blown into great bubbles; and in other parts, the tops of caverns similarly formed have fallen in, leaving circular parts with steep sides." He was vividly reminded, he wrote, ". . . . of those parts of Staffordshire, where the great iron foundries are most numerous."

. . .

There was a portrait of Darwin behind the bar at the El Dorado, framed in shelves and bottles—an enlarged reproduction of a steel engraving, depicting him not as a youth in the islands, but as a portly family man back home in England, with a beard as lush as a Christmas wreath. That same portrait was on the bosom of T-shirts for sale in the boutique, and Wait had bought two of those. That was what Darwin looked like when he was finally persuaded by friends and relatives to set down on paper his notions of how life forms everywhere, including himself and his friends and relatives, and even his Queen, had come to be as they were in the nineteenth century. He thereupon penned the most broadly influential scientific volume produced during the entire era of great big brains. It did more to stabilize people's volatile opinions of how to identify success or failure than any other tome. Image that! And the name of his book summed up its pitiless contents: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

. . .

Wait had never read the book, nor did the name Darwin mean anything to him, although he had successfully passed himself off as an educated man from time to time. He was considering claiming, during "the Nature Cruise of the Century," to be a mechanical engineer from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, whose wife had recently died of cancer.

Actually, his formal education had stopped after two years of instruction in automobile repair and maintenance at the vocational high school in his native city of Midland City, Ohio. He was then living in the fifth of a series of foster homes, essentially an orphan, since he was the product of an incestuous relationship between a father and a daughter who had run away from town, forever and together, soon after he was born.

When he himself was old enough to run away, he hitchhiked to the island of Manhattan. A pimp there befriended him and taught him how to be a successful homosexual prostitute, to leave price tags on his clothes, to really enjoy lovers whenever possible, and so on. Wait was once quite beautiful.

When his beauty began to fade, he became an instructor in ballroom dancing at a dance studio. He was a natural dancer, and he had been told back in Midland City that his parents had been very good dancers, too. His sense of rhythm was probably inherited. And it was at the dance studio that he met and courted and married the first of his seventeen wives so far.

. . .

All though his childhood, Wait was severely punished by foster parents for nothing and everything. It was expected by then that, because of his inbred parentage, he would become a moral monster.

So here that monster was now—in the Hotel El Dorado, happy and rich and well, as far as he knew, and keen for the next test of his survival skills.

. . .

Like James Wait, incidentally, I, too, was once a teenage runaway.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 76 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 27, 2010

    galopagas

    Galopagas is a wonderful book. The amazing Kurt Vonnegut strikes his style of writing with a little extra pop and tied it together with a bow. This is a must read book. What a wonderful story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    Amazing

    I love this book. It's written differently than anything I have ever read. Once I started it, I couldn't stop. I read it in one evening.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2013

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    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Wolfkit rainbowkit greykit and bloodkit

    All: hi Wolfkit: we would like to join

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    What?

    This book is very unique, but not for me. I didn't enjoy this book AT ALL.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    After reading a book by Vonnegut, it automatically becomes my favorite of his. This book is no exception.

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  • Posted June 15, 2011

    Gentle and entertaing

    His style is as endearing as ever.

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  • Posted November 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    READ THIS BOOK.

    Origin of Species meets Valley of the Dolls.<BR/><BR/>My favorite Vonnegut.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2007

    Enthralling

    Galapagos is the story of a bunch of mismatched humans stranded on the island of Santa Rosalia in the archipelago of the Galapagos. After they arrive there, the world¿s economy is destroyed after a financial crisis and all women not on this tiny island become infertile causing all of humanity to die out besides those on the island. These few humans mate with each other for thousands of year until eventually becoming seal like animals with flippers after adapting to the island. The narrator of this story is a ghost who was killed while building the same cruise ship that the humans took to the island. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War and tells the story thousands of years later after the evolution. This is an amazing story full of irony and memorable characters. I also praise the plot for being very unique. All in all, this is great read for a science fiction fan, a Kurt Vonnegut fan, or anyone who wants to read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2007

    What makes anything in the span of time important? Nothing.

    I love that the modern flipper, free loving, fish of a human derived and evolved on an island of the Galapagos(pinnacle of evolutionary thought). The irony and humor of Vonnegut shows more profusely in Galapagos than in most of his other novles. Not my favorite, but nonetheless his veiws of human existence and its role of being nothing in the vastness of time struck me very hard, and I have thought about it constantly since I finished the book a few days ago. It is a book that should be read with an open mind and certain things should be taken in to consideration when reading the first is that this is a Vonnegut novel we are reading, secondly, Vonnegut is an idealist who has had his share of reality and will bluntly say the what everyone has wanted to say, lastly is that he is just really really funny and we should just enjoy his humor.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2003

    good but not great

    i liked the book but it could be better. the plot was cool, but it is a little long. vonnegut is a great author and this is a good book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2003

    A Unique Sort of Book

    This book is slightly confusing, because the story doesn't really start until three fourths through the book is done. But, Vonnegut makes lots of good points. This is a great book report book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2003

    A dream and a nightmare

    I love this book. It highlights the best and worst sides of man in just the right way. The omniscient narrator is intruiging as is his connection with Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout. A phenomenal ending!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    A Different Experience

    I was never into any kind of futuristic, "walk on the wild side" style of writing until I read Galapagos. Now I love that kind of writing and I can't wait to start my next Vonnegut book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2001

    One of the best and funniest books I've read so far!!!

    Funny and slightly disturbing.... How easily can a race become extinct... The best book I've read so far from this terribly funny writer.

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    Posted May 23, 2011

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    Posted August 5, 2011

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    Posted April 28, 2011

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    Posted October 29, 2008

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    Posted March 17, 2011

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