Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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by Patrick Suskind

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An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift&mdash

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An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume”—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity. 

Translated from the German by John E. Woods.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Upon its publication last year in Germany Susskind's first novel Perfume immediately became an international best seller. Set in 18th-century France, Perfume relates the fascinating and horrifying tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a person as gifted as he was abominable. Born without a smell of his own but endowed with an extraordinary sense of smell, Grenouille becomes obsessed with procuring the perfect scent that will make him fully human. With brilliant narrative skill Susskind exposes the dark underside of the society through which Grenouille moves and explores the disquieting inner universe of this singularly possessed man. The translation is superb. Essential for literature collections. Ulrike S. Rettig, German Dept., Wellesley Coll., Wellesley, Mass.
From the Publisher
?A fable of criminal genius?. Remarkable."?The New York Times

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Vintage International
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In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name-in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade's, for instance, or Saint-Just's, Fouch?'s, Bonaparte's, etc.-has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.

In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For in the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacteria busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.

And of course the stench was foulest in Paris, for Paris was the largest city of France. And in turn there was a spot in Paris under the sway of a particularly fiendish stench: between the rue aux Fers and the rue de la Ferronnerie, the Cimeti're des Innocents to be exact. For eight hundred years the dead had been brought here from the H?tel-Dieu and from the surrounding parish churches, for eight hundred years, day in, day out, corpses by the dozens had been carted here and tossed into long ditches, stacked bone upon bone for eight hundred years in the tombs and charnel houses. Only later-on the eve of the Revolution, after several of the grave pits had caved in and the stench had driven the swollen graveyard's neighbors to more than mere protest and to actual insurrection-was it finally closed and abandoned. Millions of bones and skulls were shoveled into the catacombs of Montmartre and in its place a food market was erected.

Here, then, on the most putrid spot in the whole kingdom, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born on July 17, 1738. It was one of the hottest days of the year. The heat lay leaden upon the graveyard, squeezing its putrefying vapor, a blend of rotting melon and the fetid odor of burnt animal horn, out into the nearby alleys. When the labor pains began, Grenouille's mother was standing at a fish stall in the rue aux Fers, scaling whiting that she had just gutted. The fish, ostensibly taken that very morning from the Seine, already stank so vilely that the smell masked the odor of corpses. Grenouille's mother, however, perceived the odor neither of the fish nor of the corpses, for her sense of smell had been utterly dulled, besides which her belly hurt, and the pain deadened all susceptibility to sensate impressions. She only wanted the pain to stop, she wanted to put this revolting birth behind her as quickly as possible. It was her fifth. She had effected all the others here at the fish booth, and all had been stillbirths or semi-stillbirths, for the bloody meat that emerged had not differed greatly from the fish guts that lay there already, nor had lived much longer, and by evening the whole mess had been shoveled away and carted off to the graveyard or down to the river. It would be much the same this day, and Grenouille's mother, who was still a young woman, barely in her mid-twenties, and who still was quite pretty and had almost all her teeth in her mouth and some hair on her head and-except for gout and syphilis and a touch of consumption-suffered from no serious disease, who still hoped to live a while yet, perhaps a good five or ten years, and perhaps even to marry one day and as the honorable wife of a widower with a trade or some such to bear real children . . . Grenouille's mother wished that it were already over. And when the final contractions began, she squatted down under the gutting table and there gave birth, as she had done four times before, and cut the newborn thing's umbilical cord with her butcher knife. But then, on account of the heat and the stench, which she did not perceive as such but only as an unbearable, numbing something-like a field of lilies or a small room filled with too many daffodils-she grew faint, toppled to one side, fell out from under the table into the street, and lay there, knife in hand.

Tumult and turmoil. The crowd stands in a circle around her, staring, someone hails the police. The woman with the knife in her hand is still lying in the street. Slowly she comes to.

What has happened to her?


What is she doing with that knife?


Where does the blood on her skirt come from?

"From the fish."

She stands up, tosses the knife aside, and walks off to wash.

And then, unexpectedly, the infant under the gutting table begins to squall. They have a look, and beneath a swarm of flies and amid the offal and fish heads they discover the newborn child. They pull it out. As prescribed by law, they give it to a wet nurse and arrest the mother. And since she confesses, openly admitting that she would definitely have let the thing perish, just as she had with those other four by the way, she is tried, found guilty of multiple infanticide, and a few weeks later decapitated at the place de Gr?ve.

By that time the child had already changed wet nurses three times. No one wanted to keep it for more than a couple of days. It was too greedy, they said, sucked as much as two babies, deprived the other sucklings of milk and them, the wet nurses, of their livelihood, for it was impossible to make a living nursing just one babe. The police officer in charge, a man named La Fosse, instantly wearied of the matter and wanted to have the child sent to a halfway house for foundlings and orphans at the far end of the rue Saint-Antoine, from which transports of children were dispatched daily to the great public orphanage in Rouen. But since these convoys were made up of porters who carried bark baskets into which, for reasons of economy, up to four infants were placed at a time; since therefore the mortality rate on the road was extraordinarily high; since for that reason the porters were urged to convey only baptized infants and only those furnished with an official certificate of transport to be stamped upon arrival in Rouen; since the babe Grenouille had neither been baptized nor received even so much as a name to inscribe officially on the certificate of transport; since, moreover, it would not have been good form for the police anonymously to set a child at the gates of the halfway house, which would have been the only way to dodge the other formalities . . . thus, because of a whole series of bureaucratic and administrative difficulties that seemed likely to occur if the child were shunted aside, and because time was short as well, officer La Fosse revoked his original decision and gave instructions for the boy to be handed over on written receipt to some ecclesiastical institution or other, so that there they could baptize him and decide his further fate. He got rid of him at the cloister of Saint-Merri in the rue Saint-Martin. There they baptized him with the name Jean-Baptiste. And because on that day the prior was in a good mood and the eleemosynary fund not yet exhausted, they did not have the child shipped to Rouen, but instead pampered him at the cloister's expense. To this end, he was given to a wet nurse named Jeanne Bussie who lived in the rue Saint-Denis and was to receive, until further notice, three francs per week for her trouble.


A few weeks later, the wet nurse Jeanne Bussie stood, market basket in hand, at the gates of the cloister of Saint-Merri, and the minute they were opened by a bald monk of about fifty with a light odor of vinegar about him-Father Terrier-she said "There!" and set her market basket down on the threshold.

"What's that?" asked Terrier, bending down over the basket and sniffing at it, in the hope that it was something edible.

"The bastard of that woman from the rue aux Fers who killed her babies!"

The monk poked about in the basket with his finger till he had exposed the face of the sleeping infant.

"He looks good. Rosy pink and well nourished."

"Because he's stuffed himself on me. Because he's pumped me dry down to the bones. But I've put a stop to that. Now you can feed him yourselves with goat's milk, with pap, with beet juice. He'll gobble up anything, that bastard will."

Father Terrier was an easygoing man. Among his duties was the administration of the cloister's charities, the distribution of its moneys to the poor and needy. And for that he expected a thank-you and that he not be bothered further. He despised technical details, because details meant difficulties and difficulties meant ruffling his composure, and he simply would not put up with that. He was upset that he had even opened the gate. He wished that this female would take her market basket and go home and let him alone with her suckling problems. Slowly he straightened up, and as he did he breathed the scent of milk and cheesy wool exuded by the wet nurse. It was a pleasant aroma.

"I don't understand what it is you want. I really don't understand what you're driving at. I can only presume that it would certainly do no harm to this infant if he were to spend a good while yet lying at your breast."

"None to him," the wet nurse snarled back, "but plenty to me. I've lost ten pounds and been eating like I was three women. And for what? For three francs a week!"

"Ah, I understand," said Terrier, almost relieved. "I catch your drift. Once again, it's a matter of money."

"No!" said the wet nurse.

"Of course it is! It's always a matter of money. When there's a knock at this gate, it's a matter of money. Just once I'd like to open it and find someone standing there for whom it was a matter of something else. Someone, for instance, with some little show of thoughtfulness. Fruit, perhaps, or a few nuts. After all, in autumn there are lots of things someone could come by with. Flowers maybe. Or if only someone would simply come and say a friendly word. 'God bless you, Father Terrier, I wish you a good day!' But I'll probably never live to see it happen. If it isn't a beggar, it's a merchant, and if it isn't a merchant, it's a tradesman, and if it isn't alms he wants, then he presents me with a bill. I can't even go out into the street anymore. When I go out on the street, I can't take three steps before I'm hedged in by folks wanting money!"

"Not me," said the wet nurse.

"But I'll tell you this: you aren't the only wet nurse in the parish. There are hundreds of excellent foster mothers who would scramble for the chance of putting this charming babe to their breast for three francs a week, or to supply him with pap or juices or whatever nourishment . . ."

"Then give him to one of them!"

". . . On the other hand, it's not good to pass a child around like that. Who knows if he would flourish as well on someone else's milk as on yours. He's used to the smell of your breast, as you surely know, and to the beat of your heart."

And once again he inhaled deeply of the warm vapors streaming from the wet nurse.

But then, noticing that his words had made no impression on her, he said, "Now take the child home with you! I'll speak to the prior about all this. I shall suggest to him that in the future you be given four francs a week."

"No," said the wet nurse.

"All right-five!"


"How much more do you want, then?" Terrier shouted at her. "Five francs is a pile of money for the menial task of feeding a baby."

I don't want any money, period," said the wet nurse. "I want this bastard out of my house."

"But why, my good woman?" said Terrier, poking his finger in the basket again. "He really is an adorable child. He's rosy pink, he doesn't cry, and he's been baptized."

"He's possessed by the devil."

Terrier quickly withdrew his finger from the basket.

"Impossible! It is absolutely impossible for an infant to be possessed by the devil. An infant is not yet a human being; it is a prehuman being and does not yet possess a fully developed soul. Which is why it is of no interest to the devil. Can he talk already, perhaps? Does he twitch and jerk? Does he move things about in the room? Does some evil stench come from him?"

"He doesn't smell at all," said the wet nurse.

"And there you have it! That is a clear sign. If he were possessed by the devil, then he would have to stink."

And to soothe the wet nurse and to put his own courage to the test, Terrier lifted the basket and held it up to his nose.

"I smell absolutely nothing out of the ordinary," he said after he had sniffed for a while, "really nothing out of the ordinary. Though it does appear as if there's an odor coming from his diapers." And he held out the basket to her so that she could confirm his opinion.

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From the Publisher
"A fable of crimial genius.... Remarkable." —The New York Times

"Mesmerizing from first page to last.... A highly sophisticated horror tale." —The Plain Dealer

"A supremely accomplished work of art, marvelously crafted and enjoyable and rich in historical detail." —The San Francisco Chronicle

"An original and astonishing novel." —People

"An ingenious story...about a most exotic monster.... Suspense build up steadily." —Los Angeles Times

"Immensely seductive.... Storytelling at its best." —The Kansas City Star

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
FocoProject More than 1 year ago
This is the fist book I have picked up from the thread of recommended reading at Eat Poo, and what a fantastic pick it was. Already I had heard from numerous pooers that the book was a good one, so I really had little debating to do. In fact the hardest decision was whether to pick this up first or ¿The Time Traveller¿s Wife¿ (I picked both up, when I was not able to make up my mind).

In a stroke of genius on the part of the author, this story unfolds tackling the most literally unexplored of our senses¿that is the sense of smell. From beginning to end, there is so many scents to gather in from this book, that you could nearly tire your nose at it. For the first time I found myself understanding a story or a setting or a character not so much by what they look like, or what they are wearing but rather by the way things smell.

Mr. Suskind does a fabulous job telling the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born in 18th Century France with a superior sense of smell, but no actual scent of his own. Out-casted and ignored for reasons people around Grenouille can not understand, the child is slowly shaped into an individual that learns not to trust or count on anybody, hardening his heart and shaping himself to eventually become a king of his own empire¿the realm of the scent. Driven by his uncanny abilities, Grenouille sets out to create the world¿s most perfect smell and use it to his advantage.

What ensues is one of the most interesting, curious, strangest stories I have ever read, while also quite disturbing and morbidly erotic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't want to give away any of the story here, so I'll just say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy. You won't regret it!
Sicert More than 1 year ago
All you guys missed the point,....the only "crime" in this novel is the iconic need hidden in all our souls, be loved,... !!! Yes,...awesome metaphor,....nicely hidden by Peter Suskind,...remember how ugly Grenouille was,..rejected, never loved, understood,....etc ! The very first thing what he did was to make the scent which made him "invisible",....and his suffering, because of rejection by any other man, women, child,...stopped ! Than he comes with idea to make the scent which will turn the people to love him,.....and woala, happend,... but on the end very badly for him,.... if this need is enormous,..unnatural,...and same is happening with us too,...!! So, don't search for maniacs, horror,....crime,..these are only "instruments" to tell the remarkable story about need to be Loved !
A-Cane More than 1 year ago
I have read this book three times, both in English & Spanish. Both versions are wonderful. The details & descriptions transport you to every scene the author depicts in the most intrinsic way.
IMPetus More than 1 year ago
I would describe this as tasteful macabre. The prose is both fluid and florid, maintaining an edge of sophistication throughout, which in itself is quite impressive. The language is reflective of an elevated speaker, perhaps being simply the style of the time in which it was written, and the tone is very appropriate. The elements of suspense is handled masterfully and without a doubt one of the most accomplished works of mystery. I unfortunately discovered the great secret via a spoiler, but it remains nonetheless intelligent. Suskind has a penchant of describing the seemingly grotesque in an interesting fashion, so as to create a juxtaposition between the elegance of perfume and the ugliness of the human world. Highly recommended.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in late 19th Century France to parents who is rejected by his parents and all who would otherwise want a little baby to nourish and cherish. The few who do encounter him as a baby note that he smells "evil," like an abomination, whatever that means; it turns out he literally has no smell to him, unlike other sweet babies. But Grenouille survives the rejection of a woman, priest and others to discover that his total way of appreciating the world is through the unique sense of smell that HE has. For he can recognize any object or person by smell, and this is what feeds his soul and sets his identity - that is until the day he encounters a wholly new intoxicating smell. What he will do upon reaching the source of that lovely odor will shock the reader to the core of his or her mind and heart! Grenouille is now a changed man and seeks to create perfumes that will entrance other as he has been enraptured. But how he will do it is both mesmerizing and shocking, again and again. For creating the perfect perfume makes him even more of a misogynist than previously and his hate will lead to numerous victims as he seeks to rid the world of malodorous men, women, and children. This is not your average horror or serial killer story. For the author depicts this psychotic individual with such neutrality and writes in such a literate style that the reader is compelled to keep rapidly turning the pages until the last shocking event! The story also gives a nice historical touch to the story, depicting the poverty, wealth, degradation and depravity of the times in a France that may be post-Revolution but is none the better for the overwhelming changes. One word only perfectly describes this novel - amazing!
EvaPohler More than 1 year ago
Only two people in my book club loved this book, and I was one of them. The others were grossed out by the details of disgusting smells and horrid deeds, but I found the powers of description this author possesses to be absolutely astounding. Many books have made me see and hear and taste and feel unusual things, but this novel makes you smell in a brilliantly artistic way. I've never read a book like this one and consider it a masterpiece as a study of the sense of smell in literature. I highly recommend this book. To read more of my book reviews, please visit my blog at bookclubpicks dot blogspot dot com.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Perfume by Patrick Süskind; Translated from the German by John E. Woods When I saw the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) last week, I knew had to read the book. And I was greatly rewarded. Although the movie follows the book quite closely, the thought process of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille can only be grasped by reading the book. At the Cemetière des Innocents market, on July 17, 1738, one of the hottest days of the year in Paris, a fish vendor squatted and delivered her fifth baby. All prior one shad been stillbirths, so after she cut the cord, she abandoned her baby and continued working on her fish stall. However, this time the baby hung to life and cried. There was a turmoil and the baby was given to a nurse and the mother was decapitated weeks later at the place de Grève as prescribed by law. A few weeks later the wet nurse, Jeanne Busie, stood at the gates of the cloister of Saint Merri, and forced Father Terrier to take the baby away because the baby was sucking her life away and "did not smell" like a human being. Father Terrier in turn, took the baby to Madame Guillard's orphanage, where against all odds it survived: "everyday language soon would prove inadequate for designating all the olfactory notions that (Jean-Baptiste) he had accumulated within himself." Soon..."he created odors that did not exist in the real world. It was as if he were an autodidact possessed of a huge vocabulary of odors that enabled him to form at will great number of smelled sentences-" Madame Guillard's sold Jean-Baptiste to a tanner named Grimal for 15 francs. For her cares Madame Guillard lived to an old age and ended poor and alone because the French Revolution ended her pension and she died, like her father, at Hôtel-Dieu. Grenouille knew (by his smell) that Grimal was capable of trashing him to death for the least infraction and he worked like an animal for one year. He survived and excelled at his new job, but one night, he discovered the one scent that was the higher principle, the pattern by which the others must be ordered. It was pure beauty. Never before in his life had Jean-Baptiste known what happiness was. There at rue de Marais, Jean-Baptiste kills the beautiful girl that produced the essence that captivated him-and he decided that he must become the greatest perfumer of all time. Now enters Giuseppe Baldini, a perfumer on the Pont-au-Change, which connected the right bank with the Ile de la Cité. Baldini had aged and had lost his ability to create perfumes. Destiny brings him Jean-Baptiste Grenouille to his door and as the boy is exalted by all the aromas of the shop, Grenouille asks for employment. To prove himself, he copies a perfume created by his competitor-Amor and Psyche-and improves him to the point where Baldini buys Grenouille for twenty livres of gold, a huge sum. On his way home from celebrating the deal of his life, Grimal falls into the Seine River and drowns. The House of Baldini becomes an overnight success, and Grenouille learns all he can from Baldini, and at the same time learns how to write the formulas of the perfumes created, which Baldini guarded with his life. Soon Grenouille learns that only substances with essential oils can be distilled and learns that in the town of Grasse, there are three other ways to make perfume: enfleurage à chaud, enfleurage à froid, and enfleurage à l'huile. Grenouille trades his fr
Sifl More than 1 year ago
This book is a work of genius. I was so surprised that it was originally written in German because the text seems to flow so perfectly in English. The author's style and use of diction create highly descriptive scenes that pull the reader in and never let go. I found the main character, Grenouille, although a mass-murderer, somehow likable. The story is multi-faceted and full of metaphors that will keep you thinking long after you've finished the novel. This is a must-read!
Lii More than 1 year ago
The story takes place in 18th century France, where Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born lacking any personal odour at all. After a difficult childhood where nobody really wanted him, he was finally traded to a perfumer, where he learned to refine his incredible gift of smell. One day while walking the streets of Paris he discovers the scent of a beautiful young girl; it was unlike anything he had ever smelled before. He became so obsessed with the smell and the idea of creating the perfect perfume, one that no one could resist. After that day Jean-Baptiste embarks on a series of horrifying murders. "Perfume" is one of my favorite books. The scents are so detailed and vividly described I could almost smell them myself. The language in this novel is so rich and enjoyable that even if the story was less appealing it would still make a great book, one that you have to read.
leimana More than 1 year ago
This book is intense. I saw the movie before I read the book. The book is so much better. Very good read.
neurodrew More than 1 year ago
Jean Babtiste Grenouille has no scent of his own, but has an incomparable sense of smell. He is able to detect and catalogue all scents, picking them out from a crowd. He is a castoff, born and thrown out, raised by people who seek only to profit from him. He works in a tannery, contracts and survives anthrax. He presents himself with a delivery of hides to a perfumer and glover, and demonstrates his uncanny ability to compound scents from his memory. He leaves Paris after learning the perfumer¿s techniques, lives a long time in the wild, hiding in a cave far from all scents, then returns to society, first being an example for a crackpot theory of disease, and then ending up in Grasse, to learn new techniques of extracting scents. He compounds scents to use himself, with different overtones to create different effects on people. He is drawn to the scent of a virgin, resolves to extract her scent and create a perfume that would make the world fall in love with its wearer. He becomes a murderer, and escapes the execution with the use of the scent. Luscious writing, vivid detail about perfumes and the historical period, unusual main characte
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this up at a garage sale - never been read. Oh Boy!! What a book. I have never read anything like it. It is not a copy cat of anything else I have ever read. I love reading truly original and unique story lines, complete with fully developed (if not a bit bizarre) characters, and really complex psycological undertones. I give this book a 10 - I am keeping it forever. Have ready it twice and find it fabulous.
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Merrybest More than 1 year ago
This classic is a scary/mysterious telling of a person born without scent who becomes a master perfumer.
Agent_Cooper More than 1 year ago
This was Kurt Cobain's favorite book, and that should be enough for EVERYONE.
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