Russian Winter

( 90 )

Overview

A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that ...

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Russian Winter: A Novel

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Overview

A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.

It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of the theater; that she fell in love with the poet Viktor Elsin; that she and her dearest companions—Gersh, a brilliant composer, and the exquisite Vera, Nina’s closest friend—became victims of Stalinist aggression. And it was in Russia that a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape that led Nina to the West and eventually to Boston.

Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

Interweaving past and present, Moscow and New England, the backstage tumult of the dance world and the transformative power of art, Daphne Kalotay’s luminous first novel—a literary page-turner of the highest order—captures the uncertainty and terror of individuals powerless to withstand the forces of history, while affirming that even in times of great strife, the human spirit reaches for beauty and grace, forgiveness and transcendence.

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Editorial Reviews

Eugenia Zukerman
…a magnificent tale of love, loss, betrayal and redemption…Characters appear like an endless stacking nest of Matryoshka dolls, one more fascinating and intriguing than the next…The complex story is multi-layered and labyrinthine so that the reader, just like these characters, does not know whom to believe or distrust…Toward the end, with many unanswered questions swirling, the author lets the truth ebb and flow until a final riptide of revelations leaves the reader profoundly moved.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Kalotay makes a powerful debut with a novel about a Soviet-era prima ballerina, now retired and living in Boston, who confronts her past as she puts up for auction the jewelry she took with her when she left her husband and defected. Nina "The Butterfly" Revskaya, 79, reveals little about the past to curious auction house representative Drew Brooks as he peruses her cache of exquisite jewelry. Nina likewise rebuffs inquiries from foreign language professor Grigori Solodin, who has translated the works of Nina's poet husband and who offers an additional item for auction: the amber necklace he inherited from the parents he never knew. In extended flashbacks, Nina recalls intimate moments and misunderstandings with her husband, happy and disturbing times with his Jewish composer best friend, and encounters with her own childhood friend. Meanwhile, Drew and Grigori delve into the jewelry's provenance, hoping to learn as much about the jewels as their own pasts. While the Soviet-era romance can lean too much on melodrama, Kalotay turns out a mostly entrancing story thanks to a skillful depiction of artistic life behind the Iron Curtain and intriguing glimpses into auction house operations. (Sept.)
Matthew Pearl
“Daphne Kalotay captivates in a soaring debut novel. An elegant, compelling puzzle of family, memory and solitude that brings to life modern-day Boston and postwar Russia through a profound love story. Graceful, moving and unexpected.”
Jenna Blum
“Tender, passionate, and moving, Daphne Kalotay’s debut novel about ballet, jewels, love and betrayal is also a delicious form of time travel.I loved it.”
Boston Globe
“With sure and suspenseful artistry, Daphne Kalotay intersperses the unfortunate and tortuous histories of Nina, Elsin, and their artist friends with new discoveries and disclosures. The several stories draw together in a conclusion that is surprising, fitting, and satisfying.”
Maclean's
“Kalotay has brought to life hidden worlds with the verve of an expertly executed tour jeté.
O magazine
“This tale of a Russian ballerina who defected to Boston is a history lesson inside an evocative novel about art and betrayal.”
Booklist
“Kalotay has created appealing, well-rounded characters in well-researched settings. . . . This is a briskly paced, fresh, and engaging first novel dealing with the pain of loss and the power of love.”
USA Today
“An exceptional debut novel. . . . Delving into Nina’s life with the Bolshoi Ballet, her life among the Soviet Union’s artist community and her escape from the Stalinist regime add glamour and historical flavor to this novel of secrets, intrigue and wonderfully described priceless gems.”
Washington Post Book World
“[A] magnificent tale of love, loss, betrayal and redemption. . . . The emotional center of the book holds everything together. . . . [A] final riptide of revelations leaves the reader profoundly moved.”
Good Housekeeping
“Part romance, part mystery, this elegant debut captures the danger—and refuge—of love in Stalin’s era.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“RUSSIAN WINTER. . . is engaging and affecting. It could well be the debut novel of the year.”
O Magazine
"This tale of a Russian ballerina who defected to Boston is a history lesson inside an evocative novel about art and betrayal."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780099553243
  • Publisher: Arrow Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 2/28/2011
  • Pages: 466
  • Sales rank: 1,448,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Daphne Kalotay

Daphne Kalotay is the author of the novel Russian Winter, which won the Writers' League of Texas Fiction Award and has been published in twenty languages, and the fiction collection Calamity and Other Stories, which was short-listed for the Story Prize. A MacDowell fellow, Daphne holds a PhD in modern and contemporary literature and an MA in creative writing, both from Boston University, and has received fellowships from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, Yaddo, and the Bogliasco Foundation. She has taught literature and creative writing at Boston University, Skidmore College, Middlebury College, and Grub Street. Copresident of the Boston chapter of the Women's National Book Association, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 90 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(33)

3 Star

(18)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 90 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Why is the pendant worn backwards.and which woman wears it?

    The cover of Russian Winter beguiled me, but did not answer the many questions that hammered at my brain as Nina's story unfolded. I paid diligent attention to the carefully spun-out clues in the novel and was spellbound until the end. Sometimes we savor a book-read a bit, then put it away until tomorrow so that it may be pondered. Not so with Russian Winter. I was swept away and contentedly disconnected from the rest of my life for the hours I spent within its pages. I reveled in author Daphne Kalotay's use of language. She juxtaposes present day Boston with post WW II Soviet Union where artists struggle with their private turmoil and fears behind the iron curtain. Her flashbacks are expertly cast in the present tense. So much of what is beautiful in this world-ballet, poetry, music, love, creative expression, hope-is intertwined with betrayal, fear, loss, poor health. Detailed descriptions of the jewelry to be auctioned are uniquely placed between chapter headings. Kalotay has a way of bringing simple images to life with phrases like "a squadron of hairpins." "Dancers must remember everything." Retired ballerina Nina Rebskaya, who has defected to the United States and seeks to sell her jewel collection to benefit the Boston ballet, suffers such a fate. Nina, who visualized the optimum performance of the next step in her choreography as she felt the floor beneath her feet, becomes the retired benefactress, body rigid and wheelchair-bound, tracing the lines of the past in her memories. The career of a ballerina is ephemeral but the value of a gemstone endures. Intrigue seduces. Art is transforming. Ponder all of this in the captivating novel, Russian Winter.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A great mystery for the coming cold weather.

    I've always enjoyed novels set in Russia. Something about the tragic mystery of the Romanov's, the colorful spiraling St. Basil Cathedral towers, and the romance of softly falling snow and fur muffs. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay is all those beautiful sensations rolled into one, with the fabulous addition of ballerinas and antique jewels.

    Alternating between present day Boston and 1950s Russia, Russian Winter is the story of once famous ballerina, Nina Revskaya, and the trials she endured while a young woman in a cold country who wants nothing more than to dance. Now old and alone, Nina has decided to auction off her famous jewels to benefit the Boston Ballet Foundation. The provenance of a particular set of amber jewelry, and the mysterious donator who contributes a matching amber necklace, set the scene for a literary mystery going back to the turmoil of Stalinist Russia, a time of intense speculation and fear.

    Daphne Kalotay submerges the reader in the beauty of the ballet, the mystery of Russia, and the pain and trials of an aging woman with a heartbreaking tale to tell. Nina is cold and distant in her old age, but she wasn't always that way and Kalotay shows us her younger years by beautifully transitioning back in time. Russian Winter is much like the ballerinas in the story; enigmatic and alluring. Perfect for the coming cool weather, it's deliciously long and will catch you from the start with a hint of mystery, a hint of romance, and a determined and easily flowing plot.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2010

    Marvelous Book!

    A friend lent me a copy of this book to read, and I was sure from the get-go this would not be a very interesting book, shame on me, No one should judge a book by its cover... This story pulled me in, the characters are very rich and the authors voice has a perfect tempo, I was utterly astonished that this book was a debut, something I didn't know while reading the book. I highly recommend this book for anyone, not just women, but anyone that is looking for a book to escape in.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2012

    Trent

    Yea sure taks pff sure im not great but im good

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2011

    An aging ballerina, Nina Revskaya, has a secret past. The secrets haunt her in her vintage.

    Born in Russia, but now living in the United States, she endures the ravages of time on her crippled body and runs from her painful memories, deciding to sell part of her jewelry collection; some of the pieces have a hidden meaning and from them, the real secrets of Nina's life are brought to light, exposing the agony and sacrifices they have caused herself and others around her. The oppressive Russian regime has created an atmosphere of suspicion and subterfuge, giving birth to grave consequences for those involved in this tale, which is part mystery, part love story and part historic fiction. Stalin's regime requires complete obedience to him, the father figure; it sows the seeds of mistrust in all citizens. They are kept in a state of ignorance so that they know nothing more about life, other than that contained in their own meager existences.
    Everywhere, the politics of the time is evident. The behavior of the characters is true to form for the atmosphere in the Russia of the early, middle and later part of the 20th century. We can see the progression from complete oppression to the evolution of some individual freedoms, but overlaying all is the state sponsored security, anti-semitism and news media which orchestrates the rise of socialism and a one class society. Keeping the populace ignorant is the key to its success.
    The mystery begins to unfold when Nina consents to be interviewed by Drew Brooks, employed by the auction house selling her jewelry. The difference between the healthy interviewer who is possessed of a youth and vitality she can barely contain, and the frail, former dancer whose pained and crippled body keeps her bound to a wheelchair, is stark.
    Anonymously, another necklace is donated to the jewelry auction. How did this piece become separated from the matching bracelet and earrings that Nina Revskaya has given them? Is it related to her own pieces? Nina claims ignorance regarding its existence.
    An unexpected love story is blossoming between Drew and Grigori Solodin, the donator of the mystery necklace. He is hoping to find answers to questions about his own origin. As the story moves from the present to the past, we learn of the love stories between Nina and Victor Elsin, Vera and Gersh and Serge and Polina. This is the Russia of decades ago, complete with secret police everywhere. Poverty and hardship are the norm with no escape from any of the harsh policies of the regime.
    Although the mystery of the necklace, in the jewelry collection to be auctioned, promises to be the thread that will make this novel exciting at some point, from the beginning, the book moves slowly. I do like the premise of the novel; the mystery of Nina and her past will be revealed; misconceptions can lead to disaster because of a rush to judgment, and even the power of love is not strong enough to remove that shadow of doubt, once cast. Nina is an unwilling missing link to other people's lives.
    There are so many characters to remember. The theme develops slowly, as it moves from Russia to the USA and from the present to the past, that it is difficult to read more than a few pages at a time. It is a pity that the escape from Russia was not more developed. Yet, with all the drawbacks, the confusing timeline, number of characters and lack of defection details, it is the kind of book you can pick up, read a few pages and then put down to pick up another day. It will encourage you to finish, but perhaps not in large doses.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Well Written and Complex Story

    "Russ­ian Win­ter" by Daphne Kalotay is a fic­tional book which fol­lows the com­plex life of a Russ­ian prima bal­le­rina who defected to the US. The paper­back edi­tion includes dis­cus­sion ques­tions, a Q&A, a per­sonal essay and rec­om­mended read­ing; Ms. Kalotay web­site has a ded­i­cated For Book Groups page with tools for dis­cus­sion and more.

    Nina Revskaya a famous Russ­ian prima bal­le­rina has decided to auc­tion off her jew­elry col­lec­tion for char­ity. Nina was once a great star of the world famous Bol­shoi Bal­let. The auc­tion house assigns Drew Brooks to help Nina cat­a­log the pieces, but Drew also wants to hear Nina's per­sonal sto­ries which will ulti­mately help fetch a higher price. How­ever, Nina is over­whelmed by mem­o­ries of her youth and secrets of a lifetime.

    Grig­ori Solodin , a Russ­ian pro­fes­sor hears about the auc­tion and donate a jewel he holds pre­cious and believes it is the key to his own foggy past. Jump­ing in time and space, the story unfolds to explain love let­ters, poems and Mr. Solodin's piece of his own past.

    "Russ­ian Win­ter" by Daphne Kalotay is a com­plex book that's dif­fi­cult to describe. This is one of those books that you really need to pay atten­tion while read­ing, read­ing it quickly will take away from the enjoyment.

    There are many details about the book which are fas­ci­nat­ing, the Bol­shoi Bal­let, the Bol­shoi try­outs, danc­ing, the life of a bal­le­rina and life in post World War II Rus­sia in gen­eral. Ms. Kalotay goes into great detail about the frame of mind which an artist in an oppres­sive régime must under­take. The ballerina's abil­ity to shut every­thing out in order to per­fect her craft is well written.

    The book is well writ­ten but is not easy to read. I sug­gest you take your time with this novel, not only is the time­line rich and com­plex but also often shifts in space and time. The book cov­ers many areas; bal­let, Russ­ian his­tory, poetry, and gen­eral his­tor­i­cal fic­tion - a bit of every­thing for almost everyone.

    As I men­tioned, this is a com­plex book and shoots off in many tan­gents. There is the story of Nina Revskaya, the bal­le­rina which we meet as a small child and jux­ta­posed to her story in the twi­light of her life. With Nina we are intro­duced to Drew Brooks who is Nina's liai­son in the auc­tion house sell­ing her jew­elry (for char­ity) and a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor named Grig­ori Solodin who is the trans­la­tor of the poems writ­ten by Nina's hus­band Vik­tor Elsin. Among the cast there are also sev­eral of Nina's friends, some in the US but mostly in Russia.

    I don't enjoy bal­let or poetry, but I did enjoy this book.
    I got this book for free.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2011

    A chilling tale of Stalinist Russia

    Flashbacks aren't easy to do, but Kalotay has managed to use them very effectively in a story of a Russian ballerina from childhood to old age. In the past, the main character was a Bolshoi ballet dancer, one of the privileged few in Stalinist Russia, but nevertheless well acquainted with the horrors of that time. In the present, she is selling off her large and valuable jewel collection through an auction house in Boston. There are some mysterious letters, disappearances, romance in the past and the present, and even a walk-on by Josef Stalin himself. I really enjoyed the book and hope to see more from this talented author.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2010

    AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL!

    RUSSIAN WINTER by Daphne Kalotay is an interesting historical set in present day Boston and 1950 Russia. It is well written with depth,details, twists and turns. It has mystery, tragedy, heart break, secrets, terror of war, mystery of Russia, ballerinas, a touch of romance, history, and the pain and trials of an aging woman. It interwines the past with the present in detail. The characters are rich, determined, and the plot flows easily. It shows the transformation of a yound hopeful Nina into the frustrated and resigned elder Nina. If you enjoy a hint of mystery, a hint of romance, and a lot of drams this is the book for you. This book was received from Good Reads for review and details can be found at Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers and My Book Addiction and More.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "Both glorious and heartbreaking"

    In Kalotay's "Russian Winter" you can almost feel the cold of Moscow & the danger of the Stalin Regime, put forth in lyrical prose. I enjoyed the comparison of the beauty of white winter snow with the shabbiness of Russia & the escape from downtrodden lives into the lovely art of the ballet. And the jewelry auction was a clever vehicle to bring clues to the the puzzle of the mystery surrounding the central characters. Kalotay artfully portrays the distinct voice of the young hopeful Nina with the frustration & resignation of the elder Nina. Finally, the analytical interpretation of events that form & change ones' life is brought out beautifully in this complex novel. Thoroughly enjoyable!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Assumptions are usually wrong-and painful!

    Russian Winter is an engrossing fiction novel from Daphne Kalotay that combines personal history with notorious events in human history. Flashbacks from Stalin-era Russia combine with the modern life of a Russian defector, Nina Revskaya, once famous as a Bolshoi ballerina. As she enters her final years, she decides to have a Sotheby's-style auction house sell her gems...purportedly to donate the funds to the Arts. However, it soon becomes clear that she has more personal reasons to divest of the jewelry-some of the pieces harbor memories that are too painful to hold on to.

    In the meantime, Drew, the auction house assistant, is charged with the task of determining the provenance of the pieces. A mystery arises as a new pendant is anonymously donated...one that would appear to be linked with Nina's set. The significance is clear: there's more to the story than Nina is willing to reveal. And it is the verification of the jewels history that becomes a story of assumptions and lies, and the betrayals that come as a result from them.

    The story was well paced, and plot twists developed that kept the mystery going. I also found the in-depth portrayal of the auction house's job of verifying historical jewelry fascinating. However, I had a few issues with the substance of the novel overall. One, I got the impression almost that a formula was being followed...'reveal this much detail at a time, then hold back, move on, and sprinkle foreshadowing liberally'. It worked, but once completed, the novel felt a bit manipulated. Another thing was I think the author wanted to show two powerful, independent women in action; and yet, both women (Drew and Nina) lacked warmth and were really kind of boring. The men in the story-Grigori and Viktor-were far more interesting and vibrant to read about. The women seemed passive in comparison.

    The flashbacks of Russia were of the most basic historical components: poets, vodka, intellectual suppression, mysterious arrests, the ballet, corruption, and poverty. In other words, there was nothing new added that dipped beneath a mere surface knowledge of "Russia 101." I would have loved if the book could have added historical details that would have revealed more complexity to the characters, in the way Vasily Grossman's Everything Flows uncovered a pain that explained its character's actions with more humanity. And yet, to someone unfamiliar with Russian history, they might find it a good introduction to the unique events of the region's history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2013

    Good read - my favorite historical fiction genre and historical

    Good read - my favorite historical fiction genre and historical Russia no less! Intriguing story, but disappointed in the ending. I wish the end of the story had been flushed out and shared more. Regardless, very disappointed in the character of Nina.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    A really great story!

    This book was recommended by a friend who read it for a book club. If you just like a good story without a particular genre, I can highly recommend this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    Displeased

    Read the fisrt chapter and was intrigued. Paid for the book...and got the sample instead...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    Moonsecret

    I am a beautiful German she cat. I am Russian too but not much. Will you be my mate? I am all black with a white tipped tail and blue eyes.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    Person

    YOU CAN'T SPELL OFFENDED!!!!!! BAI NOW!!!!!!! TORTILLA!!!!!!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    Wonderful

    Well written and beautiful, Kalotay really gave insight into Soviet Russia as well as the life of a prima ballerina. I loved the book, it is now definetly a favorite.

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  • Posted July 25, 2012

    A wonderfully written story, weaved with wonderfully thorough re

    A wonderfully written story, weaved with wonderfully thorough research of Soviet Russia in the aftermath of World War II. I was slightly disappointed by the ending, in that it sort of became "rushed," which seemed almost out of place with how long it took to get to that ending. But regardless, I enjoyed the story and the beautiful writing.

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  • Posted June 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This was an outstanding book. It is told in alternating narrati

    This was an outstanding book. It is told in alternating narratives taking place in post World War II Russia and Boston within the last 10 years. Mysteries are immediately revealed in the book, then unraveled during the narrative. The book is about love, loyalty, and society, set against a backdrop of ballet and jewelry --- very unique!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    Great book

    This is a terrific read! It's a sociological thriller with lots of great detail on Russian ballet, history, jewelry and the ways of auction houses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2011

    Beautiful and engrossing

    I was caught up in this story in a way that reminded me of A.S. Byatt's _Possession_. The language was vivid and graceful and the characters compelling. I will look forward to more from Daphne Kalotay.

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