The Yellow Birds

( 80 )

Overview

A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely ...

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Overview

A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.

In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.

Winner of the 2013 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award
2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner
Winner of the 2012 Guardian First Book Award
2012 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
One of the New York Times Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2012

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  • The Yellow Birds
    The Yellow Birds  

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
…a remarkable first novel, one that stands with Tim O'Brien's enduring Vietnam book, The Things They Carried, as a classic of contemporary war fiction. The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined story about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing tale about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory. Its depiction of war has the surreal kick of Mr. O'Brien's 1978 novel, Going After Cacciato, and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own; they combine to sear images into the reader's mind with unusual power.
—Michiko Kakutani
The Washington Post
Throughout The Yellow Birds, amid the gore and the terror and the boredom, you can hear notes of Powers's work as a poet…More than a little of that rich language would risk turning the novel florid, but Powers rarely oversteps. In the best sections, he moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war…His lacerating honesty never feels false or fails to shock…
—Ron Charles
The New York Times Book Review
…a first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo…the fractured structure replicates the book's themes. Like a chase scene made up of sentences that run on and on and ultimately leave readers breathless, or like a concert description that stops and starts, that swings and sways, that makes us stamp our feet and clap our hands—the nonlinear design of Powers's novel is a beautifully brutal example of style matching content. War destroys. It doesn't just rip through bone and muscle, stone and steel; it fragments the mind as a fist to a mirror might create thousands of bloodied, glittering shards…Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen.
—Benjamin Percy
Publishers Weekly
This moving debut from Powers (a former Army machine gunner) is a study of combat, guilt, and friendship forged under fire. Pvt. John Bartle, 21, and Pvt. Daniel Murphy, 18, meet at Fort Dix, N.J., where Bartle is assigned to watch over Murphy. The duo is deployed to Iraq, and the novel alternates between the men’s war zone experiences and Bartle’s life after returning home. Early on, it emerges that Murphy has been killed; Bartle is haunted by guilt, and the details of Murphy’s death surface slowly. Powers writes gripping battle scenes, and his portrait of male friendship, while cheerless, is deeply felt. As a poet, the author’s prose is ambitious, which sets his treatment of the theme apart—as in this musing from Bartle: “though it’s hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of those parentheses which were the beginning and end of my war.” The sparse scene where Bartle finally recounts Murphy’s fate is masterful and Powers’s style and story are haunting. (Sept.)
Michiko Kakutani
"A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory...Extraordinary."
Benjamin Percy
"A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo....Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."
Ron Charles
"A novel of grit, grace, and blood by an Iraq war veteran....Kevin Powers moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war."
Los Angeles Times
"The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war."
TIME
"An elegiac, sober, and haunting coming-of-age war story."
The New Yorker
"An exquisite excavation of the war's moral and psychological wreckage. Powers evokes the peculiar smell and feel of the war better than any journalist."
G.Q.
An unusually spare and lyrical war story....The characters are sketched with as much heart as economy...Like the Iraq heat, which 'had the surprising effect of reducing one to tears in an instant,' The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping.
Men's Journal
"Veteran Kevin Powers's searing debut novel brings the Iraq War home in compelling detail....The Yellow Birds is luminous...an indispensable portrait of the Iraq War and its impact of those who fought it."
Tom Wolfe
"The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars."
Ann Patchett
"The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary."
Alice Sebold
"This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence."
Chris Cleave
"Reading The Yellow Birds I became certain that I was in the presence of a text that will win plaudits, become a classic, and hold future narratives of the war to a higher standard....a superb literary achievement."
Anthony Swofford
"Powers has created a powerful work of art that captures the complexity and life altering realities of combat service. This book will endure. Read it and then put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."
Robert Olen Butler
"We haven't just been waiting for a great novel to come out of the Iraq War, our 21st century Vietnam; we have also been waiting for something more important, a work of art that illuminates our flawed and complex and striving humanity behind all such wars. At last we have both in Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds."
Hilary Mantel
"Remarkable for its intensity of both feeling and expression. In this book about death, every line is a defiant assertion of the power of beauty to revivify, whether beauty shows itself in nature or (later) in art. Graves, Owen, and Sassoon would have recognised this war and the strange poetry it has bred."
Edna O'Brien
"In the great tradition of Hemingway and Tim O'Brien, Kevin Powers's exquisitely written The Yellow Birds draws us in to the combat zones of Iraq: the watch, the wait ("Stay alive, Stay alert"), the bungle, the slaughter, and the irreparable aftermath."
Darren Reidy
"The first great Iraq War novel."
Alan Cheuse
"Darkly beautiful....How to tell a true war story if you're more a poet than a novelist? Tell it as a poet would. Tell it as Kevin Powers does."
GQ
"An unusually spare and lyrical war story....The characters are sketched with as much heart as economy...Like the Iraq heat, which 'had the surprising effect of reducing one to tears in an instant,' The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping."
Library Journal
This first novel by Powers traces the story of a young soldier named John Bartle and his friend Murph during fighting in northern Iraq in 2005. Sterling, the tough sergeant of their platoon, has informally assigned Bartle the job of watching over Murph, who is young, small, and not much of a soldier, and Bartle had also promised Murph's mother that he would take care of him. As the horrors of war escalate, all the soldiers seem to lose their grip, and Murph finally snaps, leaving the compound and forcing Bartle and Sterling to search for him through the nightmarish landscape of a ravaged city. Alternating with this plot is the story of Bartle's life after his return home, as he attempts to piece together his friend's fate and come to grips with it. VERDICT Thoughtful and analytical, the novel resonates as an accurate and deeply felt portrayal of the effects of post-combat syndrome as experienced by soldiers in the disorienting war in Iraq. While the battle scenes are effectively dramatized, the main character's inner turmoil is the focal point of this well-done novel. [See Prepub Alert, 3/22/12.]—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta
Kirkus Reviews
A novel about the poetry and the pity of war. The title comes from an Army marching chant that expresses a violence that is as surprising as it is casual. Pvt. John Bartle's life becomes linked to that of Pvt. Daniel Murphy when they're both assigned to Fort Dix before a deployment to Iraq. Murph has just turned 18, but at 21, Bartle is infinitely more aged. In a rash statement, one that foreshadows ominous things to come, Bartle promises Murph's mother that he'll look out for him and "bring him home to you." The irascible Sgt. Sterling overhears this promise and cautions Bartle he shouldn't have said anything so impulsive and ill-advised. In Iraq nine months later, the two friends go on missions that seem pointless in theory but that are dangerous in fact. They quickly develop an apparent indifference and callousness to the death and destruction around them, but this indifference exemplifies an emotional distance necessary for their psychological survival. As the war intensifies in Nineveh province, they witness and participate in the usual horrors that many soldiers in war are exposed to. As a result of his experiences, Murph starts to act strangely, becoming more isolated and withdrawn until he finally snaps. Eventually he, too, becomes a victim of the war, and Bartle goes home to face the consequences of a coverup in which he'd participated. Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.
Daniel Woodrell
"Kevin Powers has delivered an exceptional novel from the war in Iraq, written in clean, evocative prose, lyric and graphic, in assured rhythms, a story for today and tomorrow and the next."
Colm Toibin
"Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."
Philipp Meyer
"Compelling, brilliantly written, and heart-breakingly true, The Yellow Birds belongs in the same category as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come."
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times
"A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory...Extraordinary."
From the Publisher
"The book is so heartfelt and so good that it not only reaffirms the power of fiction to tell the truth about the unspeakable, but also asks serious questions of a generation of writers—myself included—who have thus far avoided addressing these disastrous wars directly. Reading The Yellow Birds I became certain that I was in the presence of a text that will win plaudits, become a classic, and hold future narratives of the war to a higher standard. Impeccably structured and told with the poetry of a master, I often had to put the book down, close my eyes and savour the depth of the writing. Comparisons with Hemingway will be inevitable because of the brevity and economical style, and with Cormac McCarthy because of the author's talent for landscape. But Powers builds on this literary foundation to create a style of his own. He writes without hauteur, and his insights into the post-traumatic condition have a degree of sharpness that frequently subvert the classical mode of his storytelling and leave the reader with heart hammering. This is a superb literary achievement. I urge everyone to read it."—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee

"Compelling, brilliantly written, and heart-breakingly true, The Yellow Birds belongs in the same category as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come."—Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust

"Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."—Colm Toibin

The Barnes & Noble Review

The question Kevin Powers got most often after his tour of duty in Iraq was "What's it like over there?" In his first novel, The Yellow Birds, he answers from inside the war with an intimate book that's as powerful as it is heartbreaking.

Pvt. John Bartle, an Army machine gunner, has returned home from "our little pest of a war" crippled by hidden wounds. He's twenty-one, just a kid, and after the things he saw and did in the deserts of Al Tafar, he's shell-shocked. Daniel Murphy, the eighteen-year-old fellow Virginian he was paired with in boot camp, has been killed. In a splintered narrative that shifts back and forth in time — mirroring the disintegration of Bartle's own mind and soul ? the young man fights both to tell and to remember the truth about his friend's death.

Unlike the Second World War fought by his grandfather, an experience made manageable by its "destination and purpose," the conflict in Iraq is circular and seemingly unending. Here's Bartle as he waits on the eve of yet another battle in the same city, describing his war: "We'd go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of the season. We'd drive them out. We always had. We'd kill them. They'd shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they'd come back, and we'd start over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops. While we patrolled the streets, we'd throw candy to their children with whom we'd fight in the fall a few more years from now."

Powers himself, who was seventeen when he joined the Army and twenty-three when he shipped off to Iraq, came home restless and adrift. He eventually found his way to the poetry program at the University of Texas, and it shows up in his prose. Though the plot in The Yellow Birds is slight, the sustained and merciless close-up that the novel presents has an unsettling power: sun and heat and sand and shade and — just as you're lulled — the bullets come. So does death, and for the survivors, numbness.

With such a small portion of the nation shouldering such a large burden of this war, it has become easy to turn a blind eye to the fates of those who crumble under the burden. In flashes, Powers ensures that we, too, are properly haunted, as when Bartles and his fellow soldiers read the name of a fallen comrade and feel the chill of his sudden, permanent absence: "[W]e were sure that he'd walked as a ghost for years through South Texas?. We thought that he was already dead on the flight over, that if he was scared when the C 141 bringing him to Iraq had pitched and yawed through the sky over Baghdad there had been no need. He had nothing to fear. He'd been invincible, absolutely, until the day he was not."

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316219365
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Pages: 230
  • Sales rank: 255,136
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the US Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. This is his first collection of poetry.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 80 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(46)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 25, 2012

    This is one powerful novel ! It is intense, soul-searching and s

    This is one powerful novel ! It is intense, soul-searching and shocking . I finished it last night and it is still inside my head , consuming my thoughts . It is not an easy read . Stay with it ; you will be deeply moved . I had absolutely no idea what our troops faced on a daily basis in Iraq ; this novel opened my eyes . I believe every politician who so easily advocates placing America's Sons and Daughters in harm's way should read this novel .

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2012

    Highly recommend - there is no glorification of this war

    This book about the unraveling or at least the confusion of moral values that a war inflicts on its young soldiers is a very powerful anti-war statement. It puts a real face on post traumatic stress syndrome. Kevin Powers writes well and does a beautiful job of contrasting the beauty of nature with the baseness of war.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2012

    Good

    It is purely amazing book best of it kind, no doubt.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2012

    A foot soldier, who enlists in the army for ambiguous reasons, e

    A foot soldier, who enlists in the army for ambiguous reasons, experiences the mind numbing disillusioning impact of the horrors of combat. Nothing new about that, but here the story is enhanced by prose laced with the dense metaphors and similies of poetry. That's not surprising based on the author's actual combat experience in Iraq and poetry training. This is certainly a powerful and thoughtful anti-war novel that avoids veering off into the politics of our involvement. But the main character's internal dialogues on the meaningless of it all became repetitious and perhaps tedious. There are better nonfiction alternatives on the subject. War by Sebastian Junger and The Good Soldiers by David Finkel come to mind.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2012

    An absolutely compelling, mesmerizing novel that would read more

    An absolutely compelling, mesmerizing novel that would read more rapidly, save the desire to re-read nearly every sentence, because of its beauty and power. The finest, grittiest, prose I have read in a war novel.  The book tells more with its terse economy of words and sculpted phrases than any novel four times its length.  A marvelous read, indeed!    d       .

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    Didn't Finish It

    I purchased this book after hearing a glowing review and interesting interview of the author on NPR. I was, however, disappointed and lost interest half way through. In places I was unable to follow the imagery and thought it overwhelmed the plot and characterization. I wanted to like this book but in the end put it down permanently. Maybe I've been away from poetry too long.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

    Outstanding first book

    This story is very affecting and painful. It is very short, more a novelette rather than novel yet it reads as a full novel. In some way that may sound like and insult but it is not how it is intended. The story told is simply larger than the number of actual pages that makes up the novel.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012

    A classic war novel

    The Yellow Birds ranks with the great war novels of all time. It is an "All Quiet on the Western Front" for the Iraq war.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    Familiar human

    He leaps off a tree, his katana shining.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    A great read!

    Very insightful into a soldier's experience in war.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    A huge look into a soldiers life

    I had a major book hang over after reading this book. It gave me a much larger understanding of my Brother and others whom go threw war. I've little by little asked my brother about certain parts and he says there spot on.
    Thank you for this amazingly insiteful book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 8, 2012

    Very intense and captivating. This was definitely not what I was

    Very intense and captivating. This was definitely not what I was expecting when I first picked it up, but the transitions in time really made this story flow perfectly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 20, 2012

    Insightful and really gives you a feeling of what it's like to b

    Insightful and really gives you a feeling of what it's like to be at war. Beautifully written!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    Well written and troubling

    Powers create a strong story that is disturbing on many levels. His characters are intriguingly flawed; and will live in your memory. I would recommend this book for book club discussions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2012

    Awesome

    Ily this book its a good read

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    Disapointed

    Thought this would be better with reviews & winning the award didn't even finish it

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2014

    V

    Vgtxv

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  • Posted June 30, 2014

    moving and thought provoking

    This is a moving story about two young men who enlist in the Army and serve in Iraq. This is the first book I've read on this subject that focuses on the enlisted soldiers and their experiences. It will change the way you think about those who served in the Afghanistan/Iraq wars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2014

    The book The Yellow Birds is a book for the ages. On par with Th

    The book The Yellow Birds is a book for the ages. On par with The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front, this is a story about a man fighting in the Iraq War who over time becomes disillusioned with the idea of war and the effects that it has on the soldiers fighting in it. Through the eyes of Pvt. Bartle, the reader can see and truly understand the mentality of a soldier that very few books have done before. This is truly a story that everybody should read. Although the novel does have its action, the real story is the mind of Pvt. Bartle. At home and in Iraq, the mind of a soldier is explored intimately in a way that modern readers can understand and sympathize with. If you have not picked up a copy yet, I would recommend that you do so now. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

    I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has read ¿All Quiet

    I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has read “All Quiet on the Western Front”. “The Yellow Birds” is a very intense novel that shows what war really is. Kevin Powers did an exceptional job writing this novel and does an amazing job describing what war can do to a person’s mind. This novel gives the reader an inside look at the war in Iraq and takes you inside the mind of a soldier. 

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