Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodi...

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Title:Between the World and Me
Author:Ta-Nehisi Coates
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Edition Language:English

Between the World and Me Reviews

  • Rob Slaven

    I received this book free for review from ShelfAwareness in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

    Written in the form of a letter from a father to a son, "Between the World and Me" is a detailed crystallization of the state of racism in our country today and its historical roots throughout the entire history o

    I received this book free for review from ShelfAwareness in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

    Written in the form of a letter from a father to a son, "Between the World and Me" is a detailed crystallization of the state of racism in our country today and its historical roots throughout the entire history of our country.

    My normal review format is to prattle on about positive and negative aspects of a book but in this case I think it's really more important to the potential reader that they understand what exactly it is that they're getting.

    For those who want a light breezy primer on racism... this is not it. This is profound and erudite and is the sort of book you could pick apart sentence by sentence for a year and at the end of that year just shake your head in despair. What Coates has done, like I've never seen before, is passionately and profoundly lay out the sad state of race relations in this country. The book reads like a PhD thesis as it patiently and methodically makes its points and then proves them.

    The book is also infinitely quotable. I read a few passages aloud to my fiancee and her wide-eyed reaction was to simply mouth the word "wow". Coates strings words together in a most elegant tapestry that forces the reader to think carefully and internalize the grim realities of life as a victim of racism in this country. Read so that ye may weep and know the truth.

    PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.

    --

    Rob Slaven

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  • J Beckett

    Less than an hour ago (on 7/26/2015) I finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. As I read the last sentence, “Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets,” I was involuntarily overcome with inexplicable, yet wholly warranted emotion. Oddly, tears, my tears, tears perhaps I had been locking inside my fatherly bravado for a couple decades, came down in their own sheets, as thoughts of my child, my daughter, at fourteen years old, still having to face the d

    Less than an hour ago (on 7/26/2015) I finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. As I read the last sentence, “Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets,” I was involuntarily overcome with inexplicable, yet wholly warranted emotion. Oddly, tears, my tears, tears perhaps I had been locking inside my fatherly bravado for a couple decades, came down in their own sheets, as thoughts of my child, my daughter, at fourteen years old, still having to face the daemonic vulgarities of a world she had no part in building but would be expected to repair, came to life.

    The tears came because Coates, in a few pages, captured, exposed, unlocked and translated what so many people of color, so many frustrated and frightened parents, and so many disenfranchised and nomadic youth found so difficult to dictate and explain. For them, the feelings were there but the words simply would not come. I wept because Coates' story was my story from my early experiences as a student at Morehouse College (the Harvard of the South) to the wanderer (and discoverer) of beauty upon the Parisian landscape, to accepting my unexpected role as an English teacher in a tough and directionless Baltimore City, to my exploration and rebirth, producing who I am today.

    Like so many, I was immediately taken to the oft quoted, extensively analyzed and eternally relevant essay, The Fire Next Time, written in 1962 by James Baldwin, as a “letter” to his nephew, written I suppose, for all the nephews in the world to analyze and digest. The similarities between Coates and Baldwin were uncanny, and certainly intentional, as "Between the World... was written by Coates to his son, as if a continuation to Baldwin’s last line from “The Fire…”:

    “And everywhere there is the anguish of being black in a society that at times seems poised on the brink of total racial war.”

    Yes, Coates released Between the World and Me, several weeks after the ‘unrest’ in Baltimore at the urging of his publisher, a timely and strategically perfect act and as an expose of tumultuous racial injustice and social chaos headlining the evening news the world over. He writes: “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” Indeed. Perhaps.

    This is a book that must be read and passed on to the youth to read several times over; a book for universities and secondary schools to add to their bulging curriculum to produce and encourage meaningful dialogue without blame or bias. Between the World and Me, is a book that should be discussed over scones and tea and bags of potato chips, and shared during drives to grandma’s house in the country or the inner city. It should be read by all people regardless of color, creed, nationality or social belief. This is a book of substance and timeless relevance. It is the book we all know. Eagerly and with great expectation, I await the next Coates to continue the story between the world and us.

  • Bill  Kerwin

    Sometime early in my reading of this book, I felt in my gut I had encountered a classic. Not a best-seller—this book is already that—but a classic. I envisioned stack upon paperback stack piled on metal shelves in university bookstores, shelves labeled Black Studies 301 but also Basic Comp 100. I could see pirated copies of large portions of Part One passed out to high school juniors and seniors, to be carefully annotated in AP Language and AP Literature, and I could see smaller sections distrib

    Sometime early in my reading of this book, I felt in my gut I had encountered a classic. Not a best-seller—this book is already that—but a classic. I envisioned stack upon paperback stack piled on metal shelves in university bookstores, shelves labeled Black Studies 301 but also Basic Comp 100. I could see pirated copies of large portions of Part One passed out to high school juniors and seniors, to be carefully annotated in AP Language and AP Literature, and I could see smaller sections distributed (with the customary "scaffolding" materials) to freshmen and sophomores in Basic English I and II.

    But even now--after the winning of The National Book Award--I doubt my own vision. Coates book deserves to be a classic, just as much as

    ,

    ,

    , and

    —all first-class books—deserve it. But a classic, after all, is not only a book of “first-class” quality, but one that is taught in “class”--and Coates book may be too bleak to appeal to educators--not to mention schoolboards and parents--who prefer books like

    or

    that agree to temper (to dissipate?) their truth with the comforts of warmth.

    Coates book--presented as an open letter to his teenage son--is undoubtedly bleak. He grew up on the streets of Baltimore in the early '90's, and describes the experience in physical, visceral terms. As a black boy growing up in such streets, you knew that your body was continually under mortal threat, often under attack. At any moment your body could be controlled, violated, by the hands or weapons of another—often by the policemen employed by “the Dreamers,” those who define themselves as white in America and wish to preserve for themselves the privileges of the American Dream. And you knew that any of these random violations of the body could lead to the ending of your life. And if you were a young unbeliever—as Coates was and is—you were conscious that this act would end the only life you would ever know.

    Coates has no faith in America or in its dream. For him, unlike Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe bends not toward justice but chaos. The Dream itself is built upon the despoliation and violation of the bodies of black men and women, and may only end when it has finally violated and despoiled the entire planet:

    But this book is more than its bleakness; although it is never hopeful, it is earnest, honest, and aware. Coates describes his odyssey from the narrow streets of Baltimore, to the black “Mecca” of Howard University, to the diverse neighborhoods of NYC, and to his encounter with a profoundly different culture on the boulevards of Paris. He welcomes his increasingly wide world with open eyes (if not always open arms), and his encounters with it deepen—although they do not substantially alter—his perceptions of blackness or the toxic nature of the Dream.

    Finally, even his atheism seems to be something like a gift. Perhaps it is only by realizing that the body is ultimately all we have that we can finally get our priorities straight, stop believing in forms of “magic” like “salvation” or “the Dream” or "progress," and instead concentrate on making sure that the bodies of all young people are protected and respected, so that each may discover the world with her own unique eyes.

    is undoubtedly a great book. Even if its bleakness prevents it from becoming an official classic, there is still a part of my vision that I am sure will come true. I see fathers giving copies to their sons, mothers to their daughters, for generations to come.

  • Rick Riordan

    I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up this book, but that's true of many books I read. I simply felt like it was something I needed to read at that moment, and I'm very glad I did.

    Between the World and Me is written as a letter/essay from Coates to his fifteen-year-old son, trying to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015. I almost said "make sense of what it means," but Coates' story is not so much about making sense as it is about finding one's plac

    I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up this book, but that's true of many books I read. I simply felt like it was something I needed to read at that moment, and I'm very glad I did.

    Between the World and Me is written as a letter/essay from Coates to his fifteen-year-old son, trying to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015. I almost said "make sense of what it means," but Coates' story is not so much about making sense as it is about finding one's place in a nonsensical context. He does not believe there is an answer to race relations. He believes (as I interpret it) that racial conflict is in itself an artificial construct and part of the Dream that keeps one group in power over another.

    This is not a book written to explain the African American experience to white people (or as Coates likes to say, people who believe they are white.) As a middle-aged white guy, I am in no way the intended audience for this book. Perhaps that's what made it such an enlightening read for me. There was no sugar-coating, no careful racial diplomacy, no worry about mediating opinions to cater to what white people might be able to hear. It was just a heartfelt, raw, painful and honest letter from a father to a son, laying plain Coates' worry, anger, frustration, and fear for his son's future in light of Coates' own past and the world his son will grow up in. (There again: I almost said 'the world he will inherit,' but Coates would be quick to point out that this is white thinking. We grow up believing we can inherit the future of our country, whereas African Americans grow up hearing a very different message.)

    Coates' most powerful assertion: doing violence to the African American body is an American legacy and tradition. It is not a failure of the system. It is part of the system. As much as may have changed in the past decades, the past centuries, the basic fear of African American parents remains: that their children can be snatched away, brutalized, killed for the smallest of reasons or no reason at all, and too often this violence is never addressed as anything more than an unavoidable force of nature like a hurricane.

    We all tend to gravitate toward books that reflect our own experience, toward characters who look and act the way we do. I believe many white readers, if they are honest with themselves, will think, If I'm a white person, why should I read a book about African Americans? That doesn't have anything to do with me. Whites have the privilege of not thinking about race until some violence flares up on the news, and then we think of the issue as a fire to put out, not a sign of some endemic problem. This was true when I was growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s. It was true when I taught in San Francisco in the 90s. It's still true here in Boston in the 2010s. African Americans don't have the luxury of thinking about race only when it suits them. It is an omnipresent fact of life and death. It makes their experience of American society fundamentally different and exponentially more complicated. That's exactly why I'd recommend this book to white readers. Our bubble can be pretty thick. It is important for us to step outside ourselves.

    Coates offers no answers, easy or otherwise. He believes in no grand vision. But he offers his son an honest assessment of his own experience and his own evolving thoughts on America. That's what rang true to me: a father talking candidly and caringly with his son. That's common ground I share with the author, as different as our experiences may be. This is a short book, easily finished in a couple of sittings, but it packs a punch. These issues aren't going away. They are only going to become more pressing. Read the book!

  • Rowena

    - Ta-Nehisi Coates,

    A couple of days ago I posted on Twitter a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme entitled

    I love the painting, the title, and I

    - Ta-Nehisi Coates,

    A couple of days ago I posted on Twitter a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme entitled

    I love the painting, the title, and I think that's how truth can appear to some people; scary but perhaps appealing as well. On a similar note, I love the honest, truthful accounts people are writing about their lives these days. I've often spoken of the gratitude I feel in particular to the different black writers who have given their unique perspectives that have helped paint a bigger picture about what it means to be black in the West. Although most literature is focused on the USA, so many of us who don't live there understand to a certain extent the experiences.

    " />

    So I read this eloquent and detailed response to the world, a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coate's teenage son, and I'm glad I did. The comparisons to Baldwin are very apt, especially having read "The Fire Next Time." Baldwin's book, one of my favourite pieces of writing, is still very applicable to our time, and Coates' has been written specifically for our time with several modern references. I recognized many familiar names; Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, and Michael Brown, and others.

    This is less of a book review than a response to what emotions and thoughts the book brought out in me, so it might sound a bit disjointed.

    I can't even begin to imagine the pain and difficulty many black people face when raising their children in a hostile world, a world that does very little to treat black people as worthy. Several of the adults in my family had the "race talk" with me. From a young age I knew how I was likely to be perceived, and I was taught ways that I could lessen the impact, and I realized as I got older how exhausting it is to live like this, very often on guard.The adults in my family and community did their best to create a safe environment for the kids despite society's obviously powerful presence. And I don't know if all the repercussions of living in such a world were completely evident to them because perhaps they expected racism and hardships for several reasons, but for someone like me who was raised in the West, my thoughts have always been "I am practically one of you, your society socialized me, why do I still feel this feeling of unbelonging?"

    The last few years have been very trying and we're dealing with a lot of backlash from discourses about race and what to do about racism. This book helps to show there is no way to forget our skin colour because we are treated based on what we look like, not on who we are. I often see the onus is on marginalized people to change their ways of reacting to racism, and when I read this book I am more aware of how pervasive racism is in all parts of society, and the effects it has on minorities living in these societies.

    I appreciate Coates' discussion of education as he saw it and experienced it. I think it's very telling and clearly shows that the role of the schools was to uphold white supremacy. I can speak from experience that as a black person learning in history class that the main contributions your ancestors have contributed have been slavery, is disheartening, yet I felt grateful that my history was even touched on. It took me well into my 20s, and on my own accord, to study black history that didn't focus on slavery. And the effects of that were obviously huge, and made me realize that my people had contributed so much more than is readily admitted.

    When I read the story of Coate's friend who was shot and killed by police, I found his reminiscences of his friend very poignant, and adding more depth to what it means for a black person to be killed for no reason but the colour of their skin:

    This book is full of profound quotes and thoughts that I'm still thinking about weeks later:

    I could really go on and on about this book because there is so much to say. I'm very thankful I was able to read it.

  • Brina

    Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is an essay to his teenaged son. Toni Morrison on the cover maintains that this should be required reading. In this short yet powerful message, Coates delivers a rap on race and offers hope to African Americans in their struggle to maintain their culture.

    Coates is a respected journalist and essayist and here writes a lyrical prose that had me captivated from the first pages. His message is simple- African Americans have to work twice as hard because of

    Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is an essay to his teenaged son. Toni Morrison on the cover maintains that this should be required reading. In this short yet powerful message, Coates delivers a rap on race and offers hope to African Americans in their struggle to maintain their culture.

    Coates is a respected journalist and essayist and here writes a lyrical prose that had me captivated from the first pages. His message is simple- African Americans have to work twice as hard because of their bodies and the never ending struggle to prevail in a culture where the color of their skin works against them. It does not matter if one has been brought up in the projects, suburbia, or wealthy, gated communities- the struggle is the same. There will always be an undercurrent of fear just below the surface of a bringing a black child into the world and raising him/her free of violence, free of the brutality of an unjust system.

    There will always be pressure to be a Dreamer to get out and Coates warns people of acting white. He interviews Dr. Mabel Jones, respected radiologist and mother of his murdered classmate Prince Jones. The daughter of sharecroppers, Dr. Jones was determined to make a better life for herself, to the point of integrating a high school and later as an adult sending her children to private schools. Yet despite her dream of her son attending Harvard, he chose Howard, the Mecca for black students who need a space to be themselves, to flaunt their rap and hip hop and African culture. And yet despite this upbringing, her son was still murdered for being black. The advice she gives to Coates, which he pens poignantly, is to still be oneself, to not be afraid to wear a hoodie and to play rap music. To act white is to give into the authority which has already denied the culture for the last 240 years.

    Between the World and Me is an eye opening experience to me. I had just read In the Heat of the Night where colored officer Virgil Tibbs is denied respect simply for being black. After reading it, I think that we have come a long way as a nation in the past 50 years. Then, I read Coates essay where he bluntly states that as a parent of a black child, he is fearful for him to go out into the world. Have we advanced in 50 years? Coates published this piece in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, spurning race riots in Baltimore. The riots got so bad that the city had to be on lockdown, even forcing a baseball game to be played in an empty stadium. This seems to be one step forward, two steps back, and Coates' essay has been distributed at a key moment in our nation's history.

    I agree with Toni Morrison that Between the World and Me should be required reading in schools. It could turn out to be the definitive discourse on race for this generation and an important read for students before they enter the world at large. It should only take a few hours to read, maybe a little longer for students, and generates important discussions in and out of the classroom. The United States is a melting pot of cultures and no one should have to renounce their culture due to the color of their skin. A poignant read that I rate 5 stars, I highly recommend Between the World and Me to all.

  • Jessica

    I thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi-starred nods of agreement about how

    this book is. I mean, that just never happens, especially with the "it" book of the moment : there are always naysayers and contrarians and people who just don't get what the BFD is. Since there's a copy lying around my house, I thought I'd check it out -- the season's "it" book is rarely just 152 pages and about a topic that interests me, so I was excited

    I thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi-starred nods of agreement about how

    this book is. I mean, that just never happens, especially with the "it" book of the moment : there are always naysayers and contrarians and people who just don't get what the BFD is. Since there's a copy lying around my house, I thought I'd check it out -- the season's "it" book is rarely just 152 pages and about a topic that interests me, so I was excited to participate in the cool thing for once, after missing out on

    and

    and

    and all the rest due to a combination of laziness and snobbery.

    On some level I was hoping to be the don't-believe-the-hype hater on here, but Coates left me disappointed on that front. It did take me a little while to get into this but once he got to college I was hooked and couldn't stop even though it was late and I had to get up at 3am to catch a transcontinental flight. My main question before I read it was, "What new is there to say?" I'd noticed everyone had their panties all in a twist over this book about being black in America and based on what I'd heard I just didn't get what he could've said that seemed so revelatory and new.

    The answer is, not too much really: it's more the way that he says it.

    is an intensely personal book that's rooted in deeply-felt lived experience. As someone who is horrified by our era's obsession with memoir, I am occasionally floored when I see what a personal story can do. I recently read an essay online by a woman whose father had committed suicide that made me seriously rethink my antipathy towards memoir, and my response to this book was similar. So often the recounting of personal experience and private feelings comes off as dull, narcissistic, and unnecessary, but on occasion memoir transcends itself and is able to speak to something much larger than one person's life with an authority that nothing else can.

    It doesn't need to be said but I'll point out anyway that a lot of this book's success has to do with timing. White Americans have been able to ignore a lot of this for a long time, but recently that's become almost impossible to do. In the past two weeks we've heard Sandra Bland's traffic stop and watched Samuel DuBose be murdered before our eyes and the trauma of witnessing these things, and the rest from the past year, has left pretty much everyone looking for answers.

    This book did partially answer a huge question I've had for years that I'm sure a lot of other uninformed white people have but that's too offensive and embarrassing to ask black parents directly, which is, "What do you tell your kids? When do you tell them? And how do you reassure them that it's going to be alright, when as a parent you're supposed to help them feel things will be okay but you're also supposed to be honest and keep them safe?" This book is constructed as a letter to Coates's fifteen-year-old son, and the reason it's so satisfying is that it does not err on the side of false comfort and remains honestly bleak. It also gave me the uncomfortably excited feeling of access to a perspective I've always wanted to know more about but was -- yeah, I'll admit it -- afraid to ask.

    I think pretty often about what makes me an adult, and maybe this sounds weird but one of the main things is understanding now what a big deal it is when people die. I feel like when I was a kid I didn't quite get that that actually happened, and then when I was a teenager I didn't think it was very serious, but when I grew up I finally saw that this was it, this was huge, this was almost the only thing that there was that mattered.

    's main orientation is corporal: it's concerned with what happens to a person's body as ultimately the sole important thing. For me, this is a helpful way to think about racism. I remember one day when I was not so old, but not really that young either, reading that African American men have much shorter life expectancies than white American men due to health disparities, and it was like a light went off and I finally saw what racism was in a different and much truer way than I had before. So much discourse about race takes place in these abstract terms that speak about social construction and are preoccupied with the nuance of language and ideas, but there is something about a return to the body that blows that away. At the end of the day, redlining matters because it's created conditions in which black kids are more likely than white kids to get hit with a stray bullet while walking to school. It sounds foolishly obvious but police brutality and mass incarceration affect people in the most stark and concrete way: by ending lives, by physically hurting or locking up their bodies. Of course there are other reasons why racism is is a problem, but Coates's emphasis on the body, and his insistence that nothing else matters so much beyond that, resonated with me.

    This is a book that takes our country's sweet language about having a dream and turns it into a bitter mouthful of ashes. I'm actually surprised it's so popular because I feel we as Americans crave optimism and promises of solutions, and Coates offers neither. There's a lot of beauty in the world, he says, and there are great things about being young, gifted and black or whatever, but he doesn't believe in any moral arc of the universe tilting toward justice or in any of this getting especially better, which according to him (spoiler alert!) will be a moot point anyway soon because we'll all be underwater.

    A short, well-written, timely book that I, along with everyone else, recommend.

  • Joshunda Sanders

    I'll get all of my disclaimers out of the way first. I am a fan of TNC but I also resent what he symbolizes. He is a great writer in his own right and he has the kind of co-signers in publishing and journalism that have offered him a platform that he has rightfully and eloquently expanded upon, utilized and maximized appropriately and used to catapult himself into the American race dialogue as one of the most prolific writers on race during our generation. My resentment of what he symbolizes com

    I'll get all of my disclaimers out of the way first. I am a fan of TNC but I also resent what he symbolizes. He is a great writer in his own right and he has the kind of co-signers in publishing and journalism that have offered him a platform that he has rightfully and eloquently expanded upon, utilized and maximized appropriately and used to catapult himself into the American race dialogue as one of the most prolific writers on race during our generation. My resentment of what he symbolizes comes from the absence of the same position and opportunity being afforded any Black American woman writer in our time. Essentially, my beef with TNC is not really beef with him at all as much as it is beef with the notion that a singular, vetted Black male voice has always been and continues to be viewed by non-Black readers, editors and consumers of racial rhetoric as the only voice that matters when it comes to writing eloquently about race and politics and intersectionality. All of that said, Between the World and Me has some great ideas and lines. The critique that black women are invisible or marginalized in the book is a faulty one; there is Mabel Jones, whose powerful testimony and grieving for her son closes the book and codifies the only perspective from which TNC would be able to include a black woman's voice - as mother, wife. There are the women he has loved at The Mecca, including his wife. There are authors that he includes in his wheelhouse of important influencers, Lucille Clifton, bell hooks and Toni Morrison. Speaking of Toni, I do not agree that this book is required reading generally. I get the comparisons to Baldwin but I am aggravated by them -- mainly because there is only one Baldwin. And Black writers need to be able to make their own legacies without immediate comparisons that perpetuate the limited imagination that America has for us...along with the continual reality that there can only ever be one valid, praised Black writer at a time. That said, I believe the central idea and argument -- that black bodies are not safe and that protection of them is not a requirement of realizing the American Dream -- will be a revelation for non-Black readers and a healing affirmation for Black readers who have until now not had their experience considered or regarded as anything other than a figment of their imagination or proof of their nihilism or some other sinister sentiment.

  • Michael Spikes

    Folks that love Mr. Coates will love this book, as they'll be able to follow him through a piece that is somewhat indulgent -- but he certainly won't win new fans or quell his skeptics (like myself) with this piece of work. Coates says that he wanted to write like Baldwin, but it just comes across as a unfocused, stream of consciousness. As a black man who constantly battles with the work of Mr. Coates, I wanted to give this one a chance, as many lament tons of praise on the work -- but I for on

    Folks that love Mr. Coates will love this book, as they'll be able to follow him through a piece that is somewhat indulgent -- but he certainly won't win new fans or quell his skeptics (like myself) with this piece of work. Coates says that he wanted to write like Baldwin, but it just comes across as a unfocused, stream of consciousness. As a black man who constantly battles with the work of Mr. Coates, I wanted to give this one a chance, as many lament tons of praise on the work -- but I for one still think that our perceptions of what it means to be a black man in America today are far different--my own not being one of privilege, but one that gives me much more hope than what Mr. Coates likes to deal out to his readers.

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