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VINE VOICEon May 10, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The protagonist of this quietly devastating novel is Keith Corcoran whose whole life was devoted to the aim of becoming an astronaut. He achieves his ambition and during a space walk, seems to have reached a kind of apotheosis where he experiences a sense of oneness with a universe that seems to be in perfect balance.

This is an illusion. While aboard the International Space Station, his beloved teenaged daughter Quinn dies in a road accident. Keith is stuck in orbit, unable to attend the funeral. When he finally gets home, his wife has emptied out their home and left.

This is one of the most chilling depictions of bereavement I have ever read. Quinn, like her father, was a mathematical prodigy. Like him, she saw numbers in color and had an instinctive relationship to the equations that govern the world. Keith believed her to be a part of himself, the only other person in the world capable of viewing the world through the same prism. And now she is dead.

Keith has been sent home by NASA to recover and finds himself in an empty home being eaten by termites (the one cheap metaphor in the book) on a barren cul-de-sac in a half abandoned subdivison. He is suffering from devastating migraines and trying vainly to make sense of a world that has suddenly become senseless.

He plunges into a sexual adventure with his randy neighbor Jennifer and begins to forge a tentative relationship with a Ukrainian immigrant, Peter -- an intelligent but deeply frustrated man with a passion for astronomy who is forced to work at a menial job stacking shelves at Target. The two of them hang out drinking beer, smoking weed and peering at distant galaxies through a telescope.

Keith makes occasional attempts at activity but his life seems meaningless - everything, the author notes, has telescoped into guilt and bereavement and a kind of emptiness he cannot understand. Keith had imagined a world made up of mathematical equations -- but has come to realize, too late, that in fact life consists of human connections and without them, has no value and no meaning. He had thought he was working toward a worthwhile goal but has realized, too late, that he missed all the precious, small but important moments with his wife and daughter -- and now they are gone.

The grim conclusion is spoken by Peter's wife Luda, who says, "You and Peter are the same. Both never happy here and now. Only looking for the next thing to do. You don't even know where you are and what you have"

This is a bleak but lyrical book full of sadness and wisdom. It should make us all think about where we are and
what we have."
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 24, 2012
An astronaut returns from a mission to find that his wife has left him, emptying their house of all its contents -- all except a sofa that he hates. As is often true in a marriage, the characteristics that attracted Barb to Keith Corcoran are those that drove her to have an affair: his ambition and dedication, his drive to excel, his sense of destiny. Her complaints are common: he's never around, he doesn't talk to her. Keith understandably believes her complaints to be unfair; he hasn't changed, these are things she knew about him when she chose to marry him. But Barb has found a man who "listens" and the accidental death of their daughter while Keith was orbiting the Earth has only strengthened Barb's desire to leave their marriage. She tells him of her decision while he's still in space -- in the same space station where he learned of his daughter's death. Having finally returned to Earth, Keith isn't coping well. He has severe headaches. He's taking unwanted time off from work while he "adjusts." He has numbed himself into forgetting his last unpleasant conversation with the daughter who drifted away from him before she died.

The novel's other significant characters are a transplanted Ukranian named Peter Kovalenko, a mother named Jennifer who lives across the street from Keith, the mother's precocious daughter and Peter's wife. Peter, like Keith, is challenged by the need to begin a new life. He's a more interesting (and believable) character than Jennifer, whose behavior didn't strike me as credible.

Keith, on the other hand, is a convincing if not particularly likable character. A talented writer can make a reader understand and even empathize with an unlikable character, and that's exactly what Christian Kiefer does in The Infinite Tides. Keith is a man more at home with equations than people, a man who understands the relationships between numbers more than his relationships with his wife and daughter. Numbers make sense to him; people don't. His life had seemed to unfold with the clarity of an equation until it became "a faded ghostly scrawl impossible to read." Keith feels guilt for being an absentee father and for pushing his daughter to become another math whiz even if he can't admit his guilt to himself. Burying himself in numbers is no longer cutting it but reaching out to others is not his strength. Unable to cope with his sense of failure, he hides inside the comfort of a meaningless daily routine. Unable to return to work, he yearns to escape the pull of gravity, to float above the problems that chain him to his Earthbound life. I found his predicament and his reaction to it to be unexpectedly moving.

Kiefer writes sentences that crash forward with the power and rhythm of ocean waves. At other times his sentences drift "like a moonlit boat on a flat and silent sea" (to borrow one of Kiefer's phrases). His best passages stabbed me like a stiletto. Dramatic images enliven The Infinite Tides: Keith tethered to a robotic arm that swings him in an arc over the space station, a moment that he repeatedly recalls to memory but lacks the words to describe; Keith and a retired naval officer wrestling a drunken, passed-out Peter into a car shortly after Peter proclaimed his love for a teenage barista at Starbucks; Keith and Peter star-gazing in a field; Keith getting caught with Jennifer in a compromising position.

Caveat: This may be a "man's novel," or at least a novel that speaks to men more than women. Two of the three significant adult female characters are presented in an entirely unfavorable light. If we saw Keith's marriage from Barb's perspective we would likely have a different take on Barb, but this is Keith's story and it therefore seems fair that we see Barb only as Keith sees her. That Barb comes across as uncaring, domineering, and even a bit cruel is entirely understandable, but readers who aren't sympathetic to Keith may disagree. Another caveat: Readers looking for a happy smiley domestic drama in which good things happen to good people should stay far away from The Infinite Tides. Although the novel offers moments that feel redemptive and guardedly optimistic, this is a vivid and uncompromising portrait of a man in agony, a man who is only starting to come to terms with his losses and, in the process, to understand himself. Keith's is not a comfortable head to occupy, but it's worth the effort.
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on June 25, 2012
"The airlock opened. He knew there would be no perceptible change in pressure but now that the moment had arrived he somehow expected the transition of atmosphere to be audible, for the brief symphony of thumps and clicks between the shuttle and the docking node to include the hiss or shush or sigh of oxygen exchange and yet, despite the absence of such a marker, the swing of the hatch felt to Keith like a sudden outrushing of the tide, a sensation that remained with him as he floated through the opening and entered the Harmony Module where the crew they had come to relieve all smiled expectantly back at him. It was a moment as glorious and transcendent as any he could have imagined and he would realize only later that it represented the single coordinate point in which he understood that he had done it, that at last he had entered the long incredible upward-turning arc that had been the trajectory of his life, and that he was, finally and undeniably, an astronaut."

So begins Christian Kiefer's novel The Infinite Tides. With his arrival aboard the International Space Station, mathematical genius Keith Corcoran has finally fulfilled his life long ambition of becoming an astronaut, and his amazement at his own achievement is palpable. Rightfully so. He has dedicated his whole life to this moment. Then, while on a spacewalk, at the very pinnacle of his accomplishment, his sixteen-year-old daughter is killed in a car accident back on earth. His powerlessness in the face of personal loss is amplified as he gazes down helplessly from space on the world scrolling beneath him, the language of numbers--gorgeously rendered--suddenly no longer the comfort they had been:

"Watch them now: the numbers as if stretched upon a wire. The sixes stacked astride the decimal. The seven and three and zeroes behind them. Study them all your days and then ask yourself how any such equation could describe anything at all: the water rushing across the sand, the tiny stars, the way her hand curled into his. They could not even describe the way he felt about the numbers themselves, what they had meant to him, what they would continue to mean.

"Such equations to imagine. Now watch them vanish into the spiral lemniscate of what is to come. This the black firmament. This the dark matter flowing into and out of your heart."

Corcoran's grief is further compounded when his long-failing marriage cannot withstand the piercing tragedy or his prolonged absence in this time of grief. When Keith finally returns to gravity, his family is gone and his house is empty. This might not be so unbearable if he could escape within the equations and calculations of his work as he has always done, but NASA has put him on forced leave, and he must fully confront his loss. With the help of a new friend--a Ukrainian immigrant--Corcoran navigates the suburban world of cul-de-sacs, incomplete housing developments, and shopping malls as he tries to rebuild a life that seems both as mysterious and vacuous as the vast emptiness of space itself.

At the core of this book is the subject of man dealing with grief, and Kiefer handles this gracefully, tenderly, and honestly. Despite risking sentimentality, the story never descends into melodrama. Indeed, there are a handful of scenes that are as arresting and haunting as any in literature, such as the one in which Corcoran weeps aboard the ISS, his tears floating around him like little diamonds or stars. The elegance with which Kiefer handles grief alone is worth the read. But more subtly this book is about the American need to have our identities tied to our professions.

Without positing an easy or overt socio-economic agenda tied to the relationship between identity and our market economy, Kiefer presents a man in a crisis of professional and personal identity. As the current economic crisis has shown, people who define themselves by their jobs can be confronted with an existential crisis when standing in the unemployment line. "What do you do?" is one of the first questions adults ask when they engage with each other outside of work. And we are quick to form opinions about people based upon the answers. So, what do we give up for our careers? What are we willing to sacrifice? For Keith Corcoran, the ultimate answer is far too much.

Kiefer reinforces this theme of identity in a number of ways, but his use of setting is particularly adept in doing so. He clearly understands that setting should not merely be a backdrop for the action, but another character in the story. Keith Corcoran is a man who believes that life, demonstrated through one's career accomplishments, is a vector with some clear destination of achievement. He shares the American conviction that if you work hard enough, you can get somewhere and be somebody. The problem with this belief, Kiefer reminds us, is that it fails to recognize that each of us already is somewhere and someone. Thus, Kiefer writes,

"One moment you are an astronaut floating high above a space station at the end of a robotic arm of your own design, the next you are driving through an endless suburb.... Grass-covered squares and rectangles. Seemingly identical cul-de-sacs appearing and disappearing as he passed, different only in their state of completion: the perfect model home, then the skeletal structure of a wooden frame, then a patch of bare dirt holding an unfinished foundation. Between these states: a fractal landscape of courts and ways that turned inward upon themselves, thin and many-legged spiders that had, in death, curled into their own bulbous bodies, clutching the empty, still air between perfectly manicured lawns."

There is nothing accidental about this description of place. Corcoran rockets out of the atmosphere on the way to the zenith of a career, but here on Earth we literally move in a maze of the ordinary. A career might move along a linear line, but a career is not a life. And in fact, though Corcoran has blasted into space and become "finally and undeniably, an astronaut," the truth is the International Space Station is simply circling around and around the planet. Even Keith's space walk is just to move a nitrogen tank from one end of the station to the other, something Kiefer cleverly describes in such mundane terms as "not unlike removing a huge washing machine from between countertop and floor and cabinetry."

Kiefer's prose is always intelligent and lyrical, turning the language of math into sheer poetry, but his writing is also at turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly human, such as this flashback to Keith about to leave for space and addressing his daughter, who is more interested in teenage concerns than her own mathematical gifts:

"And so he said what he would regret all his days to come:'I'm disappointed,' he told her. 'I'm disappointed in you.' His daughter who was a straight-A student, who was brilliant, and popular, and beautiful. Even in that moment, standing in her doorway, he could feel his heart crumbling inside the cage of his chest."

Surely any parent who has said something unintentionally cruel to a child and immediately regretted it recognizes the poignancy of this moment, a poignancy amplified by the fact these are his last face to face words to his daughter before her death.

Finally, allow me to comment briefly on the stunning climax of this book. There are some books that end with exploding pyrotechnics of drama and language. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Cormac MacCarthy's Blood Meridian strike me as master examples of this first category. Other books, particularly contemporary novels, often end with a virtual anticlimax. Roberto Bolano's 2666 is the first and best example that comes to mind in this second category. Both approaches, handled correctly, make for marvelous endings. But prior to reading Kiefer's book, I never encountered a novel that did both simultaneously. Frankly, it never occurred to me that a novel could do both. But The Infinite Tides proves it can be done, and the effect in Kiefer's hands is dazzling, absolutely dazzling.

The Infinite Tides is the most self-assured debut I've ever read, bar none. This isn't just the best first book I'll read this year. It will be the best book. Christian Kiefer had better strap himself in because I suspect his career is about to be launched into orbit. I, for one, look forward to watching the rocket trail of his ascent and wish him godspeed.
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on December 9, 2012
A profound debut novel illuminating the complex beauty of human experience, The Infinite Tides captures heartbreaking tragedy and transforms it into growth and beauty via the protagonist, Keith Corcoran. An astronaut, husband and father whose life changes overnight, Keith learns through tribulation to become a friend (in the deepest sense of that word) and to shift his values from the surface of culture to those which are most meaningful, in a world that has wrenched away that which he previously took for granted.

Subtlety, depth and refreshing intelligence [I actually learned new words, thank you!] are blended with humor and a most endearing hero you cannot help but love by the end of the book.

A final note- this is a book you can trust with your heart. It will not leave you hopeless in the end, and many writers could learn from Kiefer to avoid "Disney" endings, while not driving their readers into brick walls of despair. I have probably never encountered such an eloquent explication of the experience of psychological, spiritual and emotional trauma, of depression and hopelessness (though William Styron's work comes to mind), of the seemingly merciless trials we can experience in the world, but I have also never beed carried to higher ground through such a fallible, and yet lovable, hero.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Keith Corcoran has known that he's wanted to become an astronaut for as long as he can remember. He has a goal and he follows his trajectory until he makes it. There is no word like failure in his personal dictionary. He has goals and when he makes them he attains them. A graduate of Princeton, he goes on for his Ph.D. in mathematics and engineering and it's not long before he's hired on with NASA and goes through official astronaut training. Meanwhile, he has a wife, Barb, and a daughter, Quinn, who do not live with him in Houston while he trains. He tries to go back to see them every weekend but this plan falters and he gets back every other week, then every three weeks and then once a month if he's lucky. He becomes more and more distant to his family, especially Quinn, the daughter who he loves.

Finally he gets to go into space. While in space he gets the horrible news that his seventeen year-old daughter, Quinn, has died in an automobile accident. Shortly afterwards, Barb tells him that she is leaving him. He is not one to show emotions very well but he starts developing migraines of horrible severity which jeopardize his mission. It is three months until NASA can get him back to earth and he has to watch Quinn's funeral on DVD which NASA taped for him.

Keith has always thought that Quinn was just like him but only better, a natural mathematician who would go to a special high school academy and excel in math. Instead, Quinn chooses to go to a regular high school and becomes a cheer leader, not wanting to go to the 'nerd' school. She likes the things that teenagers like - cell phones, music, clubs, and has a boyfriend. Keith is unhappy with her and the very last conversation they had before she died, he told her he was disappointed with her. No longer was she the little girl who saw colors in numbers like he did, the girl with a plan. She was floundering - being a typical seventeen year-old. Keith wants her to have a plan, be like him and strive for something in the future.

Keith is put on medical leave after his mission and he goes back to his cul-de-sac where Barb has cleared out all of his personal possessions, leaving only a table and chairs and a sofa. He has a psychiatrist who tells him all the time that he sounds angry but Keith does not understand what the psychiatrist means as he doesn't 'feel' angry. He thinks of Quinn but he has not begun the real mourning process. His life feels empty but he does not dwell on anything in particular. He begins an affair with a randy neighbor who, it turns out, is married to the man that Barb left Keith for. Barb keeps calling Keith to the point that Keith has his phone number changed. She wants some money to live on but Keith cleans out their bank accounts and leaves Barb without a source of income.

Keith takes walks into the field behind the cul-de-sac at night and runs into a Ukranian immigrant named Peter who is an astronomer by hobby. He used to work as a tech assistant in a huge astronomical station in the Ukraine. He has a telescope and together they look at the stars and universes. Keith even brings his sofa to the vacant lot and they drink beer and smoke some pot as they look at the heavens. Peter becomes a real friend to Keith.

The story is beautifully written but it lacks the ability to really touch me in the ways that I believe the author meant to. I know that Keith has an internal grief that is paralyzing him but I just don't get to really feel it until the very end of the novel. I understand that he is floundering, that he can't put words to what he feels, that he is in real pain, but something is missing in the dialogue that makes the book seem a bit distant.

The end of the book is beautifully rendered and is worth reading just for that. His friendship with Peter blossoms and, through connection, Keith finds himself and learns to express his feelings. This is Christian Kiefer's first novel and it is a lovely one, filled with passion and angst. I look forward to his future writing which I will be sure to read.
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on May 15, 2013
The Infinite Tides is a relatable, heart touching story about everyday human regrets and desires. It touches on the idea of the American dream and exposes some of the realities that can upset and offset those dreams. I enjoyed reading the novel very much and look forward to reading more of Christian Kiefer's books. I was extremely pleased to have this as one of my books that I was required to read for the semester in my English class and will definitely be reading again.
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In Christian Kiefer's thoughtful "The Infinite Tides," a man fulfills his lifelong dream only to realize that attaining his goal has cost him something even more precious. In the moral, we've covered similar territory in countless other novels and dramatic works. Yet Keifer distinguishes his protagonist by placing him in another stratosphere, quite literally. Keith Corcoran is a world famous astronaut who experiences the ultimate family tragedy while away on his most important mission. The high point of his life and the low point converge in an uneasy alliance and make Corcoran reevaluate just about everything he thinks he stands for. But while the outward world idealizes Corcoran for his prestigious position, we see the man is fatally flawed and badly in need of redemption. I appreciate, to a large degree, that Keifer is unafraid to make Corcoran quite unlikable (in many instances) and that's what helps transform "The Infinite Tides" into a memorable, and surprisingly subtle, experience.

I won't go into the specifics that initiate this character contemplation (although it is liberally discussed elsewhere, including in the product description). The primary text of the novel concerns how Corcoran deals with the aftermath of the complete dismantling of his personal life. Set adrift from work and estranged from his wife, Corcoran returns to his abandoned domicile to prepare it for sale. Instead, he begins an uneasy new life consisting largely of isolation and depression. As he struggles to understand the mistakes he made and come to terms with his faults, it does little to reacquaint him with the living. Little by little, though, we start to see influences come from the most unlikely places. A comely neighbor and a boisterous immigrant are two of the pivotal figures that help Corcoran start to piece together a new existence.

Let's face it. "The Infinite Tides" deals with incredibly complex and emotional subjects. In other hands, the same story might have been wrought as a tear jerker or as complete melodrama. Keifer's choices, however, are far more unusual and interesting. The emerging friendship between Corcoran and his immigrant friend is allowed to develop in an organic way. And as he sees how easy it is to impact others, he starts to retake responsibility for his choices. There are no big moments in "The Infinite Tides," just quiet segments that feel startlingly real. The novel lets us fully into the mind of Keith Corcoran (and it's not always a pleasant place to be). But as an incredibly in-depth and truthful character study, this is a book whose power rises unexpectedly from the smallest and unlikeliest of scenarios. Just like real life! KGHarris, 8/12.
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VINE VOICEon March 19, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer is a profoundly sad novel. As an avid amateur astronomer and fan of NASA and the space program I felt an affinity with Keith Corcoran, the main character of the story.

Keith is a mathematical genius and experiencing the apex of his career by being an astronaut on the International Space Station. All of his years of hard work have paid off and he is in harmony with the universe. Then, his daughter, Quinn is killed in an automobile accident leaving Keith in a numb twilight zone of reality. Trapped in Earth orbit, Keith is not able to get back for his daughter's funeral. When he does get home, he finds that his wife has cleaned out their home and departed leaving Keith to suffer with three losses; his job/career, his daughter, and his marriage. This extremely human story turns on small facets, and it is intriguing to watch as the story plays out.

Kiefer is a natural storyteller who is gifted writer of prose. There is a poetic lyricism to his text, which makes the poignancy of the story even more impactful.

Keith and his wife Barb are interesting characters each racked by their individual emotional needs. Needs that the other can't fulfill and therefore must be met outside the marriage. The other major character is Peter Kovalenko, Keith's immigrant friend.

I must admit that I did become a bit bored with the story and nearly stopped reading. However, I was rewarded with a somewhat surprising and rewarding conclusion to Infinite Tides.

I was drawn to Infinite Tides because of the space related themes. However, once I started reading the novel, I realized it was so much more.

A very deserving read.

Peace to all.
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VINE VOICEon August 14, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Keith Corcoran is finally realizing his life-long dream of being an astronaut, living and working aboard the International Space Station, using a new robotic arm of his own design. Yet even at this moment of personal triumph, his world comes crashing down around him when his teenage daughter dies in an auto crash. Before he can return to Earth, his wife announces that she's leaving him. And so it is that Keith finds himself returning home to an empty house, filled only with memories and unanswerable questions. As Keith struggles to come to terms with the wreckage of his life, he finds himself becoming friends with an ebullient Ukrainian neighbor, a former astronomer struggling to find his footing in a strange country. Together, they forge an unlikely friendship that might serve as a lifeboat for them both.

This is a powerful story of loss and grief, delving deeply into the emotional struggles of the narrator to come to terms with his grief and guilt. Having lost my own daughter two years ago, much of the struggle described here absolutely rings true, especially the sense that such a loss is incomprehensible, unbelievable. While we each grieve in our own ways, and our individual responses might vary, Keith's responses here are true to his character and utterly believable, even when they sometimes appear to be irrational or self-destructive.

For certain, this story is all about heartbreak and loss, and as such is far from cheerful. Yet, it somehow manages not to become overly depressing. It is an authentic description of grief and what it is like to try to pick up the pieces and move on. Most of the questions remain unanswered at the end (and, indeed, they may well be impossible to answer), but at the same time, the story ends on a hopeful note.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In Christian Kiefer's thoughtful "The Infinite Tides," a man fulfills his lifelong dream only to realize that attaining his goal has cost him something even more precious. In the moral, we've covered similar territory in countless other novels and dramatic works. Yet Keifer distinguishes his protagonist by placing him in another stratosphere, quite literally. Keith Corcoran is a world famous astronaut who experiences the ultimate family tragedy while away on his most important mission. The high point of his life and the low point converge in an uneasy alliance and make Corcoran reevaluate just about everything he thinks he stands for. But while the outward world idealizes Corcoran for his prestigious position, we see the man is fatally flawed and badly in need of redemption. I appreciate, to a large degree, that Keifer is unafraid to make Corcoran quite unlikable (in many instances) and that's what helps transform "The Infinite Tides" into a memorable, and surprisingly subtle, experience.

I won't go into the specifics that initiate this character contemplation (although it is liberally discussed elsewhere, including in the product description). The primary text of the novel concerns how Corcoran deals with the aftermath of the complete dismantling of his personal life. Set adrift from work and estranged from his wife, Corcoran returns to his abandoned domicile to prepare it for sale. Instead, he begins an uneasy new life consisting largely of isolation and depression. As he struggles to understand the mistakes he made and come to terms with his faults, it does little to reacquaint him with the living. Little by little, though, we start to see influences come from the most unlikely places. A comely neighbor and a boisterous immigrant are two of the pivotal figures that help Corcoran start to piece together a new existence.

Let's face it. "The Infinite Tides" deals with incredibly complex and emotional subjects. In other hands, the same story might have been wrought as a tear jerker or as complete melodrama. Keifer's choices, however, are far more unusual and interesting. The emerging friendship between Corcoran and his immigrant friend is allowed to develop in an organic way. And as he sees how easy it is to impact others, he starts to retake responsibility for his choices. There are no big moments in "The Infinite Tides," just quiet segments that feel startlingly real. The novel lets us fully into the mind of Keith Corcoran (and it's not always a pleasant place to be). But as an incredibly in-depth and truthful character study, this is a book whose power rises unexpectedly from the smallest and unlikeliest of scenarios. Just like real life! KGHarris, 8/12.
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