The Friend: A Novel

by Sigrid Nunez

Paperback, 2019




Riverhead Books (2019), Edition: Reprint, 224 pages


A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog. When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog's care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them. Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lisapeet
I found this to be cool to the touch in a way that didn't quite do justice to its subjects—grief, literature, male-female friendship, and the love of a good dog. It seemed more like an exercise than a novel, and all the literary references felt distancing, more like name-dropping, than
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contextual—I think because there were just too many. This was a good book at heart that tried to be too many things, and they were all important enough things to merit their own focus. There were parts that had some teeth, though I wonder how much of that is personal—Nunez's musings on what an old dog in pain might feel and how much they might communicate that hit hard because I have an old dog whom I know to be in some degree of pain. But ultimately it was a bit dissatisfying, and touched me less than I would have imagined. Still, no regrets for having read it, and I did appreciate sentiments like this:
Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I'll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again.
I think also it's just a matter of the Renate Adleresque tone not doing it for me. It doesn't when Renate Adler does, either.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
This is a very moving story about love, loss, grief, healing and how a dog helps a woman work her way through all of these. We never know the names of the characters in this book except for Apollo, the Great Dane. We do know that the woman who wrote the book lost her lifelong friend to suicide.
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Both of them were writers, and when the man dies, the woman takes over the care of his five-year-old Great Dane who is called Apollo. Together, the woman and Apollo, heal each others souls while they try to get over their loss. This book says so much in so few pages. It shows so clearly the grief that surviving friends and family go through when someone in their circle commits suicide. It shows the healing process as the surviving friends and family work their way through their grief and it depicts the strong bond between a dog and a human as they try to move forward. The book has writing and literary anecdotes sprinkled throughout as the narrator tells her story about the grief that has come to her and how a huge Great Dane helped her through it. This book is written in a writing style that is quite unique, but very powerful. It is a book well worth reading. I picked it up to read as a small interlude to get over a huge non-fiction book that I just finished and that had left me with a book hangover, but I got much more than that from this book. Nunez's writing style made the heartbreak so real that I mourned with her and with Apollo all the way through.
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LibraryThing member flourgirl49
I thought this book was going to be about a woman's love for a dog - a dog which has been "left" to her when her best friend commits suicide. Instead, it mainly turns into stream of consciousness ruminations on a large variety of topics. I felt no emotional connection to the main character and very
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little for the dog either, which is unlike me since I'm an animal lover. Disappointing.
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LibraryThing member browner56
The Friend tells the story of a middle-aged author and creative writing teacher who is mourning the loss of her mentor and oldest friend. The deceased, himself a literature professor, recently committed suicide but has left no explanation for what seems to be an impulsive act. Beyond having to cope
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with that loss, the writer has also inherited her friend’s massive and aging Great Dane, despite the fact that her tiny rent-controlled apartment does not allow pets. How she and the dog handle their respective grieving processes and learn to get on with their lives together forms the basic plot of this brief novella.

From that description, it should be clear that these fictional elements provide no real dramatic tension and barely amount to much more than an extended short story. To compensate, Sigrid Nunez pads the rest of the book with considerable philosophical musings on sundry topics such as: the sexual tension between professors and students, the psychology and physiology of how pets grieve, famous authors ruminating on the debilitating and lonely act of writing, an examination of the human trafficking business, how the relationship between writers and readers has changed in the age of technology, the therapeutic nature of reading to animals, and so forth.

Some of these digressions were stimulating and engaging, particularly when Nunez flexed her almost encyclopedic command of literary references. Still, I came away from The Friend with a vaguely cynical view of the author’s sense of what it means to grieve. I did not understand many of the main character’s actions in the aftermath of the suicide, especially in her relationship with the dog. Further, the lengthy chapter near the end in which she imagines an alternative ending for her mentor’s death seemed like a false note, as well as a device deployed much more effectively elsewhere (e.g., Ian McEwan’s Atonement). So, while generally well crafted, this book was not an especially enjoyable or memorable experience for me.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 Loss and loneliness are the main themes explored in this novel about friendship and the life of writing. When a woman loses her best friend and mentor to suicide she tries to understand his actions, deal with the loss of this person, and takes on the responsibility of caring for his aged, Great
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Dane, named Apollo. Apollo is grieving the loss of his former friend and master, and so together they travel a new road.

The writing is elegant, spare, recalling literary entities who were also focused on their pets, finding in them many times more humanity in them than in their regular relationships. The writing is non linear, free flowing thoughts, wandering from their past relationship, to the literary endeavors undertaken by them both, and on to other subjects. Intropsective and melancholy, thoughts turn and twist, the way memories do, and always in the background the ties people have found and loved in their animals. Trivia and insights into animals, their empathy, their understanding, keen sense of smell, the bond forged between them and their human counterparts.

A shorter novel, but I found it fascinating, the way it is pulled together worked for this exceptionally well. We could travel with this young woman as she attempts to come to terms with something unexpected and devastating in her own life. The words, sentences, nothing wasted, we are n her mind, her free flowing thoughts. Her own relationship with the Great Dane and what it comes to mean. This will probably be a book that won't appeal to all, but it did appeal to me. I sometimes sink into these unconventional types of fiction,just float along with the words, and ponder what I'm reading.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
For the Tournament of Books Summer Reading Challenge 2018.
This novel is about a woman--early middle aged? Or maybe 30ish? Single, writing teacher, who lives in a small (NY?) apartment. Her former teacher, mentor, and very good friend has committed suicide. His third wife gifts the unnamed
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narrator his dog. A great dane with the beginnings of arthritis.

This book is her ruminations on the dog, her grief, the grief of dogs, writings about dogs, writings about the grief of dogs, her worry about the dog, life with the dog, and why her friend did this thing to his friends and family.

Somewhat stream of consciousness, I just didn't find it very interesting. Just a total miss for me. I can see how someone else might like it. I am also not a dog person.

I did learn about the book "My Dog Tulip", which I will NOT be reading based on the narrator's description of it.
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LibraryThing member sblock
I'm a writer who has adopted rescue
dogs and has known grief. I loved this book.
LibraryThing member kayanelson
Quite the different book. We hear the narrator's stream of consciousness. I usually don't like that much but I did like it in this book. Lot's of literary references and in depth tidbits of information on certain subjects (are they true)--for examples various stories about dogs waiting for their
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owners after their owners death.

But I need someone to explain chapter 11 to me--maybe I get it. Is this how the narrator wanted the book to go? It confused me because I thought everything I just read wasn't true--but then chapter 12 makes it seem like this was just a little interlude. Was it necessary for this to be such a long chapter?

Anyway--it's worth a read.
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LibraryThing member jghewson
An amazing, challenging journey of a book, brilliantly written in a voice that captured me.
LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
Could not finish...made it halfway through, then decided life is too short to spend any more time on this one. Doesn't mean it might work for others.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This is an interesting book. A woman's dear friend dies, leaving her a bequest of his elderly Great Dane. The protagonist is the narrator. Unfortunately, the plethora of tangential lines of philosophical, psychological and historical quotes and ponderings diminished my enjoyment of the book. The
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themes are grief and the love one can feel for an animal.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
How I ended up reading a grief novel is beyond me. I didn’t know the subject matter when I saw it had won the National Book Award and decided to read it. A woman loses a good friend to suicide and ends up having to care for his aging Great Dane even though she has a tiny rent controlled apartment
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in New York City. So although I referred to it as a grief novel it’s also about the bonding between this woman and dog as they both grieve for the friend they both loved. The book is filled with tender poignant moments as the woman, who is a creative writing teacher, thinks about her past with her friend and takes on the daunting task of caring for this enormous animal. Nunez mentions so many books and authors that I lost track, which, of course, adds to the pleasure of this book. Absolutely wonderful.
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LibraryThing member bookfest
When a good, longtime friend and colleague commits suicide, "The Friend" is asked to take in his great dane. The woman is grieving the loss of her friend and the dog becomes something of a substitute. There is a great deal of speculation about what a dog might think and feel. Too much for me! But
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there are also interesting reflections on male/female friendship, suicide, and the art of writing. Well written and frank in style, but, even though this is a short novel, I had to push my way through.
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LibraryThing member KLmesoftly
Nunez is what one could call "a writer's writer" - there's a lot of technique going on in this book, from the frame stories to the pseudo nonfiction essay style a lot of it takes on, and she delves into writerly themes quite a bit (the relationship between authors and readers, between novelists and
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the real life people who inspire them, literary culture, etc).

Really all of that is a bonus, though, on top of the emotional core to the novel: the story of a woman and her dog, both mourning a lost friend. The dog's mourning is without judgment (or understanding), while the woman's is complicated by resentments and an understanding that loving someone doesn't mean erasing their flaws or the harm they do.

I really loved this. I'm going to be thinking back on it a lot.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
In this novel, an unnamed creative writing teacher mourns the loss of her dear friend, an author and professor. She takes in the author's Great Dane, Apollo, despite living in a small Manhattan apartment where dogs are not allowed. As she and the dog mourn the loss of the author, she shares
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memories of him, as well as her observations and shares quotes about dogs, teaching, writing and life in New York City.

Told in a series of brief paragraphs and vignettes, The Friend never really got underway for me. Its a slender novel, and the brief segments each seemed unconnected with the ones on either side. There's a section where the novel reflects on its own construction that was interesting, but ultimately not enough to redeem the rest of it.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
When “The Friend” came out in February, Nunez and her publisher, Riverhead, weren’t expecting a best-seller. Riverhead ordered a first printing of 10,500.
Still, Sarah McGrath, Nunez’s editor, hoped the book would resonate with animal lovers and draw a bigger audience than her earlier
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“She’s writing about grief and loss and death and relationships, these are serious earnest subjects, yet she’s doing it with humor, and that’s such a hard thing to achieve,” she said. “For a book that is so wise and rich with literary allusions, it’s actually very accessible, and I did think this was a book that could help her find her readers.”
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
A professor is tasked with taking care of her memto’s Great Dane after he dies by suicide. She and the dog, Apollo, learn to cope with grief.
LibraryThing member satxreader
This was so awful that I actually googled the National Book Awards to see what the ever-loving-blue-eyed-heck the criteria for winning were. I seriously wondered if this were an award that "sounded" like a legit one, but was actually something Ms. Nunez created and then awarded to herself.

What I
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found was this criticism of the NBA: "...the fiction award has become a Newbery Medal for adults: Good for you whether you like it or not. ...the impression has arisen that already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention. the nominated books [often] exhibit qualities – a poetic prose style, elliptical or fragmented storytelling – that either don't matter much to nonprofessional readers, or even put them off....the NBA has become irrelevant to average readers and of more interest to professional writers..."the National Book Awards [are] known for this sort of thing. They're awards for insiders."

YES! "The Friend" is a perfect example of "Awards For Insiders". A chance for them to form a circle and--um--pat each other on the back.

The book is self-absorbed navel-gazing from beginning to --- whatever you would call the final page. So unbearably pretentious!

I'm smacking myself on the forehead repeatedly, and mumbling, "Why? Why? WHY didn't I listen to my instincts and ditch this thing earlier?" I combined (1) the hope that maybe it would have something to do with the dog (and not just her egocentric musings about how the dog's presence affects HER), with (2) the book award winner stamp on the cover--surely eventually this would become worth reading, wouldn't it?? Spoiler Alert: No. Thank goodness for the public library!
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LibraryThing member cmt100
A very interesting book--one I admired more than loved. For the first two-thirds of the book, I was ambivalent and often bored. One can only take so many quotes about writing before they get old. For the last third, I was hooked. I understand why it would receive the National Book Award. I'm
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embarrassed to give it only three stars, but there you go.
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LibraryThing member Jonez
Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend reads as a diary of a woman mourning and slowly trying to make sense of the suicide of a fellow writer, mentor, and possibly a love that never came to fruition (I believe, because she could not be involved with someone she knew so well). The journal entry like
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conversations often read more like a dissertation on the frustrations of trying to maintain a career in literature and writing, which at first I regarded as the true most central theme of the book, but then soon realized that this must have been what the two discussed the most. Now, the friend left in mourning, was continuing their lamenting conversations in grief. Maybe these conversations are helping her to understand why he came to his end, and maybe she if fleshing out her own similar feelings on what drives are person to commit such an act. Self-rumination being the downfall as well as inspiration to most artistically inclined people.
While I liked this book, I do feel that it suffered from some bad marketing. The story of a women and her deceased friend’s dog takes a back seat to what is actually going on in the book, though when it is present it is quite moving. However, if you are looking for a heartfelt story of a woman who bonds in grief with the dog of a deceased friend, know that this is not the real central focus of the story. When the novel does touch on those aspects, it sometimes feels like an afterthought, or a literary trick thrown in at the last moment to add something to the story.
I would love to read something from Nunez where she writes on these topics where it isn’t complicated by trying to squeeze it into a story, which feels misplaced and misrepresented. Because of the cut and paste nature of this work, the small twist in the last two chapters (who the friend was and the birth of this work of fiction) was lost on me. Was this all just a literary examination of writing and a writer’s inspiration after all? A memoir on the vulture like nature of an author in need of a story? If that is the true takeaway, then the “dog” gimmick made the novel seem a bit too self-important.
Although my copy is highlighted and annotated in several places, most of those highlights are of other writers thoughts that Nunez weaved into the book. Therefore, while I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, I do not know if it will stick with me, and I surely do not know if it is Nunez’s own thoughts that resonate the most. As someone that deals in a dry manner with research, this feels like a “review of others found data” at times, and not like anything truly original. For me, Nunez’s own thoughts are not the loudest voice in this novel. I truly agreed with many of her thoughts that came through on how politicized writing has become with this new generation. Heck, I see it in reading a couple of the reviews for this book.
Regardless, I found it worth the read and I know I will pull it out from time to time to show other aspiring writer friends. For that, it is worth at least the three and half star rating I am giving it.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
I loved this book. The friend was the narrator's friend who bequeathed his Great Dane to her after his suicide. The great charm of the book is that the friend, addressed in the second person, gradually becomes the dog. It was written so personally I had to check to see if it was a memoir.

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writing, lovely dog.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
Overall, I found this book to be overwhelmingly sad - the narrator is struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her mentor, from whom she has inherited a dog. She seeks to treat the animal's depression, while ignoring her own and muses constantly on the theme of writing. In fact, you could
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almost call this novel a treatise on contemporary writing. Both the narrator and her mentor are writers and teachers with a lot to say on the subject. While I found some pieces interesting, the overall sense of gloom and depression (note: this atmosphere is not necessary to the subject; see The Bell Jar) weighed down this book in a way that made me want the characters to break free of their own emotional constraints. Alas, they don't.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
I found this to be a complex book and I can't say that I understood all of it, or how it all fitted together, but nonetheless it somehow worked pretty well. OK, some of the sections about writers and what they have thought and said seemed a little too much. The dog in this story is certainly not
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the focus, but it does help to have a dog orientation to appreciate the book most. The book seems to me to be almost a kind of meditation on death, dying, friendship and grief. A quick read, but it seemed complete and full enough.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
When a writer’s dear friend of several decades, her former teacher and mentor, a well known author, attempts to commit suicide, the results are devastating for her. Her grief seems unrelenting. When offered the opportunity to care for his rather large dog, she refuses at first, but then she
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relents, even though her lease specifically states no dogs allowed! The dog’s presence will make her feel her friend is still with her, and his absence will be less complete.
Although we never learn the names of the characters, except for Apollo, the Harlequin Dane, we know many of them are actively involved in the world of words. The story is told in the first person as the author relates her feelings regarding writing, teaching, suicide, sex slaves, abusive male behavior, animal relationships and human relationships.
From the beginning, it feels like a treatise on several progressive principles, on the right to take one’s own life, on women’s rights and women’s needs, on women’s behavior and women’s struggles and on men’s toxicity regarding their thoughts on and treatment of women. It is a perfect presentation of the current political themes being publicized and stressed in today’s environment. Like so many books today, liberal principles were out front. The men are portrayed practically as serial abusers, and the women are the unwilling, or sometimes, willingly, abused participants.
The book, in great detail, lays out how the author deals with her loss through her relationship with her friend’s dog, now in need of an owner, and this relationship is also compared to the devoted and sometimes loyal relationship of human to human, as well. Can a dog be a kind of substitute spouse!
Although the language felt unnecessarily crude, at times, the book is thoughtful and decisive in its clear presentation of relationships and the reactions to the loss of same. It is told well, and at times, the reader may feel it is more like a memoir than a novel. In essence, this book is about loss, the immediate and delayed reactions to it, the grieving process, the eventual adjustment to it, and the recovery.
The main character, the grieving author, teaches journaling. Essentially, this book is her story, her journal. She is relating it to the reader. The journey she relates will take the reader into her most personal moments. Her fairly relaxed, cavalier attitude towards life and its rules may appear in contradiction to her overwhelming feelings of loss, at times. The surprising similarities and coincidences concerning our relationship with humans and animals will make the reader think or raise an eyebrow in wonder, at times.
What is the main purpose of the novel? Is it about friendship, loss, grief, relationships, love, devotion, fidelity, abuse? Is it about changing times, politics? What is the main character’s ultimate purpose? We do not discover much until the end. There are a dozen parts to this story, and they all come together in the end, in a surprising reveal.
Can an animal take the place of a human in someone’s life? Is it a positive or negative quality if a book seems more real than the fiction it was meant to be? Is the issue of support animals being abused for the right reasons, or is it wrong no matter what? Can a dog have human thoughts and feelings? Are writers privileged, and therefore, are they sometimes white supremacists? Should taking one’s life be considered a bad thing or a choice? Do we have a right to make that choice over living or dying?
In the end, does the author conclude that some writers, largely the young, new students, have become intolerant to new ideas; are they too politically correct and/too political? Are students unwilling to hear thoughts they disagree with so they can come to terms with them? Have novels become politicized? Are they no longer about anything but social issues?
There is added interest in this novel as quotes from renowned authors and philosophers, perhaps not always well known or popular, are provided to illustrate the author’s feelings. The narrator of the audio reads it in what feels like a somewhat flat, dead-pan manner which is perfect for this novel because it neither gives the reveal away nor does it even hint at it until the final moment when the truth is told. Is the author writing a kind of memoir or a novel about her friend? The reader will wonder, what is real, what is not?
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
At times, fiction has such a power over me, this is one of those times. I was moved by this clever, insightful, and tender book. The author brings so much to the table. The book centers on a writer’s dear friend and mentor who has committed suicide. This surviving woman ends up taking care of the
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dead man's massive Great Dane, in her tiny Manhattan apartment. However, is in much more than that. There are gems of knowledge about authors, the literary world, and so much more, sprinkled throughout the novel. This woman looks and ponders what suicide means for everyone around her late friend.
The book doesn’t wax philosophically, but it briefly touches on points of view, on facts, that keeps your mind active. Much is written about the written word, what it means to the writer, the reader, and the society in general. Toward the book’s end, a new fold of the story comes into play that changes things, but does it really?
Since I recently rediscovered the significance of “the perfect place to die,” the Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mount Fuji, I continually come across it. With this book centered on a suicide, and the author loving to drop knowledge on her readers, it was bound to come up in this novel, as it surely did.
And, while I’m normally not that taken with stories that feature animals, the role played by this one was much bigger than simply being a massive beast in a 500 square foot apartment. The dog is central to the story line, and is a well-developed character. The scope of the book is a most thoughtful pondering of life, grieving, writing, relationships, and more. It handles each intelligently, in a crisp, clear, and concise style that constantly impressed this reader.
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