On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

Paperback, 1999

Call number




Penguin Books (1999), 293 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. HTML:The classic novel of freedom and the search for authenticity that defined a generation September 5th, 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of On the Road Inspired by Jack Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naivet� and wild ambition and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.  .

Media reviews

The wonder of Kerouac’s muscular, free-form, imagistic language still astonishes. He remains an essential American mythologiser – one caught up in that backstreet world of bohemian life, before it was transformed by the harsh social Darwinism of capitalism. The title of his one towering
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achievement became a turn of phrase that went global, and his name became an adjective. That strikes me as not a bad legacy for a boy from the mean streets of post-industrial New England. A hundred years after his birth, we still want to live that Kerouacian vision of life as one long cool stretch of highway.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member AlisonY
Where to begin with this.... There are numerous novels idling on bookshelves around the world which are indelibly written into the literary history books as 'classics'. We begin them with an impatient expectation that the writing in these books will blow every other book we've ever read out of the
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water, that the characters will be taken into our hearts forever, and that by the end of the book we'll have a newfound wisdom of places and things we've never encountered before.

For me, this is how On the Road should have been - a wild journey of youth that would take me with it to pockets of America I'd never heard of before, where I'd feel the dirt in my pores and the heartache in my belly. Instead, it was endless of pages of nothingness - car rides between towns and cities that were rarely described in any detail (save for the Mexico portion in the last 50 pages), wild nights out that never amounted to anything of any interest, a multitude of passing characters that were never formed beyond a few cursory sentences.

I understand that this 'wild' portrayal of youth would have been quite shocking in the 1950s, and so the stir it caused when it was first published is wholly understandable. The literary side of my brain also gets what Kerouac wanted to achieve with his prose - to create a rush and franticness that echoed the frenzied energy of the young generation coming of age and looking for kicks. But this book took me nowhere. Perhaps for my generation the novel is no longer radical. Perhaps some books 'date' in the way that favourite records sometimes sound tired in future decades.

For me, much of the book was like listening to a drunk teenager babble on endlessly about the epic night out they've just had. My eyes were glazing over - I had that 'I guess you had to be there...' feeling.

If I was beamed down from Mars knowing nothing of it's classic status in American literature (and hence not feeling obliged to revere it with plaudits which demonstrate that I'm clever enough to enjoy it), I'd have one word for it - dull.

So, at the risk of putting myself out there as a literary Neanderthal, for me that's exactly what On the Road was - endlessly dull.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
This book's influence on me can't be overstated. I took a class on the Beat Generation in tenth grade, which is right when all the kicks seem most dazzling, and I thought yes! This is the crazy bohemian life! And I spent the next ten years trying to be a Beatnik. I hitchhiked from Atlanta to
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Philadelphia just because according to this book that's the sort of thing one does. No one really hitchhiked, already, in those days; old hippies would pick me up looking bewildered. Well, and racist truckers, too, so some things never change. I would have given my left nut for some benzedrine, or barring that for someone at least to explain to me what the fuck it was. (I still don't know.) I even replayed Dean Moriarty's shoplifting scene note-for-note. That's how seriously I took this book.

So you can understand that, revisiting this as a 38-year-old dude who says things like "Man, it's 11, I'm beat" and means "tired," I was not at all keen to revisit this. It's a young man's book. Oh God, getting drunk and talking about the snake of the world...remember when that felt dangerous?

But it's not totally silly, actually - I mean, it is, but not all silly things are pointless and there's nothing wrong with a snake of the world, intrinsically.

And to make matters worse, I'd just slogged through nearly half of Tropic of Cancer, which is terrible, and at 38 I'm aware that On The Road is just another in a long tradition of bohemian literature going back at least as far as De Quincey. And I was afraid On The Road would turn out to be as pompous and careless as Tropic of Cancer turns out to be, just a guy masturbating his talent onto the face of the world, which makes a spectacle but does nobody any good.

But the thing with Tropic of Cancer is that Henry Miller is essentially an asshole, and Kerouac isn't. Kerouac is eager to please, to connect, and On The Road turns out to be much less annoying than I was afraid it would be. It's still a young man's book! Don't get me wrong! But it's...it's really kindof sweet. Kerouac doesn't have Miller's raging ego: he lets Dean Moriarty take center stage. (Imagine a world where Miller isn't the lead actor in his own drama!) On The Road is a sputtering grasp at the idea of the Great American Novel, and while it doesn't come anywhere near grabbing the raft, it's worth reading.

I see it, now, as a warning. Kerouac was hitting 30 when he wrote it, and you sense a desperation: "Where is my story?" You sense some manipulation, too. Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) is a mentally unstable man, and I think the Beats used him for stories. I was inspired by him when I was young; now I feel a deep sadness for him. I see that filthy-bandaged thumb. Neither Kerouac nor Cassady lived to 50. I had a good time when I was young; I'm glad I've graduated to different kinds of good times now.

I should say, Howl covers basically the same territory and is considerably better. All the things you can feel Kerouac striving for throughout On The Road...Ginsberg is trying just as hard, but he's achieving it in a wonderful, authoritative way. The sense you get from Kerouac is, "Is this good? Am I doing it? Have I got it right?" And your answer is yes, dude, nice work. But here's what Ginsberg says: "HERE IT IS."

But either way. All you beatniks out there, go out and hitchhike and be broke and desperate in the vastness of the world. It's a kick.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
This was a revolutionary book and it is remarkable that this autobiographical story takes place almost immediately after WW II. Then it must have been truly revolutionary. Now, the characters just seem like opportunistic misogynistic asshats.
LibraryThing member SandSing7
“I sat there with these two madmen. Nothing happened.” This basically sums up the whole book. Oh, and everyone is an asshole.
LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Have tried to start this several times... the older I get, the more I think i needed to read this when I was young. Pretty sure I'll never get to it.
LibraryThing member PortiaLong
Seriously? "One of the most powerful and important novels of our time. The book that turned on a generation"? It's a wonder then, that the generation referenced didn't stay home and die of boredom. Sal and his buddies are never satisfied with where they find themselves and never find any joy in
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their experiences despite their frenetic seeking. After three weeks I have slogged through to page 185 and can take no more of this whining...a resounding "Don't Bother."
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LibraryThing member TheBentley
This is the book that "turned on" a generation? Seriously?!? I suppose you have to give it credit for paving the way for other writers--like Kesey and Mailer, for instance--who were actually able to write well about beat and hippie culture. If I could give credit to Kerouac for a little more
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post-modern sensibility--which I don't think I can--I would say it's a clever joke on the reader. These characters could never muster the sheer commitment and grim determination that it took me to get through this book....
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LibraryThing member tap_aparecium
On the Road is a loved classic but I just cannot say that I liked it. I've given it two stars for some beautiful quotes by Kerouac but the story as a whole irritated me. I like the idea of hitting the wide open road and can certainly relate. There were many segments of the book that reminded me of
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times on a road trip West taken last year. I am not a stranger to sleeping in vehicles and trying to live on as little money as possible and yet never feeling happier. Despite that this book was almost painful to read at times. The characters were unlikeable and forgive me for saying but most of them were pigs (I'm looking at you Sal) and not worth the pages it took to get to know them.
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LibraryThing member kettle666
Er, yeah, well... mmmm. The whole bum thing, man. It is beyond me that my teenage self managed to read On The Road twice before my seventeenth birthday. It is equally beyond me to think I read Doctor Sax, Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans before eighteen without feeling ill. An awful writer, without
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humour or insight, and a perfect slob. Writing on the Road on toilet paper was a good idea, if he had then used it for its proper purpose. Witless, just like most of his Beat mates. Don't go there, man.
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LibraryThing member NellieMc
I know this is a classic, but it's not aging well. The characters (including the author) are just too self-indulgent, selfish, and ultimately people you can neither like nor admire, or really even read about. This may have been revolutionary when published, and it's very well written, but it was
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just sad in the end. Kerouac obviously wanted to get a message out about conformity, but in the end, it's really a message about too much drugs and drink being a lot worse than conformity.
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LibraryThing member DanaJean
I picked this book up because it's one of those "modern classics" that people will reference from time-to-time. I felt I needed to understand what all the hub-bub was about. And I still don't get it. I found this book to be a boring,amateurish look at some stoned guy's diary which read like crap.
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Sort of along the lines of, "I got up this morning. I met some people. We drove down the road. Dean is somewhere." Not every writer on drugs is brilliant. Jack Kerouac case in point.

I think everyone wanted to jump on the "cool" bandwagon and so it got labeled some things that it isn't -- 1. Good Writing. 2. Cool. 3. Classic.
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Okay, so imagine you're reading a book, a classic. And you're liking the story and really enjoying the writing, the voice of the author is really speaking right to you. So far, so good. Well worth the read. Then WHAM, out of nowhere the author mentions a town that you know really well, having lived
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there for five years. Then BAM, next thing you know he's describing the very street where you used to live. There it is, right on page 166. Whoa. Did the world just move a little bit? Mine did.

If you react like me, you get over your surprise and find yourself really engaged with a rollicking good tale about life, the road, life on and off the road, and a thousand and one other little details that make for a great, great story.

Very well written, some of the sentences stopped me in my tracks. And while I enjoyed the "traveling" parts of the story more than the "stopping" parts, I wouldn't have missed any of the journey.
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LibraryThing member Robert_R._Mitchell
Review of On the Road by Jack Kerouac (spoiler alert)

Holy hell on wheels, Dean Moriarty. Frantic, ecstatic, twitching, gasping, yelling, red-eyed, good-for-nothing, beatnik John the Baptist. Who the hell are you preparing a way for? In the end, Sal Paradise, the true Bodhidharma with more than
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Dean’s two seconds of attention span: someone who digs existence long-term and delivers his charges to the Promised Land before entering himself. I realized rereading On the Road that in the intervening years, I subconsciously inserted constant unflinching Benzedrine use into every other memory; in part because of Kerouac’s real life use discussed in the Introduction and in part to explain even an infinitesimal fraction of Moriarty’s spastic kicks-grabbing, epiphanic, “Whooo-eeee” “IT”-jonesing, orgasmic hilarity. Aside from Sal, the heroes are America, Mexico, the earth, human beings and existence. When on the road, Sal is a new Beat version of a Steinbeck hero down to the dusty Okies with whom he picks cotton. Long-suffering, indomitable Sal abandoned delirious with dysentery in Mexico City by the exploding angel he follows to catch burning, falling, fizzling sparks of truth before they burn out. Now that I’ve finished, I’ve resolved to do two things: reread The Dharma Bums, the Subterraneans and Big Sur, to prove to myself that there is indeed Zen in Kerouac; and to listen to the jazz artists whom Sal and Dean dig so righteously everywhere they can be found.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
Meh. I knew going in that this genre isn't really my thing, but I've always wanted to know what the book was. So, not I've read it. I'm glad I did, since I can now see how its influence has vined out into all sorts of works, both literary and otherwise, but I can't say I enjoyed it much. Sal/Jack
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et al. seem so self-indulgent and self-serious. Blech.
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LibraryThing member bonfall
Not my cup of tea
LibraryThing member Tytania
This could have been so much better.

I hated, hated the Dean character. Whenever he was out of the picture, things settled down, the writing sparkled, the story captivated me. Then he's back, and everything gets stupid again; and once again I have to slog through paragraph after paragraph, page
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after page, of him banging two girls at once and saying "Oh yass" and running around in a circle and smoking "tea" and oh what a party it was and listening to bop and having only two dollars left.

Sample paragraph with Dean around:
"He giggled maniacally and didn't care; he rubbed his fly, stuck is finger in Marylou's dress, slurped up her knee, frothed at the mouth, and said, 'Darling, you know and I know that everything is straight between us at last beyond the furthest abstract definition in metaphysical terms or any terms you want to specify or sweetly impose or harken back...' and so on, and zoom went the car and we were off again for California."

Sample paragraph without Dean:
"I took the Washington bus; wasted some time there wandering around; went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge; heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson's grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha River and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston, West Virginia; ad midnight Ashland, Kentucky, and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed-up show. The dark and mysterious Ohio, and Cincinnati at dawn. Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon. The muddy cobbles and the Montana logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. The endless poem. by night Missouri, Kansas fields, Kansas night-cows in the secret wides, cracerkbox towns with a sea for the end of every street; dawn in Abilene. East Kansas grasses become West Kansas rangelands that climb up to the hill of the Western night."
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LibraryThing member 77book
I had expected more from this book as it seems to have been so influential. The story, as such, was disjointed and seemed to be repetative in many areas. I was expecting the author to be a better wordsmith than he was. I simply expected more from the book. I still enjoyed this but I believe that
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the hype surrounding the book gave me expectatiions that were to high. Aas a period piece the book did well.
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LibraryThing member Amzzz
I’ve heard so much about this book being important, but it was incredibly boring to read!
LibraryThing member Neutiquam_Erro
There should be a warning on this book's cover - Not to be read by teenage boys or men approaching mid-life crisis. A book which I always thought somehow defined the sixties, even though it takes place in the late forties, seizes on wanderlust, angst and the secret desire in all of us to live a
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vagabond life, free of care; a life of exuberance, intensity and passion. Of course there is a dark side to all this, as Sal Paradise, the novel's semi-autobiographical protagonist discovers, but even the dark side is viewed with such verve and spirit that it doesn't seem all that bleak. Kerouac's writing style, while undefinable, seems to me to have the vigor of Hemingway, the earthiness of Steinbach and the sheer exuberance of Walt Whittman all rolled into one.

The novel, apparently written on a continuous role of paper 120 pages long, during a two week blitz, describes Sal's journeys across America and his interactions with the people that come into his life along the way. While his lifestyle is definitely not something you want to emulate on the way to a Harvard education, its wildness and carefree (some might say hedonistic) ways will stir the spirit of adventure in even the most rational of hearts. Sal hitchhikes, rides buses, pays for rides and steals cars - actually, his idol, Dean Moriarty does the stealing - and criss-crosses the country several times. Most of his travels involve the West but a side-trip to New Orleans and a final excursion to Mexico city are also included. Along the way he drinks, gets high, encounters a wide variety of women and generally lives a life of dissipation and dissolution. Sal's zest for life's experiences is somewhat tempered by an undercurrent of doubt. Characters are gritty and full of life but often terribly flawed. There is a subtle ambiguity which colours Sal's view of the world. He is at once in love with life but often seems vaguely disturbed by it.

A friend once told me that it was a good thing that troubled souls wrote about their experiences. That way we could experience things without having to live them too. Sal's travels are something like that: Best experienced second hand - unless, of course, you too are a troubled soul.
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LibraryThing member rizeandshine
I really do not understand the hype for this book. I don't mind the stream of consciousness style and a few parts of the author's travel narrative were interesting, but the story has no substance whatsoever. The people depicted in the book have few morals or sense of responsibility. The narrator,
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Sal, is unhappy with himself and his world and yet he does nothing constructive about it. He just desires a never-ending adventure with his friends. If you want to read a book about restless men who have to be on the move all the time, getting drunk, high and hooking up with women than this is the book for you. It held no redeeming value for this reader.
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LibraryThing member matthewbloome
I have to thank Matt Dillon for trying to drag me through this, but even his rapid fire bantering style couldn't get me through this fast enough. I am abandoning it and never am going to regret it. This was really not for me. My fiancee tried to save me. She'd been forced through it long ago and
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warned me that boredom didn't begin to describe the emotions that I would experience. Leave it to me to be too hardheaded to heed her warning and plow forward anyway. This was nothing more than the dull ramblings of a rambler in my opinion. If he'd blogged it today, I'd have skipped it without a regret or second glance, and so that is exactly what I'm doing with the book. Good day, Kerouac. I don't think I'll be returning anytime soon.
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LibraryThing member mthelibrarian
Wanted to love this book, but did not. Some of the writing redeemed it - sparkling prose. My unexpected reaction: There is hope for the Millenials / current young generation yet!
LibraryThing member HarryMacDonald
Hey boys and girls! How come you swallow all the silliness in this book ? Because Kerouac was so coooooooooool? Because, like, he KNEW, man? OK, if that is true, why do you ignore his own oft-repeated claim that this was his "potboiler"? Far be it from me to deny anybody some positive cash flow,
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and some publc cattention, for a harmless piece of prose, but really, folks, the only thing sillier than this book (as we first experienced it almost sixty years ago) is what we might fairly call the Kerouac Kult, which goes from strength to strength among aging ex-hippies who were at the time -- in the immortal words of cartoonist Bill Brown -- too old for the Little League and too young for the Beat Generation. I will relent sufficiently to say that the riff about Slim Gaillard is, however, very fine, and thus I give this book one star. Incidentally, what efforts, if any, did Kerouac make to help-out ol' Slim? By the time of this book's notoriety, Slimpretty-well lapsed into obscurity, at one point sinking to managing a motel in San Diego. He was rescued, if that is the right word, by some astute TV producers, a genre of humanity one ordinarily thinks-of as the squarest of the square. Life's little ironies . . .
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LibraryThing member tuke
I didn't read this at the appropriate age (16?) because . . . well, I don't know. Then in college and graduate school I heard a lot of people sneer at On the Road claiming that it had a lot of badly-written sentences and was a 3rd-rate Thomas Wolfe pastiche with some Hemingway sauce.

Well, while I
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was traveling around in Wales and England I read it on trains, planes, and automobiles, and I loved it. I think that the crucial insight is that it's about madness in the form of Dean. To be sure, the narrator -- Sal -- is always telling us he's getting back on the road, and there are a lot of adventures and hijinks and so forth. But the true subject is Dean's inability to have any depth of emotion and/or really care about anything, beyond juvenile admiration of his "friends."

It helps a lot that Sal doesn't quite understand this: So he joins a long pantheon of slightly-out-of-it narrators in American fiction, who tell us about a "great character," where, reading between the lines, we readers can see that those great characters are overblown (think Nick Carraway / Jay Gatsby).

Now I may need to read Big Sur and the Dharma Bums.
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LibraryThing member AMD3075
"This can't go on all the time - all this franticness and jumping around. We've got to go someplace, find something."

Jack Kerouac's second novel On the Road was completed in 1951 following a lengthy process of compositional development. Published in 1957, it is considered definitive of the Beat
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Generation. It is written in an eccentric and wandering style that the author himself thought similar to the directly observational creative process of impressionist painters. He aimed to provide the reader with a pure portrayal of reality by neglecting the conventional methods of editing and revising, but rather emphasizing the raw passion of spontaneous living. The articulation and arrangement are intentionally non-formal, leading some critics to take it less seriously, but Kerouac wanted to contextualize the experiences with raw spirit and urgency of the moment. Kerouac writes with the spontaneous fluidity of bop-style jazz.

The book tells the story of Kerouac's (named Sal Paradise in the book, for which he serves as narrator) experiences with Neal Cassady ("Dean Moriarty") and other acquaintances (including Allen Ginsberg as "Carlo Marx" and William Burroughs as "Old Bull Lee") driving and hitchhiking back and forth across the United States and into Mexico. It is a romantic perspective of freedom on the open road, a life lived driving, riding, waiting, starving, drinking, dancing at jazz clubs, getting high, making sexual conquests, and hopelessly dreaming, a relentless individual search for meaning and connection in a capitalist America that valued conformism and was highly suspicious of social outlaws. For all its sensualism, this quest for purpose, faith, and connection is almost spiritual. It is a rejection of social conformity and mainstream culture in favor of a more profound experience ("IT"), or at least something more exciting than fitting in and being normal. Kerouac's language and style may be casual, but he manages to give an epic quality to the adventures, giving the events a deep sense of personal value for the participants.

The relationships between the (predominately male) characters is essentially reduced to elements of control, personal advantages, and various ideas of masculine self-discovery. The young men are trying to figure out how to mature in relation to their desires. Sal is looking for purpose and direction as he follows the seemingly inexhaustible Dean, all the while never finding fulfillment in the wild endeavors. With each adventure be becomes less excited and more reflective and self-aware. He begins to understand the limits of the open road's promise of total freedom, and considers himself in the context of what he desires out of life and what is expected of him. He wants to be a full man, not an eternal restless teenager like Dean, but struggles with what it means and how it will effect his friendship with Dean, who is the manifestation of all his chaotic urges. In the end, On the Road is a sad story of shattered dreams and fruitless endeavors. What makes it timeless is its depiction of deep loyal companionship and the eternal search for meaning.
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