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The OverGround Catalogue

Out on a limb

Louise Baker (1946)
McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York, USA.

This is a charming autobiography. Louise Baker lost her right leg above the knee as a result of a road accident she was on her very first bike ride. She grew up in a small town in America and could hardly have had more idyllic childhood, coming to terms with her impairment and disability in a supportive and caring community. The story of her life includes her college education, two mariages, a trip to Paris, frequent contacts with devotees, never classified as such, but treated as individuals, and all described with humour and charity. I am not sure that she could have been so quite so unaware of the turmoil that she seems to have provoked, or about the motivations of the devotees she encountered, because to my cynical eyes, some of the text appears to be incredibly ingenuous, but the the book is a cheerful description of a life altered, but not blighted by the loss of a leg.

You can now read this book on this website. Click here

The girl with the rosewood crutches


This book was probably published privately in America before the second world war. The heroine has had a leg amputated and walks with the rosewood crutches of the title. That is all I know about it. It is referred to in "Out on a Limb" by Louise Baker (See above). (If anyone knows the full bibliographic details, if they would send them to me, they could be incorporated in the catalogue.)

Les aventures d'Alef-Thau 1--5

Alexandro Jodorowsky (text) and Arno (illus.) (1983--1989)
Collection Eldorado, Les Humanoides Associés

This is a collection of about 5 volumes of sophisticated strip-cartoons/graphic novels that deal with the adventures of a severely mutilated young man who struggles to regain his limbs through a series of mystical adventures. The greater part of the hero's time is spent as a single leg amputee with a wooden leg. Some of the pictures are relatively erotic for the devotee.


J.G. Ballard (1973)
Jonathan Cape, London.

The book is an unsparing analysis of the eroticism of the car-crash. It is discussed in detail in Enthralling nightmares.

The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Philip K. Dick (1973)
Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.

This is a phantasmagoric science fiction novel, with claims to be the greatest sf novel written to date, and certainly one of the greatest novels of the century. Not noticed, of course, by the lit-crit establishment which is far too grand to take genre writing seriously: worse luck for them I say. Dick's world is peopled by normal people and 'precogs', people with a variety of ESP that enables them to foretell the future. The ecological catastrophe is in full swing and people are drafted to the colonies on other planets. The colonists console themselves for their miserable subsistence by creative play with Perky Pat Layouts, a system of toys reminiscent of the Barbie doll with its endless accessories and associated dolls, the boyfriend Ken, the younger sister, Scooter? - Surely not: It's a hell of a long time since I played with my sister's Barbie doll and I'm not sure I remember the names - and so on. The play is enhanced through the use of an hallucinogenic drug called Can-D, which causes the user to become mentally identified with the characters in the layout, the women with Perky Pat the men with her boyfriend Walt. In the course of the novel there are discussions about whether celebrants are really transmuted or whether it is merely a symbolic translation, the play with the layout partaking of the nature of a religious ritual. Palmer Eldritch returns to this world having been away trading with a civilization on a planet circling Proxima centauri. Terribly injured in the crashing of his space ship, his blinded eyes are replaced by electronic ones, his amputated hand by a powered prosthesis, and his teeth by stainless steel. He brings back a new drug Chew-Z(remember the American pronunciation of 'Z') and a battle begins between him and Leo Bulero who supplies the Can-D. The novel is an early example of Dick's concern with religion, science, and fantasy, the matter of eschatology, and by the end of the book Palmer Eldritch, the weird pilgrim, has become the most important person in the universe.

Look No Hands

Look, no hands

Marilyn Gillies Carr (1982)
Canongate Publishing Ltd,Edinburgh, UK. Paperback, 152pp + 16pp b/w photographs (Also available in hardback)
ISBN 0 86241 023 1

The autobiography of Marilyn, born without arms, in Scotland in 1941.


The Horse Whisperer

Nicholas Evans (1995)
Delacorte Press (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.)
ISBN 0-385-31523-6

Tom Booker is the horse whisperer in this first novel by Nicholas Evans. Tom is one of a very few men who have the remarkable gift of communicating with horses at a very elemental level and, as a result, can train and condition horses which would otherwise be left in a primitive, wild state. In mid-December, Grace accompanies a friend on an early morning horseback ride in a light snow storm. A tragic accident leaves Grace's friend and her friend's horse dead; Grace, herself, is seriously injured and left in a coma, her right leg damaged beyond repair. Grace remains in a coma for several days, unaware that her leg has been amputated above the knee. She finally responds to various stimuli and recovers from the coma in time to return home for Christmas.

Grace accepts her disability and copes remarkably well. However, her mother, Annie, cannot face her daughter's disfigurement, thinking that she can barely look at the stump, let alone touch it. Annie transfers her grief to Grace's horse, Pilgrim, which was also badly injured in the accident. In fact, if Annie had allowed it, Pilgrim would have been put down. However, with help from the Cornell University Department of Veterinary Medicine, Pilgrim recovered from his physical injuries, only to be left frightened by people and unable to be kept with other horses.

After some false starts, Annie finally gets Tom to try to help Pilgrim after she takes Grace and Pilgrim on a two thousand mile trip from New York out to Montana to meet Tom. The trip and the western mountain scenery are described in beautiful detail by Englishman Evans, who, himself, made a trip to Montana to see the country and to learn more about the special horsemen of whom Tom is one, and who inspired the title of the book.

The story details Grace's adjustment to life as a one legged thirteen-year old girl. She is fitted with a prosthesis, spends hours in physical therapy, both with a therapist and alone, and she goes through the trials of learning to use an artificial limb on a western United States ranch. At one point, in fact, she examines her stump and finds that it is not unattractive. And she makes the emotional and physical transition to feeling that the stump is hers.

The novel is filled with tension between mother and daughter, mother and husband. Tom and Annie are attracted to each other. Grace and Tom struggle with the problem of whether Grace will ever ride again and, if she doesn't, will her horse Pilgrim ever recover from the emotional side of his accident.

This is a book well worth reading by the devotee, not only for its realism of the loss of a leg and subsequent adjustment of a teenage girl, but also for the skillful and colorful depiction of the human predicament in a setting of New York and the American west.

A movie inspired by the book, directed and played by Robert Redford, has been released but is said to be disapointing.
Details of the film can be found on the Internet Movie Database.

Golden witchbreed

Mary Gentle (1983)
Published in German as Goldenes Hexenvolk (1986)
Heyne Verlag, München, Germany

SF/fantasy story in which a one-armed female warrior plays on of the major parts.

The final diagnosis

Arthur Hailey (1960)
First published in UK by Michael Joseph Ltd, UK. Paperback (1973) by Pan Paper backs, London, UK 334pp
ISBN 0 330 20186 7

A typical blockbuster novel written to a formula, with many interwoven storylines. One of the minor characters is a young nurse who, while having sex with a junior doctor is suddenly struck by intense pain in her knee. This turns out, after cliff-hanging is-it? or isn't-it malig nant?, by courtesy of a past-it pathologist, to be a malignant tumour and she has the leg amputated, the operation being described in some detail. Not worth buying a hardback copy just for the devotee interest, but look out for it at the library or second-hand bookstall.

The Hand in Little tales of misogyny

Patricia Highsmith
Published in German in 1975 as Kleine Geschichten für Weiberfeinde
Diogenes Verlag, Zürich, Switzerland

A really amazing little novel about a young man who asks a father for the hand of his daugher, and gets it!


James Joyce (1937)
John Lane The Bodley Head, London, UK.

One vignette from the greatest novel of the 20th century:

And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees up, and in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high almost out of sight, and her face suffused with a divine, and entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidth, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw and then it went so high it went out of sight for a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back he had a full view high up above her knee no-one ever not even on the swing or wading and she wasn't ashamed and he wasn't either to look in that immodest way like that because he couldn't resist the sight of the wondrous revealment half offered like those skirtdancers behaving so immodest before gentlemen looking, looking. She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow the cry of a young girl's love, a little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages ... Cissy Caffrey whistled, imitating the boys in the football field to show what a great person she was: and then she cried: - Gerty! Gerty! We're going Come on. We can see from farther up...
Slowly without looking back she went down the uneven strand to Cissy, to Edy, to Jacky and Tommy Caffrey, to little baby Boardman. It was darker now and there were stones and bits of wood on the strand and slippy seaweed. She walked with a certain quiet dignity characteristic of her but with care and very slowly because Gerty McDowell was...
Tight boots? No. She's lame! O! Mr Bloom watched her as she limped away. Poor Girl! That's why she's left on the shelf and the others did a sprint. Thought there was something wrong with her by the cut of her jib. A defect is ten times worse in a woman. But makes them polite. Glad I didn't know it when she was on show. Hot little devil all the same. Curiosity like a nun or a negress or a girl with glasses.


Stephen King (1988)
New English Library, Hodder and Stoughton, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK.

The story is gothic. Paul Sheldon, a writer of pulp novels (as well as serious fiction) crashes his car in snow and suffers serious leg injuries. He is rescued by Annie, a fan of his pulp works. She takes him to her house, treats his injuries to the limited extent that she can in secret, leaving him desperately disabled, and forces him to write another novel about the heroine he had disposed of, Misery Chastain. Because of his disability his attempts to escape fail and then:

Her eyes were gentle and drift ing. 'Don't worry,' she said. 'I'm a trained nurse.'
The axe came whistling down and buried itself in Paul Sheldon's left leg just above the ankle. Pain exploded up his body in a gigantic bolt. Dark-red blood splattered across her face like Indian war-paint. He heard the blade squeal against bone as she wrenched it free. He looked unbelievingly down at himself. The sheet was turning red. He saw his toes wriggling. Then he saw her raising the dripping axe again. Her hair had fallen free of its pins and hung around her blank face.
He tried to pull back in spite of the pain in his leg and knee and realized that his leg was moving but his foot wasn't. All he was doing was widening the axe-slash, making it open like a mouth. He had time enough to realize his foot was now only held on his leg by the meat of his calf before the blade came down again, directly into the gash, shearing through the rest of his leg and burying itself deep in the mattress. Springs boinked and squoinked.
Annie pulled the axe free and tossed it aside. She looked absently at the jetting stump for a moment and then picked up the box of matches. She lit one. Then she picked up the propane torch with the word Bernz-O-Matic on the side and twisted the valve on the side. The torch hissed. Blood poured from the place where he no longer was. Annie held the match delicately under the nozzle of the Bernz-O-Matic. There was a floof! sound. A long yellow flame appeared. Annie adjusted the it to a hard blue line of fire.
'Can't suture,' she said. 'No time. Tourniquet's no good. No central pressure point. Got to (rinse) cauterize.'

A movie inspired by the book, directed by Rob Reiner and played by James Caan and Kathy Bates, has been released.
Details of the film can be found on the Internet Movie Database.

England, My England

D.H. Lawrence (1982)
Selected short stories
Finney, B. (ed.) pp. 231--258
Penguin Books, Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK.
There was the sound of children's voices calling and talking: high, childish, girlish voices, slightly didactic and tinged with domineering: 'If you don't come quick, nurse, I shall run out there to where there are snakes.' And nobody had the sang froid to reply: 'Run, then, little fool.' It was always, 'No, darling. Very well, darling. In a moment, darling. Darling, you must be patient.'
... Joyce, the eldest, was still his [her father, Egbert's] favourite. She was now a quicksilver little thing of six years old. Barbara, the youngest, was a toddler of two years. They spent most of their time at Crockham, because he wanted to be there. And even Winifred [her mother] loved the place really. But now, in her frustrated and blinded state it was full of menace for her children. The adders, the poison berries, the brook, the marsh, the water that might not be pure - one thing and another. From mother and nurse it was a guerilla gunfire of commands, and blithe quicksilver disobedience from the three blonde, never-still girls. Behind the girls was the father, against mother and nurse. 'If you don't come quick, nurse, I shall run out there to where there are snakes.' Joyce, you must be patient. I'm just changing Annabel.'
There you are. There it was: always the same. Working away on the common across the brook he heard it. And he worked on just the same. Suddenly he heard a shriek, and he flung the spade from him and started for the bridge, looking up like a startled deer. Ah, there was Winifred - Joyce had hurt herself. He went up the garden.
'What is it?' The child was still screaming - now it was - 'Daddy! Daddy! Oh - oh, Daddy!' And the mother was saying:
'Don't be frightened, darling. Let mother look.'
But the child only cried: 'Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!'
She was terrified by the sight of blood running from her own knee.
Winifred crouched down, with her child of six in her lap, to examine the knee. Egbert bent over also.

The story continues with the cumulative effects of the accident on the family. The story is based by Lawrence upon an incident that took place at Rackham Cottage on the estate of Greatham in Sussex, where Lawrence stayed in 1915. Percy and Madeline Lucas lived in the cottage with their three daughters, the eldest of whom, Sylvia, had been incurably lamed as the result of falling over a sickle. The story was published in 1915, and in 1916, life imitated the art which foretold the ending.


Herman Melville (1851)
ed. Tony Tanner (1989)
The world's classics
Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

The character of the amputee, Captain Ahab, whose leg was maimed by the Great White Whale Moby-Dick, is well known not through the almost unread able novel but through the recensions of the novel into a strip-cartoon comic, and the film directed by John Houston in the fifties - Gregory Peck an unconvincing, insufficiently monomaniacal Ahab, the film redeemed from complete mediocrity only by the wonderful cameo performance of Orson Welles as the minister, former sailor and harpooneer, Father Mapple - and repeated often enough on the television to have been avoided only by the most assiduous cetaceaphobe. In the novel the character of Ahab is reduced to a single focus of obsession to kill the whale and all else is subordinated to the obsession. The maimed Ahab is self-stripped of all humanity, reduced to an unreflecting force of nature as he pursues his foe as if possessed by a demon of revenge.

The whole novel deals with the voyage of the Pequod, the whaler in which the protagonist, narrator has enlisted. From the outset the voyage partakes of a mythic quality as the ship and its crew are driven to its doom by the obsessed captain. The novel is half over before Ahab is described directly, although his just his presence on the ship is a source of foreboding. The narrator's first sight of the damned captain:

It was one of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon the quarter deck. There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has over-runningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in anunalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled the perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still alive, but branded... So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me, and the livid brand which streaked it, that for a few moments I hardly noted that not a little of of this overbearing grimness was owing to the barbaric white leg upon which he partly stood. It had previously come to me that this ivory leg had at sea been fashioned from the polished bone of the sperm whale's jaw.

A feature of the representation of Ahab is that he is maimed but hardly disabled. The sailors hear the thud of his whalebone leg as he stumps around the decks at night. In the quarter-deck there is cut a socket in which he locates his peg to prevent it from sliding as the ship moves, but there is no sense of self-perceived vulnerability. It is not the loss of function that Ahab wishes to revenge, it is the theft of a part of his body, the body he owns, the body that belongs to him. The outrage felt by Ahab is the outrage of the property-owner robbed, not the victim maimed, and the retribution Ahab seeks to exact is almost a social retribution rather than a personal vendetta, or at least the personal vendetta may be rationalised in the context of social responsibility. From the point of view of the reader concerned with character the representation of Ahab is very unsatisfactory, there are defensible literary reasons for reducing a character to single focus, but the result is a character with no human empathy at all, who sacrifices himself, and his crew in his obsession with revenge.

The lame shall enter first

Flannery O'Connor (1975)
Everything that rises must converge pp. 119 - 156
Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.

Sheppard is a volunteer social worker, a widower with a small son, Norton. He works on Saturdays as a counsellor in a reformatory, and takes an ex-inmate, Rufus, into his home when the boy is released. Sheppard has recognized that Rufus is unusually intelligent. Rufus also has a deformed foot which requires a special surgical boot. Flannery O'Connor is very subtle in her depiction of the fascination felt by Sheppard for the deformed foot and especially the boot he orders to be made for Rufus. After moving into Sheppard's house Rufus displaces Norton from the centre of his father's regard. Rufus never becomes domesticated and is accused by the police of a number of crimes which he denies perpetrating. In his denials he is supported by Sheppard. The characters of Sheppard, Norton, and Rufus, and their interactions with each other and with other people are beautifully and logically realised.


Carolyn E. Phillips (1982)
Hodder & Stoughton, Sevenoaks Kent, UK. Paperback, 160pp + 16pp b/w photographs
ISBN 0 340 278943
(believed to have been published in 1980 by G/L Publications (Regal Books).)

This is the biography, written while in her early teens, of Michelle, an American girl who had an AK amputation at the age of eight because of bone cancer. The book is describes how Michelle and her family were helped through the operation and rehabilitation by their Christian faith.

Sweet Frannie

Susan Sallis (1983)
Puffin Books, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth,Middlesex, UK.

The book is aimed at teenagers confronting the issue of physical disability. It is the story of Frannie, a paraplegic girl, who develops a friendship with a boy who has recently become a double leg amputee, and who helps him to accept his disability.

Titus Groan

Mervin Laurence Peake (1946)
Groan Eyre and Spottiswoode, London.

This novel is the first of a trilogy dealing with the life of the eponymous hero, the 77th Earl of Groan. This novel deal with the circumstances in which Titus is born. His father, Lord Sepulchrave, is a melancholic nobleman entrapped in a labyrinth of ritual that daily circumscribes his actions. His mother is besotted with birds and her white cats. Fuchsia his sister is approaching puberty. The family inhabits the ancient castle-city of Gormenghast, ivied, crumbling, and in part uninhabitable. A subversive enters into this static world, Steerpike, a former kitchen-boy escapes from thraldom in the kitchen, and insinuates himself into the Earl's circle becoming first a servant of the Earl's doctor. Steerpike sets fire to the Earl's library and the librarian, Sourdust, is killed in the fire.
As ordained by the tradition replacement librarian, Barquentine, Sourdust's son, is sought. The servants find him asleep on a mattress in a room with so low a ceiling that they have to go on their knees.

He lay upon a straw-filled mattress. At the first sight the servants were appalled at the similarity between the son and the dead father, when they saw that the old man lying on his back with his eyes closed had only one leg, and that a withered one, they were relieved, and straightening themselves, were dazed by striking their heads against the ceiling.
When they recovered they found that they were kneeling side by side, on all fours. Barquentine was watching. Lifting the stump of his withered leg he rapped it irritably on the mattress, sending up a cloud of dust.
'What do you want?' he said. His voice was dry like his father's, but stronger than the mere twenty years that lay between their ages could have accounted for. Barquentine was seventy-four. The servant nearest him rose to a stooping position, rubbed his shoulder-blades on the ceiling and with his head forced down to the level of his nipples stared at Barquentine with his loose mouth hanging open. The companion, a squat indelicate creature, replied obtusely from the shadows behind his loose-lipped friend:
'He's dead.'
'Whom are you talking of, you oaf?' said the septuagenarian irri tably, levering himself on his elbow and raising another cloud of dust with his stump.
'Your father,' said the loose-lipped man in the eager tone of one bringing good tidings.
'How?' shouted Barquentine, who was becoming more and more irritable. 'How? When? Don't stand there staring at me like stenching mules.'
Yesterday,' they replied. 'Burned in the library. Only bones left.'
'Details!' yelled Barquentine, thrashing about with his stump and knotting his beard furiously as his father had done. 'Details, you bladder heads! Out! Out of my way! Out of the room, curse you!' Foraging about in the darkness he found his crutch and struggled onto his withered leg. Such was the shortness of this leg that when he was on his foot it was possible for him to move grotesquely to the door without having to lower his head to avoid the ceiling. He was about half the height of the crouching servants, but he passed between their bulks like a small, savage cloud of material, ragged to the extent of being filigree, and swept them to either side.

Barquentine inherits the duty of being the custodian of the tradition that limits and controls the daily activities of the Earl. In time Steerpike insinuates himself into the rôle of assistant to Barquentine and begins to try to subvert the ritual.

Blue Movie

Terry Southern (1975)
Panther Books Ltd, St Albans, UK.

Of passing interest for those who can enjoy a sexually explicit comedy about making an erotic Hollywood blockbuster, is the minor character Teeny Marie.

Actually her name was Tina Marie, but this had gradually altered into the endearing diminutive, mainly because of her childish, indeed birdlike delicacy. A scant seventy-eight pounds she weighed, and a reedy four feet nine she stood - when standing, which was not too often, since she mostly seemed to crouch, to spring, to slitherÜ... to move with a weird crippled-animal grace, which may seem all the more remarkable, or perhaps even understandable, when considered against her infirmities. For truth to tell, she was a rather artificial person; inventory-wise, from tip to toe, and in rough chronology, it was like this: severe malaria as a child had made her totally hairless; car cinoma had taken her breasts; and finally she had lost a leg, her left, in an auto crash outside Villefranche-sur-Mer, and an eye, her right, during an incredible 'dart-fight' in a Soho pub. What was one hundred percent true, pure, and all her, however, was her mouth. And her mouth was boss beauty; her lips were like young Rita Hayworth's - a composite of Hayley Mills and Mohammed Ali; and her teeth were the ones used in the 'Plus White' commercials - perfect. Small wonder then the Teeny Marie, in over-comp for real and imagined inadequacies, should develop an oral orientation and a vivaciousness, which was, in combination with her one fantastic eye ablaze, quite astonishing to behold. B. managed a smile of genuine, if somewhat wan bemusement. On an occasion several years ago, in a moment of morbid curiosity he had actually gone to bed with Teeny Marie, to observe her in disassembly. Now the image returned: she hobbling wildly round the room, scrambling about like an eccentrically wounded creature, tiny bald head, child's scrawny chest, a flat surface of scar tissue, her detached limb held outthrust in front of her to simulate an outlandish phallus, teeth blazing in a surrealistic grimace of hilarity, and and shrieking at the top of her voice: 'Put the wood to me, B!'

Conscience place

Joyce Thompson (1984)
Doubleday & Co., New York, USA.
Published in German as
Wunschweltende Rowohlt
Verlag, Reinbeck (1984)

Fiction about a secret place completely separated from normal people. All of them are freaks and deformed in many ways, but they develop a society where creativity, acceptance, and respect for each other are the basic principles.

Limbo '90

Bernard Wolfe (1952)
Published in hardback in UK circa 1958 Published in UK in an abridged form circa 1960 with the title "Limbo"
Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK. (More details would be welcome if available.) and published in German in 1989 as "Limbo"
Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

After the next world war, which in Wolfe's imagined world is long over by now, a satirical tract written by the protagonist, isolated from the world by the war, is misinterpreted as a programme for social action, and consequently most men in the 'civilized' world elect to become amputees to limit the scope of their aggression. Their aggression is not defused but expressed through the development of hi-tech prostheses that not only mimic the physical abilities of the amputated limbs but exceed them. The protagonist returns to civilization and fails to persuade people that his prescription for peace had been written as a satire. This novel is of limited direct interest to devotees because the burden of the text is a satire about human nature, but the book is one of the most interesting works of SF that have been written and is strongly recommended for its literary values alone.

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