Tuesday, November 15, 2016


We Need to Talk About KevinWe Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a dark and disturbing novel that is also unputdownable. Eva Khatchadourian is trying to come to terms with the murders her son commits in a school massacre. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is an epistolary novel with a narrative composed of letters written by Eva to Kevin's father. Why did Kevin murder those people? Was it because Eva was a bad mother? Questions that will gnaw at you even after you finish the novel, especially after you realize that Eva is an unreliable narrator. Superb. Now to watch the Hollywood movie adaptation.

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was just a coincidence that I read this just after "We Need to Talk About Kevin", another novel with the theme of a fictional school massacre. But in "Luckiest Girl Alive", protagonist Ani FaNelli has another secret buried in the past that threatens to destroy her life. Author Jessica Knoll gives readers a flawed heroine and yet we find ourselves rooting for her. Recommended.

Las calles de arenaLas calles de arena by Paco Roca
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Spanish-language graphic novel tells the story of a man who takes a shortcut and ends up getting lost and trapped in a Kafkaesque neighbourhood where he meets strange but interesting characters. There seems to be no escape back to reality but the hombre sin nombre (man without a name) tries his best. The sketches are well done but it's the weird world and its residents that Paco Roca's mind creates with plenty of literary allusions to Kafka, Borges and Poe that make this work unforgettable.

What Is Not Yours Is Not YoursWhat Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Helen Oyeyemi's "What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours" is an interesting collection of short stories rich in narrative detail with a dizzying array of characters. The first story "Books and Roses” happens to be my favourite. I liked the one about student puppeteers the least. Oyeyemi blurs the line between the real and the unreal in all nine stories and her writing has an eerie magical quality. Certainly a young British author to watch out for.

The Secret Life of BeesThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age story set in the segregated America of the 1960s, "The Secret Life of Bees" is not as great as "The Help". Nevertheless, this is a heartwarming story of a 14-year-old teenager and her black nanny who run away from home and find shelter with a trio of beekeeper sisters.

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Monday, September 26, 2016


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I knew J.K. Rowling didn't really write this. I also knew that it's a play unlike all the Potter books. And yet, I couldn't stop myself from picking this up to see how Harry Potter turned out as an adult. I did finish it but unlike desperate fans waiting to see what happens next, I took my time and plodded through what I can now describe as an underwhelming piece of fan fiction. I am sure the play would be a visual spectacle, but reading it certainly didn't work for me.

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Korean woman gives up eating meat after having a dream. The novel contains three different points-of-view of how this affects relationships with her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law. "The Vegetarian" is a dark and often unpleasant tale about Yeong-hye's struggle to cope with societal expectations. Short, simple and yet, powerful and extraordinary.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In her debut, Mona Awad explores the pressures of losing weight to conform to societal stereotypes. In 13 inter-linked stories about the life of Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth, we are shown a woman obsessed about her body image who takes her diet and exercise more seriously than she should. Does she achieve happiness when she does lose weight? Despite flashes of humour, this is not a fun book to read. You never start loving the protagonist. Rather you pity her as she lurches from one fat-loss remedy to another.

Lords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression, and the Bankers Who Broke the WorldLords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression, and the Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There have been financial crises since the Great Depression, but none so catastrophic than one that put millions of people out of work and set the stage for World War II. And four central bank chiefs at the time played their part in making it happen. Ahamed's book is not a treatise to be read by economists and central bankers; there are enough insights and anecdotes to make "Lords of Finance" a work to be enjoyed by all. He makes history - and the economics of it - interesting. Recommended.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little TownSunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Time for some humour and who better than Stephen Leacock. The fictional setting of "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" (1912) is Mariposa and the stories focus on the characters that populate it. What I like about Leacock’s work is that he's seldom acerbic, and the humour is derived from hyperbole and some fantastic descriptions. This is a book that will appeal to everyone. Recommended.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Haven't read too many books lately, partly because I spent a month or more reading my first full-fledged novel in Spanish -- armed with a dictionary, of course, and it was slow going. The review of "Como agua para chocolate" below is in Spanish; it seemed unfair to write about it in English. The other novel I finished was the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy series.

Como agua para chocolateComo agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Como agua para chocolate" is una novela, escrita por Laura Esquivel de Mexico, que se publica por primera vez en 1989. Desde entonces, esta novela ha sido leída por millones de personas en todo el mundo.

Esquivel, como Gabriel García Márquez y otros autores de literatura hispanoamerica, emplea el realismo mágico en su primera novela. Ella usa elementos mágicos en su descripción de la vida cotidiana de sus protagonistas. Por ejemplo, cuando Tita - el caracter central de "Como agua para chocolate" - nacio, lloraba mucho y causó un diluvio en la cocina.

Además, Esquivel comienza los 12 capítulos - uno para cada uno de los meses del año - con una receta mexicana que tiene conexión con los sucesos en la novela. Es interesante el hecho de que el título de la novela se refiera al agua que se hierve para preparar el chocolate.

En resumen, Tita es una adolescente que vive con su madre en un rancho justo antes del inicio de la revolución Mexicana en 1910. Mama Elena dice que Tita nunca puede casarse porque la hija menor de la familia tiene que cuidarla en su vejez. El problema es que Tita y el vecino Pedro se aman y el matrimonio no es possible. Las cosas se complican cuando Pedro se casa con Rosaura, la hermana mayor de Tita, para estar cerca de ella. Otros caracteres importantes en la novela incluyen a John Brown, un médico estadounidense que ama a Tita, y las sirvientes Nacha y Chencha.

Creo que "Como agua para chocolate" trata de una mujer que está atrapada en la contraposicion de tradicion y modernidad. Tita está encasillada en su papel y no puede escapar la influencia de su madre hasta al final de la novela. Su hermana Gertrudis tambien escapa, huyendo desnuda con un soldado rebelde.

El fuego interno del individuo constituye un tema importante en la novela. Es tambien un símbolo del deseo sexual.

"Como agua para chocolate", como "Del amor y otros demonios" de Marquez, es una obra de realismo mágico más destacada en el mundo de literatura hispanoamerica. Es muy recomendable.

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series isn't as thrilling as Book 3, and I still haven't warmed up to all the new characters George R. R. Martin introduced in Book 4. Still, "A Dance With Dragons" is an enjoyable read and things do pick up midway. It’s time for me to watch Season 5 of "Game of Thrones". But I still don't get why people were so shocked by Jon Snow's death in the TV series -- he is clearly dead at the end of "A Dance With Dragons" and the book was published in 2011. I don't plan to watch Season 6 till the much-delayed "The Winds of Winter" comes out -- but it might be a long, long wait.

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Monday, June 13, 2016


OpenOpen by Andre Agassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andre Agassi's "Open" is probably the most non-sports memoir I have read and despite being about a lost childhood and a search for self-identity, it's also an extraordinary book about life on the tennis tour. Add to the mix Agassi's failed marriage to actress Brooke Shields and a lifelong crush on Steffi Graf. Highly recommended and unputdownable - even if you don't like tennis.

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series isn't half as thrilling as the previous one, and there are far too many new characters. George R.R. Martin can't help it though - after all, he killed off many of his protagonists in Book 3. Still, "A Feast for Crows" is an enjoyable read. Some really unpredictable things happen in this one and Martin didn't have enough pages to fit in all the characters, forcing him to split the narrative into two books. Planning to read "A Dance With Dragons", the next in the series, before I watch Season 5 of "Game of Thrones". Life is good.

Ladrón de guante negro (Hotel Veramar)Ladrón de guante negro by Dolores Soler-Espiauba
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cari is the new receptionist at the Hotel Veramar on the Andalucian coast. She finds her co-workers interesting enough, especially Eneko, the motorbike-riding chef. But who is the man wearing black gloves? In this 50-page novella, part of a series for those learning Spanish, there's enough mystery to keep one hooked till the end.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Go Goa Gone

Hot. Humid. Honey Singh on the beach. His songs, that is. Signboards in Russian. Even the books in Calangute resort library are in Russian. Mills and Boon from the looks of them. Beach. Red flag. Dogs in the sea. Click! Too hot to go out. But we have to. SPF 50 sunscreen melting. Time to buy hats. Fort Aguada (where 'Dil Chahta Hain' was apparently NOT filmed). Anjuna. Vagator. Hurrah! A table at Thalassa Greek restaurant. Waiter looks like Lord Varys (Game of Thrones). We need you to leave by 4.45. Grrr! Food's nice though. At other places too. Chicken vindaloo. Fish. Prawns. Goan sausage pizza. Apple crumble with ice cream. Black Currant crush. London Dairy scoops. Chocolate Mess. This is not good for my diet. Live music at the Infantaria. John Denver. A bit off-key. Walk to Baga another night. Tattoo parlours. Casino. Snow Park. Nah! Too pricey. Crowded beach. Drunk pot-bellied men. Vendors. No, I don’t want a tiara with lights. No bracelet either. And no foot massages. Why, why do shacks play Punjabi item numbers? Could we have the cheque, please. Where’s my Pudin Hara Fizz? Thank God for complimentary resort breakfast. Yippee! Beach, been there, done that. Games people play in the afternoon. Ludo. Taboo. Switcheroo. Oh no, who stole the buzzer? Cuddly resort dogs. Aww! I love it here. I don’t want to go back to Delhi. Driver berating someone in Konkani. Jam. Airport, here already? Flight delayed. Sigh! Back in Delhi, temperature outside 29C. What?

Monday, April 18, 2016


The Joy Luck ClubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one's been on my reading list for a long time. Amy Tan's 1989 novel "The Joy Luck Club" features four Chinese-origin mother-daughter pairs living in San Francisco, sharing point-of-view vignettes about their lives as they play mahjong as part of the informal club. The immigrant stories of the mothers were especially interesting, but the absence of good father figures left me wondering about stereotypes. Eager to watch the movie adaptation.

So, Anyway...So, Anyway... by John Cleese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven't yet watched much of what John Cleese is famous for, be it the "Monty Python" series or "Fawlty Towers". Not that it mattered while reading his memoirs. "So, Anyway …" has more to do with his life and early career until "Monty Python" made him famous. While series fans might be disappointed, I enjoyed the descriptions of Cleese's childhood and how he strayed into comedy while studying law at Cambridge. Graham Chapman (Yes, I've watched "Life of Brian") and David Frost also feature in it. No matter what Cleese says about writing good comedy, he's really good at it. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in a book tinged with sadness. And yes, I look forward to watching "Monty Python" and "Fawlty Towers" someday.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everything that ever happened to Lena Dunham is fodder for her memoir. In a series of personal essays, the creator of the hit series "Girls" documents attempts to lose weight (there's a chapter with her food diary), failed dates, e-mail exchanges, and visits to therapists. Dunham is funny and a good writer -- there's no doubt about that. And she has no qualms about sharing everything from her life. Some parts may make you squirm. But if you liked "Girls", you'll like "Not That Kind of Girl".

The Blind AssassinThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A complex novel with many threads that Margaret Atwood deftly weaves into a layered narrative using flashbacks and multiple time schemes. The Chase sisters seem to have it easy, growing up in early 19th-century Canada as heirs to a button factory. But things go downhill pretty soon. And no, the blind assassin of the title is not the one you think it is.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Notes From UndergroundNotes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella "Notes from Underground" has two parts - commentary and narrative. The protagonist is a nameless civil servant in St Petersburg who shares his thoughts in a confessional monologue, followed by a narration of events from his sad life. Perhaps not the ideal introduction to Dostoyevsky's works, but it does make you think. Deserves a re-read.

When You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More autobiographical essays by David Sedaris. As funny as ever. Do not read it on the subway; people are likely to stare if you laugh out loud every few minutes. New entry on my bucket list - I want to read everything he's ever written.

Maggot MoonMaggot Moon by Sally Gardner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Maggot Moon" might be aimed at young adults, but this tale of a dyslexic teenager -- trapped in a dystopian world and out to prove the Moon landing is a farce -- is a powerful novel that will make you shudder. This is not a pleasant read.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Plenty of deaths in the third book of "A Song of Ice and Fire" to make me yelp on the Delhi Metro and suffer a series of stares. Why is George R.R. Martin killing off his main characters? And choosing such cruel ways to do it. Whatever else the book might be, it's certainly not predictable. Loved it. Best in the series so far. Also watched Season 3 of "Game of Thrones" concurrently. Life is good.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016


Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Career of Evil is perhaps the best Cormoran Strike mystery yet. There's a serial killer on the loose and Strike's assistant/partner Robin receives a severed leg in the mail. Strike suspects three men from his past. J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith) knows how to keep the suspense going and the characterization is far better than in the first two books. The pace picks up too. And the ending comes as a surprise. Looking forward to the fourth book.

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If it was anybody else, I would have given up long ago. But there's something mesmerizing about a man left behind on Mars with just enough food and oxygen left for him to stare death in the face. What I disliked about Andy Weir's The Martian were its science-heavy bits, but without them I suppose astronaut Mark Watney's survival wouldn't have been credible. Now to watch the movie adaptation.

Re JaneRe Jane by Patricia Park
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jane Re is a honhyol (half-Korean, half-American) orphan growing up in Queens and doesn’t quite fit in. In this modern-day retelling of Jane Eyre, our heroine becomes the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys. I loved the first half with the author setting the stage for a coming-of-age novel that explores race, identity and class. But Ed Farley is no Edward Rochester. And after Jane moves to Seoul following her grandfather's death, the novel seems to unravel. Will Jane find a balance between her two cultures? I would say "Re Jane" is a good read, but don't throw away your well-thumbed edition of "Jane Eyre" just yet.

Too Much HappinessToo Much Happiness by Alice Munro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is too little happiness in Alice Munro's "Too Much Happiness". This collection of short stories by a Nobel Prize-winning author deals with pretty serious stuff -- murder, violence, cruelty, self-mutilation and adultery. And yet, there are signs of hope in each tragedy. Munro is a skilled writer who paints her characters with consummate ease. My only quibble is that the last story, the titular one, is a work of historical fiction estranged from the otherwise plebeian lives of small-town Canada.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Fiction - Seize the Day

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a good boyfriend must be constantly reminded of her loveliness. Shefali Ahuja is no different. At various stages of our courtship, whenever my love for her had seemed to falter, she would stare at me with her doe-shaped eyes.

“Don’t you love me?” she would ask with pupils dilated, nostrils flaring and her eyelashes pointed like a battalion of fiery archers ready to shoot if I happened to give the wrong response. Which was never.

In such a situation, and believe me I’ve had lots of practice, I usually grasp her hand and press my fingertips to her lips. It helps if I seem to be in low spirits.
“Yes, yes, yes,” I say. “Darling, even life isn’t worth living if I can’t be with you.”
Nine times out of ten, my declarations of love would assuage her doubts and set her mind to rest. Her facial muscles would relax, and a hint of a smile would play around her lips as the dimple on her right cheek put in a welcome appearance.

But something was wrong today. She sat unsmiling, nervously kneading her hands as she cast her eyes at the summer blooms of jasmine around us. We were relaxing under the famous virgin tree, the one that students of Delhi’s Hindu College adorn each Valentine’s Day with water-filled condoms and heart-shaped balloons. There are no such decorations on the tree today and the final exams are almost upon us, although the eternal optimist in me always dreams of the day the spare condom in my wallet would come in handy. Shefali and I had kissed often, but it would take a lot of convincing for her to go the whole hog.

It’s unnerving. She is looking at me again. I know what that stare means. And it’s not good. When this happens, she usually wants me to prove my love to her. And today I’m not in the mood for one of her weird challenges. One time, she made me run shirtless down the main college corridor - which wasn’t so bad, since I’ve been spending hours at the gym and am always on the lookout for an opportunity to show off my abs.

And then she made me cram her hostel room with enough red roses to render me bankrupt for two months. Shefali was pleased with the roses; my dad wasn’t. I was subjected to an hour-long lecture on how he had juggled two part-time jobs to get through college, and now his no-good son was frittering away his inheritance.

Once Shefali fell out with her friend Urvashi and thanks to my background in English literature, I was asked to come up with 24 lines of rhyming poetry that cast aspersions on her character. A WhatsApp-fuelled chain of ridicule ensured Urvashi bunked classes for the next two weeks.

Call it my sixth sense. Each time George R.R. Martin is about to kill off a central character in his medieval fantasy novels, I’m afflicted with an impending sense of doom. On this breezy March morning, I shudder to think what lies ahead.

Shefali is gently caressing my forehead. I recognize the signs and brace myself for the words about to fall from her lips.
“Prove that you love me,” she says.
“Of course, darling”
“This one is tough”
“You know I will do anything for you, Shefali”
“And if you do it, I’ll give you what you’ve been waiting for”
“Just tell me. What do I have to do?”
“Well, Venkat was mean to me today.”

It is crystal clear now. Venkat is Shefali’s classmate in their second-year History honours course. I’ve to teach Venkat a lesson, beat him up and avenge my lady love. It won’t be easy. Venkat goes to the gym too, and there is a slight chance I may suffer a black eye or two. But the promised reward would make it all worthwhile. And my wallet would carry one less condom.

“Do not worry, Shefali. He’ll fall at your feet and beg for mercy.”
“But you should not beat him up”
I must look confused, for Shefali smiles and whispers in my ear. These were not sweet nothings.
“Are you mad? I can’t do that”
“But you said you will do anything for me”
“Yes, but this is crazy”
“Really? Is that how much you love me?”
“No buts. He should be in the canteen. You have five minutes”
“I’ve to do this now?”
“And now you have four minutes and 58 seconds”

I look at my watch and hesitate. For no apparent reason, I’m reminded of Professor Gupta’s class on Metaphysical poetry last week. We were reading Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poet as he pleaded with his lover to yield to his passion. Life is short. Don’t put things off. Carpe diem. That’s Latin for ‘seize the day’. Of course.

I set off running across the college grounds, scrambling through hedges and taking the shortcut through the administration building. Outside the library, I nearly crash into a pony-tailed woman - her arms piled high with books - but I swerve at the last minute and arrive unscathed at the canteen. I scan the crowd for any sign of my target. Plenty of students tucking into greasy bread pakoras and cups of milky tea. But no Venkat.

I look back to see Shefali entering the canteen. She is breathless and weary. Must have been running after me. Our eyes meet. She taps her watch and frowns before collapsing into the chair next to mine.
“You have less than 30 seconds left”
“But he’s not here”
“He has to be”
I’m about to retort when I spot Venkat outside the canteen. It’s the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life. It’s now or never. Shefali had noticed Venkat too, and I probably had just a few seconds to do it.

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven...”

As Venkat entered the canteen, I grabbed his arm to get his attention and pulled him in for a kiss. I had aimed for a quick in-and-out movement that would yoke my lips and his lips together for a fleeting second. But my counterpart had other ideas. Venkat grabbed my neck and kissed me again, trapping me in a lip lock as I flailed about, my pumped-up biceps proving ineffective against his shock-and-awe guerrilla tactics. This is not how one should adhere to the bro code.

When I’m finally set free, I am suddenly aware of hooting and whistling in the canteen. The rumpus is punctuated at regular intervals by the thump of something sharp digging into my right shoulder. I look up to see Shefali hitting me with one of her high heels. This is not turning out well.

“What are you doing?”
“You cheater!”
“You kissed Venkat”
“But you asked me to”
“Would you jump out of the window if I asked you to?”
“But I did this for you”
“Ya, right!”
“I don’t understand”
“Venkat told me you had a crush on him”
“I didn’t believe it and here you are kissing him”
“We are done. We are over. Don’t you dare speak to me again.”

Shefali turns and storms off. Her white T-shirt is stained with the remnants of a stray bread pakora let loose by an overexcited student. I want to warn her, but this doesn’t seem like the right time. I have bigger fish to fry.

I turn towards Venkat. He is smirking. And not looking sorry at all.
“What’s your problem?”
“Revenge, my friend”
“What did I ever do to you?”
“To Urvashi. You made her miserable.”
“So what?”
“She was my girlfriend, you nitwit”

I put two and two together. The universe had conspired against me and Shefali.  The funny thing was I wasn’t even angry with Venkat, Urvashi or the bread pakoras. I push my way past the throng of curious  students in the canteen. Photos of the impromptu lip lock have made it to WhatsApp already, and as I make my way back to the virgin tree, I find students giving me supercilious looks. Great. I’ll have to lie low and go off social networks for a while.

At the virgin tree, I got through my wallet and prise out the spare condom hidden behind the 10-rupee notes. It doesn’t look like I’ll get a chance to use it this year. Damn you, Shefali. I place the condom carefully on the trunk and walk away.

Seconds later, I’m back. And the condom is stowed in my wallet. I should probably hold on to it for a while. Forget Shefali, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
(This short story was originally written for the TOI Write India: Ashwin Sanghi contest)Creative Commons License
"Seize The Day" by Tony Tharakan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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