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Seven Men of Gascony

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Comrades and heroes, the seven warriors slog through the swirl and tumult of the Napoleonic Wars, fighting for their lives across Europe, until they confront their destiny at Waterloo. This stirring saga is drawn from true stories left behind by the soldiers of the First Empire, a dramatic tale of triumph and defeat.


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Comrades and heroes, the seven warriors slog through the swirl and tumult of the Napoleonic Wars, fighting for their lives across Europe, until they confront their destiny at Waterloo. This stirring saga is drawn from true stories left behind by the soldiers of the First Empire, a dramatic tale of triumph and defeat.

30 review for Seven Men of Gascony

  1. 5 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    History is only important if, by surveying it, we are able to account for the past and shape the future. A scarred and grumpy old man lives alone in a small village in France, in December 1840. The date is important: it marks the end of an era, the return of the body of its exiled emperor back to France. The local priest is interested in the past, but the old man is unwilling to revisit his own contribution to the Napoleonic Wars. He had an air of brooding and large, sad eyes. At times he appea History is only important if, by surveying it, we are able to account for the past and shape the future. A scarred and grumpy old man lives alone in a small village in France, in December 1840. The date is important: it marks the end of an era, the return of the body of its exiled emperor back to France. The local priest is interested in the past, but the old man is unwilling to revisit his own contribution to the Napoleonic Wars. He had an air of brooding and large, sad eyes. At times he appeared to be crippled with rheumatism and rarely left his room. His right hand had been maimed in some sort of accident. Two fingers were missing and the remainder were bent over a scarred palm, reddish and unsightly. The hand looked like a claw and did nothing to increase his popularity among the children. He was supposed to have fought in the wars of the Empire, but he never told stories, like some other veterans in the district. Delderfield launches a provocation to the reader : is the war to be glorified for its feats of strength and endurance and tactical cunning, or is it be condemned for its brutality and wholesale destruction? And who will be the ones to pass judgement? The victors who want to justify their own cause or the losers who tried and failed in their campaigns. Napoleon is probably one of the most controversial and most influential figures of modern history, and an attempt to capture the spirit of this time in a single novel seems like a daunting proposition. Delderfield far surpassed my expectations with the present story not only through the quality of his prose but, more importantly, by changing the focus of the narrative from the generals and politicians to the people on the ground, the grunts who marched from Lisbon to Moscow and back on their feet. “Where did you serve before that?” he asked. Jean told him, the old familiar recital – Italy, Egypt, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Friedland. “Ah, yes,” mused the Emperor, grasping his riding switch with both hands extended behind his back, ”at Aspern-Essling as well: I saw you in the churchyard.” The story begins with Gabriel, a young man with artistic inclinations who joins the army before he could be conscripted, shows some talent for marksmanship and is sent to join a company of voltigeurs (sharpshooters, skirmishers) on the banks of the Danube in 1809. It’s another important date: Europe and France in particular are exhausted by constant warfare yet Napoleon has become an almost mythical figure for his ability to win every battle he engages in. Here at Lobau that portrait is about to be tarnished. Gabriel’s first experience of war is mostly traumatic as the fabled leader is repulsed for the first time in an attempt to cross the Danube and Gabriel is caught in the crossfire, kills his first enemy in a botched attempt to hide and comes to rely on the men in his company, six other soldiers from Gascony that look and act more like rogues and bandits than heroes. The most important lesson Gabriel has to learn is survival, and Old Jean, Nicholas, Manny, Louis, Dominique and Claude are the ones who teach him. “A veteran has rules about these things,” said Jean. “With a good soldier it is arms first, food next and loot third. The order of importance should be obvious even to a fool. What good is a knapsack of gold if you can’t defend it? What good is a pocketful of precious stones if you die of hunger so that some other rogue can rifle your corpse?” I would like to compare this novel with ‘Band of Brothers’ but, since I haven’t read that novel yet, I would only mention that Delderfield manages to bring to life these characters and the period through the careful integration of personal accounts from the archives that he studied and used extensively in his story. He keeps the presence of famous historical figures to a minimum and, while he is very good at giving context and tactical appraisal of the battles Gabriel and his band of voltigeurs engage in, the focus is always on the direct experience of the man in the field or on the march. And that experience is rarely a pretty or glorious feature. A hard won victory and a period of garrison duty in Schonbrunn is followed by the brutal murder of farmers by a deranged veteran; a long march towards Portugal is marred by skirmishes with partisans in the mountains, causing the first fatality among sergeant’s Jean’s band and revenge killing of innocent villagers by French troops; a silly order by a novice officer leads to the capture of the men who are sent to England as forced labour prisoners. The perils and the long periods of living close to one another tighten the bonds between the voltigeurs and open up the eyes of young Gabriel, who tries to chronicle his experiences through a series of drawings and paintings. The novel is unusual among historical novels also through the strong portrait of the women involved, like the English lady trapped in a loveless marriage who falls in love with Louis or Nichollete, the sixteen year old cantiniere who follows the army and adopts Old Jean’s troop as her clients and protectors. Born on the battlefield to an unknown father, Nicholette knows no other life and decides to take over her mother’s cart when the old harridan dies on the Danube. He was now legally married to a cantiniere and wedded, by preference, to a nomadic life in the ranks, condemned to wander up and down Europe until a bullet or a sabre singled him out and gave him the answer to all the questions he had been asking himself since childhood. But in the meantime he was well enough satisfied. He had comrades, robust health and enough food and drink for present needs. He also had this child with fragrant hair and an odd regard for him that amounted almost to respect. He looked down on her with a quiet smile. “I’ve always wanted you, Nicholette, all my life.” Nicholas, Nicholette, Gabriel and the others join up on the ill-fated Russian campaign, and the novel reaches new heights of immersive, convincing story-telling as the men’s disillusion with war is exacerbated by the mismanagement of the army and by the deadly retreat through winter blizzards. Only the fortitude of veteran Jean and the devotion of a badly hurt Nicholette will ensure some of the troupe survive, yet more pain and more death lies ahead. It was twenty years since a battle has been fought on French soil. After a detailed account of the battle of Leipzig and more loss of life among the voltigeurs, only Old Jean remains a steadfast supporter of the Emperor, even on the eve of his first capitulation of Fontainebleau. Gabriel is almost numbed to the psychological torture of seeing all his friends blown away, yet he is aware that this is the only life he knows now. A short period of royalist persecution of the veterans from la Grande Armee in Paris, makes Jean and Gabriel more than willing to fight once more for Napoleon, at Waterloo. All men are reluctant to destroy their own idols. It is so much easier to make excuses for them. It’s easy in hindsight to condemn Napoleon for the butcher’s bill and for the poor decisions that left France ruined in the end, but Delderfield tries to explain the adoration the common soldier had for their ‘little corporal’. The few direct appearances Napoleon makes in the novel reinforce the image of a man who remains involved in their lives, even as he later treats them as disposable chess pieces on the field of battle. The most pertinent observation is the one that Napoleon was not the one who initiated most of these conflicts. He was forced into battle by successive alliances of the most powerful monarchs in Europe, who felt threatened by the ideals of the French revolution and by the progressive laws coming from France. Another particular aspect worth noting in the novel, as we move from Lobau in 1809 to Waterloo in 1815, is how much the face of war has changed in such a short period, from a honourable pursuit that follows established rules of conduct to something ‘more relentless and unforgiving’ that gives no quarter to a defeated foe and makes little difference between combatants and non-combatants, a change that Gabriel finally acknowledges with ‘an act of atonement for a murder done long ago’ and with a final turn of his back on war. Until that final fateful day in 1840 when he is forced to revisit his past through the sketches and paintings he managed to salvage from the past campaigns, Gabriel has steered clear of these thorny considerations. In the end, what remains alive for him is not the reasoning for war or the details of the battles themselves, but the company of the men who walked by his side in his youth. The others had come and gone. Gabriel recalled and cherished their characteristics, Manny’s gay laugh, Louis’ good temper, Nicholas’s quiet cynicism, Dominique’s doglike fidelity, but Jean was different, he was the epitome of them all, of all they had endured, of all the leagues that they had tramped together in the last five years. >>><<<>>><<< Right now, I rate this Delderfield novel as one of the best efforts I’ve read in the historical genre [comparable with ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks], much better than the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell, who lost points for me for being long-winded, hero-worshipping in the cases of both Sharpe and Wellington, rabidly partisan in his support of the British and his denigration of the French. Cornwell is excellent in his description of battles, but much poorer in characterization. Delderfield may be a British author, but he is a lot more even-handed in his portrait of la Grande Armee. I plan, sometime in the future when my waiting list grows shorter, to try his Swann Saga that starts with ‘God is an Englishman’ .

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chrisl

    "Seven Men of Gascony" is one of my top 20 all-time favorite novels! If you have never read Delderfield, I suggest starting here, with this slender physical book. Second choice = "God Is An Englishman" - transportation history of England brought to life, with loot from India. It's a fat book with sequels that don't sustain the first book's energy. Third choice = "To Serve Them All My Days" (video version) *** Have read most of Delderfield's books. Have not finished them all. He gets ponderous in the "Seven Men of Gascony" is one of my top 20 all-time favorite novels! If you have never read Delderfield, I suggest starting here, with this slender physical book. Second choice = "God Is An Englishman" - transportation history of England brought to life, with loot from India. It's a fat book with sequels that don't sustain the first book's energy. Third choice = "To Serve Them All My Days" (video version) *** Have read most of Delderfield's books. Have not finished them all. He gets ponderous in the fat family saga stories. In the two low page count stories set in Napoleonic Iberia, this one and Too Few For Drums, R.F. has written YA-HF that I would liked to have had in a small high school library. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._F._D... The way Delderfield begins his first novel evokes the start a Shute story ... a provincial priest asking a maimed man to write a war story. (" ... others had been discouraged by the veteran's incivility.") Quotes from Prologue "'I don't know why I ever told you anything,' he said. 'It wasn't because you were a priest. Priests were never of much account in the old days. We didn't see one from one campaign to another. I'm not in the habit of talking about the past. My wife and I made a pact the night of Waterloo.' "'What sort of pact?' "'A pact to forget the past. It was our only chance.' ... "The priest let his imagination wander to Paris for a moment. He saw the silent throng lining the snow-covered streets to watch the funeral procession move towards the fantastic tomb they had prepared at the Invalides. He heard the slow, mournful strains of the bands, the shuffle of the plumed horses that pulled the funeral carriage, the creak of the carriage wheels along the precise lines of the procession. He had never seen Napoleon and ... He looked at the veteran with a new interest. It gave him a pleasant shock to realize that the gaunt, nondescript man standing on the hearthrug had marched with the Emperor across the Danube plains and through the icy pine forests from Moscow to the Niemen. Great names, already part of a great legend, were as familiar to this man ... "The priest stood up and shook out the folds of his cloak. He felt slightly piqued. "'I'll call in again tomorrow,' he said, and quietly left the room. "The veteran sat motionless ... Then he crossed over to his bed and, stooping, dragged a hair trunk from beneath it; he groped in the interior for some large clothbound manuscript books that lay submerged among the jumble of creased clothes and papers. ..." Quotes from chapter one, where Gabriel is the first character introduced "Gabriel was an odd, dreamy young man, who had a local reputation for excessive amiability but seemed to lack ambition. ... At the time of his aunt's death he was thought to be twenty years of age, and all the lads of eighteen had been called." ... "He was known to read a good deal and had been a promising pupil at the school of the ex-priest Crichot. He and Crichot still remained on terms of pleasant intimacy, and an excellent crayon sketch of the latter, done by Gabriel during school-hours, continued to hang over Crichot's chimney-piece long after Gabriel had been forgotten in the Agen district." ... " ... His shyness had been accentuated by the circumstances of his life, spent mostly alone with the eccentric old woman who passed him off as her nephew. Nobody in Agen believed in this relationship; some suspected Gabriel of being ... "Gabriel felt that he needed advice, and the only place he could seek it was at the house of the ex-priest Crichot, his school-master. He put the letter in his pocket, locked the bakery door and went out. ... "Crichot knew all about Aunt Marie's letter. He read the statement ... "Crichot glanced at the sketch over the mantelshelf and then at Gabriel. "'Do you want to become a painter?' he asked. ... "'Has it occurred to you why you have never been conscripted into the army, Gabriel?' ... "'Father,' he said at last, 'would you say that I was a good painter?' "'I would say that you could become one,' replied Crichot, glancing once more at his own portrait above the chimney-piece. "'What is required to improve myself? Practice?' "Practice, yes,' said the old man, 'but suffering too. Suffering is more important than practice.' "The young man smiled. "'Then I will go!' he announced, rising. "'Go where? To sea, to the Americas, to the Orient to beg your bread?' "'To fight for it,' said Gabriel. "'As a young fool with an untrained paint-brush, you might do a good deal worse,' he said." " *** Among my long-time all-time favorites. Once again, the section devoted to the retreat from Moscow produces vivid images on the brutal insanity of war. This is one of those books that Goodreads lists as first published in the 1970s. It was actually written in the late 1940s. ** Caveat -- what follows is a Spoiler review copied and pasted from KIRKUS REVIEW "A 1949 novel set in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, which the late author published in the salad days of the mainly masculine-oriented historical novels (Kenneth Roberts, Nordhoff & Hall) before the thrust of the bosom superseded that of the bayonet. This is the familiar tale, utilized ad infinitum in WW II movies, of how a small close-knit group of infantrymen--in this case a section of seven French ""voltigers""--fight a long series of battles and die one by one, leaving a sole survivor. There's both a sneaking admiration for the noble endurance of men who fight on and on, and a passing recognition of the futility of wars staged by idols like Napoleon. The deaths match personalities: the best-liked member, a Jew, is crucified; the intellectual is shot by a firing squad for desertion; the gentle horse lover dies protecting his mount; and the grizzled sergeant dies in a last battle, while an enemy scavenger swipes the Medal of Honor from his corpse. And through it all--from the Danube to Moscow and back, a period of imprisonment in England, then gradual decimation--the caniniere Nicholette appears with her ""canteen,"" weds three times and is widowed twice. At the close, the old survivor has a dying dream of his comrades in Nicholette's wagon welcoming him aboard. You'll hate yourself in the morning, but Delderfield knew how to spring that sudsy tear. An old hat which wears well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

    This has been the first novel that I have read for many years and what a delight it was to read. Although this book was first published in 1949 it still offers anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars an engrossing story of men at war. The author provides the reader with a great story of seven French Voltiguers (elite skirmishers and/or marksmen) fighting during the campaigns of the Empire under Napoleon from the battle of Aspern to the final showdown at Waterloo. We trudge through cannonades and This has been the first novel that I have read for many years and what a delight it was to read. Although this book was first published in 1949 it still offers anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars an engrossing story of men at war. The author provides the reader with a great story of seven French Voltiguers (elite skirmishers and/or marksmen) fighting during the campaigns of the Empire under Napoleon from the battle of Aspern to the final showdown at Waterloo. We trudge through cannonades and cavalry charges, hot dusty treks into Spain and Portugal and into the Winter of Russia before the final campaigns and battles of 1813, 1814 and 1815. Although the battle scenes are not in-depth accounts the author provides enough for the reader to get a feel for the heat of battle I found myself rushing through the book to find out what happened to my brave Voltiguers and actually felt a touch of sadness at the end of the story for the fate of these brave men.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julian Blatchley

    Another re-read... this is a book I read as a teenager, and together with Hornblower it was instrumental in igniting my interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Well written in a plain, clean English, this is a well-crafted story which flows freely, carrying the reader effortlessly across Europe and back, from Portugal to Moscow and Devon to Vienna, following the fortunes of a file of French soldiers. The opening is a flashback scene which is as compelling a beginning to a book as any I know, and from t Another re-read... this is a book I read as a teenager, and together with Hornblower it was instrumental in igniting my interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Well written in a plain, clean English, this is a well-crafted story which flows freely, carrying the reader effortlessly across Europe and back, from Portugal to Moscow and Devon to Vienna, following the fortunes of a file of French soldiers. The opening is a flashback scene which is as compelling a beginning to a book as any I know, and from there the book is off like a steeplechase. I really would find it hard to criticise this book. The tale is absorbing, the characters beautifully crafted, the historical detail convincing. And if your taste does not run to war stories, don't avoid this book... the story is far more human than action. For me, this is Delderfield's best book. I have enjoyed some of his chronicles, but this is a smashing yarn in a higher league.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Daisy May Johnson

    (And what do we do in a a pandemic, but turn to the stalwart classics of the bookshelf?) I do not remember the first time I read Seven Men of Gascony but I know that it was a long time ago. It was first published in the late 40s, and the work of an author whom I have never quite learnt to love anywhere else but in this book. But this book is enough, this sprawling tale of the last few years of the Napoleonic Wars, it is occasionally trite, occasionally a little manipulative, but rather utterly, e (And what do we do in a a pandemic, but turn to the stalwart classics of the bookshelf?) I do not remember the first time I read Seven Men of Gascony but I know that it was a long time ago. It was first published in the late 40s, and the work of an author whom I have never quite learnt to love anywhere else but in this book. But this book is enough, this sprawling tale of the last few years of the Napoleonic Wars, it is occasionally trite, occasionally a little manipulative, but rather utterly, endlessly good. I return to it regularly, particularly when I need stories of people being people, of nobility in the darkest of places, of emotion so thick and so painterly that it might be a sunset, and I needed it recently so I did. And I love it still, and I am so glad. Seven Men of Gascony (those magnificent seven) is written from the French perspective, from the viewpoint of seven men bought together in the chaos of the last few years of the First Empire. It crosses battles, continents, skirmishes in the field, skirmishes in the bedroom, and it is old-fashioned but it works. It's a classic, one that lets you see into why the French did what they did, why they followed who they did, and because of Delderfield's background in the RAF, it is a classic which never lets you forget the man on the ground and the blood, sweat and tears that he poured into making the world happen. You'll like this if you are forgiving towards boy's own adventures, or a fan of the work of Bernard Cornwell, or perhaps even in lockdown and desperate for a good old-fashioned roaring adventure. I like it. I like it a lot. And the ending, also, makes me cry. Every time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mati

    I was browsing trough Amazon and searching for some interesting novel about Napoleonic wars. I stepped upon Seven Men of Gascony and it was the right choice. I was little bit fed up with all Sharpes and English victorious army. It was time to look at the other side. This novel follows seven French voltigeurs (skirmishers) through the later years of the Napoleonic wars and made it from glorious days to utter destruction of the Great Army. The characters are constantly developing trough the book a I was browsing trough Amazon and searching for some interesting novel about Napoleonic wars. I stepped upon Seven Men of Gascony and it was the right choice. I was little bit fed up with all Sharpes and English victorious army. It was time to look at the other side. This novel follows seven French voltigeurs (skirmishers) through the later years of the Napoleonic wars and made it from glorious days to utter destruction of the Great Army. The characters are constantly developing trough the book and grew. There is no flatness or schematic character. Even minor characters had their own short development. The death is gruesome and there is no victorious parade or speech. The novel touches the common soldiers and there is no flashy officer in it as main character. Just plane privates and one sergeant who were moving trough the battlefield. Author made good research and he is very accurate .The very naturalistic was the description of the Russian campaign. I have still cold feeling running over my spine. I think this book belongs to those I will reread sometimes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    A good read about 7 men who fought for Napoleon during the years 1809-1815. The early part of the book introduces the men, and some of the individuals who affect their lives. Frankly, I was not as interested in the early part because of the romantic aspects of the story. On various battlefields, we learn of the fate of these men, their ties to each other, and their endurance during the years when glory slipped away from France. Delderfield includes many of the great names of Napoleonic fame, show A good read about 7 men who fought for Napoleon during the years 1809-1815. The early part of the book introduces the men, and some of the individuals who affect their lives. Frankly, I was not as interested in the early part because of the romantic aspects of the story. On various battlefields, we learn of the fate of these men, their ties to each other, and their endurance during the years when glory slipped away from France. Delderfield includes many of the great names of Napoleonic fame, showing them as men and not just titles, but the seven men of Gascony are the story, not Napoleon or his marshals.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Art

    I read this book during Reforger 1984 while travelling in a Duece & 1/2 on some of the same roads as the story. The book was in a collection donated by the library for us to read in the Contonment areas before we went out for the Exercise. I was facinated by this book. I found it an interesting look at the French Army Under Napolean. Recommend it to anyone.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Ellis

    An amazing view of the final years of the Napoleonic Wars through the eyes of a group of seven French sharpshooters. We follow them from the miserable Portuguese campaign, through their captivity when transported to England, their escape to rejoin the army in time for the disastrous Russian campaign, and then to the very end. I had never read a story of this time written from the French viewpoint, so it was a very interesting change of perspective. Delderfield, of course, was a master!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Cox

    I read this book ages ago and reread it recently. I was entirely caught up in the life and death struggle of the close-knit unit of French soldiers fighting for Napoleon all over Europe. The characters were very believable and the dramatic events were equalled by the mundane choices and chances that affected the men. I liked the ending where the narrator runs along the rough track to catch his comrades trundling along in the back of the wagon. I could read such books forever.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ian Rees

    A superb story that ranges across the breadth of the Napoleonic wars with seven principal characters, through victory and defeat. What makes it more interesting is that it is written about French soldiers, so gives a different perspective to the ones we are now used to (ie British riflemen, etc)

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is one of my favorite books ever!!!!! The story of Napoleon's retreat from Russia. This is one of my favorite books ever!!!!! The story of Napoleon's retreat from Russia.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Even though this way, way outside my preferred genre of Sci-Fi. when I was in HS, I enjoyed reading it very much. It is very well written and makes one feel as if you are really in Napoleons army.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Coleen

    R.F. Delderfield is well known for his set of British novels: God is a Gentleman, To Serve Them All My Days, Theirs Was the Kingdom, etc. which I read and loved. This historical novel, however, is not British at all but one of the Napoleonic war. Surprisingly, I had never read any books about Napoleon. The author indicates at the beginning that most of the episodes are true and that the characters are spun from real people. The story is slow going as in any war- march along slowly forever, only R.F. Delderfield is well known for his set of British novels: God is a Gentleman, To Serve Them All My Days, Theirs Was the Kingdom, etc. which I read and loved. This historical novel, however, is not British at all but one of the Napoleonic war. Surprisingly, I had never read any books about Napoleon. The author indicates at the beginning that most of the episodes are true and that the characters are spun from real people. The story is slow going as in any war- march along slowly forever, only to have a quick battle, with a lot of presumed deaths, but some not always dead. Slow moving again, including hiding from the enemy - whichever side you are on... I totally enjoyed the book, relatively short as it was, and would happily read anything that Delderfield wrote.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cal

    This was dusting up on my bookshelves having picked it up some time ago when looking for some Napoleonic Historical fiction. The friendships, campaigns and loss are well told and once engaged this is a novel that’s hard to put down. Highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Retta

    I couldn't finish as it was such a harshly realistic view of what it was like to be a foot soldier in Napolean's army during his last campaign that ended at Waterloo. I couldn't finish as it was such a harshly realistic view of what it was like to be a foot soldier in Napolean's army during his last campaign that ended at Waterloo.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dwer

    Historical novel of soldiers in Napoleonic France

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Curry

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian Sweetman

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  24. 4 out of 5

    Donna

  25. 5 out of 5

    John McGovern

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Kristine

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aidan Mc Carthy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  29. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Grisha

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