Zimbabwe has been known by many names throughout its history, including Southern Rhodesia (a British colony), Rhodesia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia. This list of books set in Zimbabwe aims to explore this region throughout this turbulent history; including these changes in name. With themes such as colonialism, independence and feminism woven throughout these works, these stories are told from a multitude of viewpoints.
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Books Set in Zimbabwe: Introduction
Doris Lessing was a prominent British-Zimbabwean novelist who won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. Between 1925 and 1949, she grew up living in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Along with the surrounding areas of southern Africa, it would become the setting of many of her novels; such as The Grass Is Singing, Martha Quest and African Laughter.
Four of these books set in Zimbabwe were included in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair’s list of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. This includes works by notable authors Dambudzo Marechera for The House of Hunger, Tsitsi Dangarembga for Nervous Conditions, Chenjerai Hove for Bones and Yvonne Vera for Butterfly Burning.
Some other notable inclusions in this list of books set in Zimbabwe include Waiting for the Rain by Charles Mungoshi, Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya and one of my favorite novels, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize).
Books Set in Zimbabwe: Shortlist
If you’re short on time, these are my personal picks for books set in Zimbabwe:
- The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera
- Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
- Bones by Chenjerai Hove
- When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin
- Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
- Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
- The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
- We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Books Set In Zimbabwe
1. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing, 1950
Set in South Africa under white rule, Doris Lessing’s first novel is both a riveting chronicle of human disintegration and a beautifully understated social critique. Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm work their slow poison, and Mary’s despair progresses until the fateful arrival of an enigmatic and virile black servant, Moses.
2. Martha Quest (Children of Violence #1) by Doris Lessing, 1952
Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. Note: this is the first in a five volume series, set in Southern Rhodesia. The other titles (in order) are A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked and The Four-Gated City.
3. African Stories by Doris Lessing, 1965
This book includes every story written by Doris Lessing about Africa: all of her first collection, This Was the Old Chief’s Country; the four tales about Africa from Five; the African stories from The Habit of Loving and A Man and Two Women and four stories never before collected. This, then, is Doris Lessing’s Africa – where she lived for twenty-five years and where so much of her interest and concern still resides. Here, as she sees them, are the complexities, the agonies and joys, the textures of African life and society.
4. Waiting for the Rain by Charles Mungoshi, 1975
The award-winning writer Charles Mungoshi is recognised in Africa, and internationally, as one of the continent’s most powerful writers today. This early novel deals with the pain and dislocation of the clash of the old and new ways – the educated young man determined to go overseas, and the elders of the family believing his duty is to stay and head the family.
5. The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera, 1978
Winner of the Guardian fiction prize, this novella and nine short stories describe life in a Zimbabwean township. They are about the brutalization of the individual’s mental processes, until madness, violence and despair become the normal state of affairs for families in black urban areas.
6. Men of Men (Ballantyne #2) by Wilbur Smith, 1981
Zouga Ballantyne, an African-born Englishman, sees the Devil’s Own mine as his ticket to the North: a realm of waterfalls and fertile plains, teeming wildlife, and seeded fields of gold. But what happens in the diamond mines of the fledgling Boer Free State sets the course for Ballantyne and a cast of comrades, enemies, and lovers – and for the continent itself. Note: this is part of a 6 book series set across Africa, with many of the titles taking place in Rhodesia. This book is a fictionalized account of the origins of Rhodesia.
7. Nervous Conditions (Nervous Conditions #1) by Tsitsi Dangarembga, 1988
A modern classic in the African literary canon, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women’s rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the ‘nervousness’ of the ‘postcolonial’ conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace.
8. Bones by Chenjerai Hove, 1988
Bones is a poetic novel about the guerilla fight for freedom in Zimbabwe, but unlike a conventional novel, all the action is interior monologues — some by specific characters, others by representatives of certain types produced by colonial history, or by spirits. The story involves a mother’s love, and a lover’s yearning, for a young man who has joined the freedom fighters. Hove captures the ambivalence and conflicts of loyalties in the attitude of the peasants towards the guerillas, and underscores the state’s indifference to the lives of ordinary people.
9. Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya, 1989
Pictures the transition between the old white-dominated Southern Rhodesia, through the Bush War, to the new black regime of Zimbabwe. A time of turbulence and turmoil is illustrated through the coming of age of Benjamin Tichafa, a young man torn between two worlds.
10. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin, 1993
After his father’s heart attack in 1984, Peter Godwin began a series of pilgrimages back to Zimbabwe, the land of his birth, from Manhattan, where he now lives. On these frequent visits to check on his elderly parents, he bore witness to Zimbabwe’s dramatic spiral downwards into the jaws of violent chaos, presided over by an increasingly enraged dictator. And yet long after their comfortable lifestyle had been shattered and millions were fleeing, his parents refuse to leave, steadfast in their allegiance to the failed state that has been their adopted home for 50 years.
11. African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe by Doris Lessing, 1993
In this portrait of Doris Lessing’s homeland, the author recounts the visits she made to Zimbabwe in 1982, 1988, 1989 and 1992, after being banned from the old Southern Rhodesia for 25 years for her political views and opposition to the minority white Government. The visits constitute a journey to the heart of a country whose history, landscape, people and spirit are evoked by the author in a narrative of detail.
12. Nehanda by Yvonne Vera, 1993
In the late nineteenth century white settlers and administrators arrive to occupy the African country of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). Nehanda, a village girl, is recognized through omens and portents as a saviour. The resulting uprising by the Africans is brutally crushed but looks forward to the war of independence that succeeded a century later. Told in lucid, poetic prose, this is a gripping story about the first meeting of a people with their colonizer.
13. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer, 1994
The year is 2174. The place is Zimbabwe, Africa. Three adventurous children escape their parents’ heavily guarded mansion to explore the dangerous world outside. They soon learn how dangerous it really is. Tendai, the oldest boy, is their leader, although he worries about being brave enough. Rita, his sister, is an expert at starting fights. Kuda, his little brother, is willing to try anything. They are quickly enslaved in a plastic mine ruled by the terrifying She Elephant and her army of vlei people.
14. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire, 1995
Written as a letter from a Zimbabwean mother to her daughter, a student at Harvard, J. Nozipo Maraire evokes the moving story of a mother reaching out to her daughter to share the lessons life has taught her and bring the two closer than ever before. Interweaving history and memories, disappointments and dreams, Zenzele tells the tales of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence and the men and women who shaped it.
15. Without a Name by Yvonne Vera, 1995
In Without a Name, Mazvita, a young woman from the country, travels to Harare to escape the war and begin a new life. But her dreams of independence are short-lived. She begins a relationship of convenience and becomes pregnant.
16. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer, 1996
Nhamo is a virtual slave in her African village in 1981. Before her twelfth birthday, Nhamo runs away to escape marriage to a cruel husband, and spends a year going from Zimbabwe to Mozambique. Alone on the river in a stolen boat, swept into the uncharted heart of a great lake, she battles drowning, starvation and wild animals. Note: this is a young adult title.
17. Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin, 1996
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa is the story of Peter Godwin’s experiences growing up in Rhodesia. He recounts the story of that country’s violent transformation into Zimbabwe, as well as his own personal metamorphoses from privileged boy to reluctant soldier to investigative journalist.
18. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera, 1998
Set in Makokoba, a black township, in the late 1940s, the novel is an intensely bittersweet love story. When Fumbatha, a construction worker, meets the much younger Phephelaphi, he ‘wants her like the land beneath his feet from which birth had severed him.’ He in turn fills her ‘with hope larger than memory.’ But Phephelaphi is not satisfied with their “one-room” love alone. The qualities that drew Fumbatha to her, her sense of independence and freedom, end up separating them.
19. Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #2) by Alexander McCall Smith, 2000
Tears of the Giraffe takes us further into the life of the engaging and sassy Precious Ramotswe, the owner and detective of Botswana’s only Ladies’ detective agency. Among her cases are wayward wives, unscrupulous maids and a challenge to resolve a mother’s pain for her son, who is long lost on the African plains. Mma Ramotswe’s own impending marriage, the promotion of her secretary and new additions to the Matekoni family, all brew up the most humorous and charmingly entertaining of tales. Note: this is set between Botswana and Zimbabwe.
20. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller, 2001
In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with candor and sensitivity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.
21. Coming of the Dry Season by Charles Mungoshi, 2001
These ten short stories from the prize-winning Zimbabwean writer, were banned in (the then) Rhodesia, but some were published in Europe. One of the stories, ‘The Setting Sun and the Rolling World’, gave its title to another acclaimed collection.
22. The Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera, 2002
An uncompromising novel by one of Africa’s premiere writers, detailing the horrors of civil war in luminous, haunting prose. In 1980, after decades of guerilla war against colonial rule, Rhodesia earned its hard-fought-for independence from Britain. Less than two years thereafter when Mugabe rose to power in the new Zimbabwe, it signaled the begining of brutal civil unrest that would last nearly a half decade more.
23. Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir by Neely Tucker, 2003
Foreign correspondent Neely Tucker and his wife, Vita, arrived in Zimbabwe in 1997. Against a background of war, terrorism, disease and unbearable uncertainty about the future, this story of how a foreign correspondent and his wife fought to adopt a Zimbabwean baby emerges as an inspiring testament to the miracles that love and dogged determination can sometimes achieve.
24. The Girl Who Married a Lion: And Other Tales from Africa by Alexander McCall Smith, 2004
Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and grew up hearing stories that so enchanted him, he passed them along to his own children. He now shares them in this jewel of a book. Gathered here is a beguiling selection of folktales from Zimbabwe and Botswana as retold by the best-selling author. This treasury contains most of the stories previously collected in Children of Wax, and seven new tales from the Setswana-speaking people of Botswana.
25. The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers, 2004
When Owen Sheers discovers a book in his father’s study he stumbles upon the life of an obscure relative: Arthur Cripps, lyric poet and maverick missionary to Rhodesia. Compelled by the description of Cripps’ extraordinary life in Africa, Sheers embarks on a journey through contemporary Zimbabwe in an attempt to better understand his ancestor’s devotion to the country and its people and the dramatic, often bloody, differences that echo across the years.
26. The Book of Not (Nervous Conditions #2) by Tsitsi Dangarembga, 2006
A sequel to Nervous Conditions, this is a powerful and engaging story about one young woman’s quest to redefine the personal and political forces that threaten to engulf her. As its title suggests, this is also a book about denial and unfulfilled expectations and about the theft of the self that remains one of colonialism’s most pernicious legacies. The novel disrupts any comfortable sense of closure to the dilemmas of colonial modernity explored in Nervous Conditions and as such is a fitting sequel.
27. Casting with a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa by Wendy Kann, 2006
A comfortable suburban housewife with three children living in Connecticut, Wendy Kann thought she had put her volatile childhood in colonial Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – behind her. Then one Sunday morning came a terrible phone call: her youngest sister, Lauren, had been killed on a lonely road in Zambia. Suddenly unable to ignore her longing for her homeland, she decides she must confront the ghosts of her past.
28. House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe by Christina Lamb, 2007
Blue mountains, golden fields, gin and tonics on the terrace – once it had seemed the most idyllic place on earth. But by August 2002, Marondera, in eastern Zimbabwe, had been turned into a bloody battleground, the center of a violent campaign. One bright morning, Nigel Hough, one of the few remaining white farmers, received the news he had been dreading. A crowd of war veterans was at his gates, demanding he hand over his homestead. The mob started a fire and dragged him to an outhouse.
29. Rainbow’s End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm by Lauren St. John, 2007
This is a story about a paradise lost. About an African dream that began with a murder. In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow’s End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a horrific attack by guerrillas, and when Lauren’s family settles there, a chain of events is set in motion that will change her life irrevocably.
30. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg, 2008
Rhodesia – a place of great beauty, but also of terrible, man-made, tragedy. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is, above all else, a magical evocation of childhood; at times laugh-out-loud funny, at others heartbreakingly sad. It tells the story of two young sisters, Nyree and Cia O’Callohan, who live on a remote farm in the East of what was Rhodesia in the late 1970s.
31. The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe by Douglas Rogers, 2009
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Douglas Rogers is the son of white farmers living through that country’s long and tense transition from postcolonial rule. He escaped the dull future mapped out for him by his parents for one of adventure and excitement in Europe and the United States. But when Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe launched his violent program to reclaim white-owned land and Rogers’s parents were caught in the cross fire, everything changed.
32. An Elegy for Easterly: Stories by Petina Gappah, 2009
A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his new job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlor brings unexpected riches; a politician’s widow stands quietly by at her husband’s funeral, watching his colleagues bury an empty casket. Petina Gappah’s characters may have ordinary hopes and dreams, but they are living in a world where a loaf of bread costs half a million dollars, where wives can’t trust even their husbands for fear of AIDS, and where people know exactly what will be printed in the one and only daily newspaper because the news is always, always good.
33. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini, 2009
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, there is a tragedy in the house next door to Lindiwe Bishop; her neighbor has been burned alive. The victim’s stepson, Ian McKenzie, is the prime suspect but is soon released. Lindiwe can’t hide her fascination with this young, boisterous and mysterious white man, and they soon forge an unlikely closeness even as the country starts to deteriorate. Years after circumstances split them apart, Ian returns to a much-changed Zimbabwe to see Lindiwe, now a sophisticated, impassioned young woman, and discovers a devastating secret that will alter both of their futures.
34. Harare North by Brian Chikwava, 2009
When he lands in Harare North, our unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and a longing to be reunited with his childhood friend, Shingi. He ends up in Shingi’s Brixton squat where the inhabitants function at various levels of desperation. Shingi struggles to find meaningful work and to meet the demands of his family back home; Tsitsi makes a living renting her baby out to women defrauding the Social Services. Note: this tells the story of an an illegal Zimbabwean immigrant in London.
35. The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu, 2010
Vimbai is the best hairdresser in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon, and she is secure in her status until the handsome, smooth-talking Dumisani shows up one day for work. Despite her resistance, the two become friends, and eventually, Vimbai becomes Dumisani’s landlady. He is as charming as he is deft with the scissors, and Vimbai finds that he means more and more to her. Yet, by novel’s end, the pair’s deepening friendship – used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind – collapses in unexpected brutality.
36. Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace, 2010
Set in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, just after the war for independence, a young English boy, Jacklin, is torn between his black friends at school and his sympathy for the colonial whites after witnessing the compulsory land seizures by Robert Mugabe’s government. But with an imminent visit by Robert Mugabe to the school, Jacklin realizes that Ivan, his white supremacist schoolmate, plans to assassinate the black leader. The novel leaves us with the moral dilemma – in hindsight, should Jacklin have killed Ivan or let Ivan kill Robert Mugabe?
37. The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe by Peter Godwin, 2010
Journalist Peter Godwin has covered wars. As a soldier, he’s fought them. But nothing prepared him for the surreal mix of desperation and hope he encountered when he returned to Zimbabwe, his broken homeland. Godwin arrived as Robert Mugabe, the country’s dictator for 30 years, has finally lost an election. Mugabe’s tenure has left Zimbabwe with the world’s highest rate of inflation and the shortest life span.
38. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller, 2011
In this sequel to Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller returns to Africa and the story of her unforgettable family. Alexandra Fuller braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley-era Africa of her mother’s childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father’s English childhood; and the darker, civil war-torn Africa of her own childhood. At its heart, this is the story of Fuller’s mother, Nicola. Note: this takes place in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
39. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013
An exciting literary debut: the unflinching and powerful story of a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe and to America. Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
40. Peace and Conflict by Irene Sabatini, 2014
The story of a young boy’s adventures as he takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of an ‘evil’ old neighbour in Geneva, and a missing auntie in Zimbabwe. Charming, refreshingly funny and resonant, this is a surprisingly tender novel about how one boy comes to understand what conflict can do to a person, a family, a whole country – and what it means to fight for peace. Note: this could be considered a young adult title.
41. Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi, 2015
Sweet Medicine is the story of Tsitsi, a young woman who compromises the values of her Catholic upbringing to find romantic and economic security through otherworldly means. The story takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008. The book is a thorough and evocative attempt at grappling with a variety of important issues in the postcolonial context: tradition and modernity; feminism and patriarchy; spiritual and political freedoms and responsibilities; poverty and desperation; and wealth and abundance.
42. The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, 2015
Memory is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?
43. Rotten Row by Petina Gappah, 2016
In her accomplished new story collection, Petina Gappah crosses the barriers of class, race, gender and sexual politics in Zimbabwe to explore the causes and effects of crime, and to meditate on the nature of justice. Rotten Row represents a leap in artistry and achievement from the award-winning author of An Elegy for Easterly and The Book of Memory. With compassion and humour, Petina Gappah paints portraits of lives aching for meaning to produce a moving and universal tableau.
44. Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks, 2018
At thirty-six, Hope Anderson has been dating her boyfriend, an orthopedic surgeon, for six years. With no wedding plans in sight, and her father recently diagnosed with ALS, she decides to use a week at her family’s cottage in Sunset Beach, North Carolina. Tru Walls has never visited North Carolina but is summoned to Sunset Beach by a letter from a man claiming to be his father. A safari guide, born and raised in Zimbabwe, Tru hopes to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding his mother’s early life and recapture memories lost with her death. Note: this is set between North Carolina and Zimbabwe.
45. These Bones Will Rise Again by Panashe Chigumadzi, 2018
In November 2017 the people of Zimbabwe took to the streets in an unprecedented alliance with the military. Their goal, to restore the legacy of Chimurenga, the liberation struggle, and wrest their country back from over thirty years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. In an essay that combines bold reportage, memoir and critical analysis, Zimbabwean novelist and journalist Panashe Chigumadzi reflects on the coup that was not a coup , the telling of history and manipulation of time and the ancestral spirts of two women, her own grandmother and Mbuya Nehanda, the grandmother of the nation.
46. House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, 2018
In the chronic turmoil of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Abednego and Agnes Mlambo’s teenage son, Bukhosi, has gone missing. Erudite, enigmatic Zamani, their lodger, seems to be their last, best hope for finding him. In his eagerness to help, Zamani is almost a part of the family – but almost isn’t nearly enough. Ingratiating himself to Mama Agnes and feeding alcoholic Abednego’s addiction, he is desperate to extract their life stories and make their family history his own.
47. This Mournable Body (Nervous Conditions #3) by Tsitsi Dangarembga, 2018
In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival. As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. It is this homecoming, in Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel, that culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.
48. The Gold Diggers by Sue Nyathi, 2018
It’s 2008 and the height of Zimbabwe’s economic demise. A group of passengers is huddled in a Toyota Quantum about to embark on a treacherous expedition to the City of Gold. Amongst them is Gugulethu, who is hoping to be reconciled with her mother; Dumisani, an ambitious young man who believes he will strike it rich, Chamunorwa and Chenai, twins running from their troubled past; and Portia and Nkosi, a mother and son desperate to be reunited with a husband and father they see once a year.
What do you think of these books set in Zimbabwe?
Have you ever been to Zimbabwe? Do you know some books set in Zimbabwe that we’ve missed and should add to this list? What are your favorite books set in Zimbabwe? I’d love to hear more about your own travels and tips for books set in Zimbabwe in the comments below!
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