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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

78% of grade four learners in SA cannot read for meaning. Read the managing director at Nal’ibali’s response on solving the country’s illiteracy crisis

Jade Jacobsohn, managing director at Nal’ibali

Jade Jacobsohn, managing director at Nal’ibali, recently wrote the following response to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) report highlighting SA literacy levels. The report sheds light on South Africa’s devastating literacy crisis, revealing that 78% of grade four learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning. Here’s what Jacobsohn recommends we do to solve the country’s disastrous illiteracy rates:

Where will you be in ten years’ time? Whether it’s a growing business or growing family, we all make plans for our future. Yet our future selves are either enabled or limited by our broader context. So, what is our national context in a generation’s time?

Results from a global literacy study last week paint a devastating picture. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessing children’s reading comprehension has placed South African children last in fifty countries

The stats? 78% of Grade Four learners in South Africa cannot read for basic meaning in any national language. In other words, eight out of ten nine-year-olds in South Africa are currently functionally illiterate.

This survey presents the socio-economic equivalent of Cape Town’s taps running dry on Day Zero. Simply put, it’s the most urgent wake-up call our country has had on what our future looks like, and we need to respond accordingly.

There’s a reason the PIRLS test targeted Grade Fours. The age is a tipping point: if a child remains functionally illiterate at age nine, there is a strong correlation to them remaining so, which in turn leads to an inevitably steep school drop-out shelf.

A 78% illiteracy rate in Grade Four means the next generation will enter the workforce without these very basic skills needed to raise themselves out of poverty. It means a generation without the capacity to learn, to teach, to lead. More alarmingly, it means a generation unable to pass along literacy to their own children, exacerbating the situation still further with every passing year.

In the United States, there is an alarmingly precise correlation between the number of illiterate third grade boys and future incarceration statistics (the United States, for reference, scored just 4% on the PIRLS survey). In South Africa, boys have fallen behind to such an extent that they are now a full year of learning behind girls of the same age – the second highest gender gap in the world.

The PIRLS survey also attempted to quantify social inhibitors to education, such as bullying amongst peers. The results? We are also world leaders there, with 42% of South African Grade Fours experiencing bullying weekly (by comparison, 15% of learners reported the same experience in the US and UK).

What kind of future can we build when our children cannot build empathy?

Government is putting urgent plans in place to secure our resources – sustainable water, electricity supply and so on. We all weigh in on these because South Africans care about what our country looks like and we’re willing to make a noise when we feel a lack of leadership on these matters.

Where is the noise here?

If literacy is everybody’s problem, then it’s also everybody’s solution.

These results need to be the rallying call to the heart of our nation.

The good news – and there is much of it – is that change can happen. After all, Japan and more recently Chile, turned around their literacy rates by simply making it a holistic national priority.

But how do we start with a similar approach in South Africa? Where do we begin?

Take heart that many of us began a long time ago. NGOs have determinedly been stepping up to the plate, introducing and quietly maintaining extraordinary, effective, and targeted initiatives to support literacy development across the country.

Nal’ibali, for example, operates country-wide to spark children’s potential by creating opportunities for children to fall in love with books and stories in home languages as well as English. Research proves that regular reading and a strong foundation of language in children’s mother tongues are two of the most significant indicators of future academic success – even more than socio-economic status. That’s food for thought in a country where the poverty trap seems inescapable.

We are hardly tackling this problem alone – it takes a nation to nurture a reading culture and Nal’ibali works hand-in-hand with hundreds of partners. Together we’ve seen extraordinary successes in our five years of operation. We are fighting the odds and winning; helping to root a culture of reading in South African by immersing children, caregivers, and communities in great and well told stories in relaxed and meaningful ways rather than focusing on the mechanical literacy instruction so common in the classroom.

We are weaving a web of support and creative solutions that, given enough backing, will catch our learners when they fall through the cracks of the formal education system. Just imagine what we could do if our work was amplified and enthusiastically championed across the country!

It’s time for us to join forces.

Those who can’t in financial or practical terms can still play a vital part, simply by picking up a book. Reading or giving a good book to one child may feel like a tiny act, but the ramifications of these small, everyday actions can have startling consequences down the line. Stories teach us at a linguistic level – the basic vocabulary, spelling and grammar pour in unconsciously. But stories also teach us at a human level – they help us to imagine worlds and possibilities that are different to the ones we are currently experiencing.

In South Africa, right now, that’s surely a talent that every one of us needs to learn to develop.

For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages visit and or find us on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA.

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Jacket Notes: Tim Noakes on his new book, Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs

Published in the Sunday Times

Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs
Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros
Penguin Random House, R290

In July 2015, I became one of few scientists in history to be publicly prosecuted for expressing my opinion.

The “hearing” (more accurately, a full-on legal trial) that the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) and Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) brought against me lasted 25 days over more than three years. It concluded in April 2017 when the independent panel found me innocent of all charges.

But, despite the massive costs on all sides, the HPCSA has chosen to appeal the verdict. The “hearing” reconvenes in February 2018.

Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs, co-written with investigative journalist Marika Sboros, explains how the hearing came about. It had nothing to do with my tweet. That was just a pretext. It was the inevitable outcome of my decision in December 2010 to change my diet from the high-carbohydrate, low-fat one I had advocated and followed for 33 years, to one high in fat.

In so doing, I turned my back on all I had been taught about optimum human nutrition. I have learned much from my Damascene moment, as I call it. In particular, that the 1977 US Dietary Guidelines, which encouraged us to “make starchy foods the basis of most meals”, are the direct cause of the obesity and diabetes pandemics that now threaten the financial sustainability of medical services globally. The evidence we present (and on which I built my defence in the HPCSA “hearing”) establishes beyond doubt that excessive dietary carbohydrate, not fat, is the real nutrition villain.

The book explains how the publication of The Real Meal Revolution in November 2013 spawned the HPCSA trial. It initiated a debate across all segments of the South African community, which had never before happened in this country, and perhaps in few other countries, if any. And when the public started questioning what they should be eating to be properly healthy, they began to threaten diet orthodoxy. One solution was to silence the messenger – hence the HPCSA hearing.

The first third of the book details actions of colleagues and organisations as they sought to discredit me and my “Banting” diet after my Damascene moment. I have included every single published criticism over six years, in the authors’ own words. I also provide the science to show that all are without foundation. I answer all criticisms fully and transparently.

Sboros writes the middle third of the book, summarising key details of the 25 days in court: The prosecution’s case and their expert witnesses, including their cross-examination; my testimony and cross-examination and that of the “Three Angels” – Nina Teicholz, Dr Zoe Harcombe and Dr Caryn Zinn; leading to the comprehensive not-guilty judgment by Advocate Joan Adams and her committee.

In the book’s final third, I present the evidence that until very recently, perhaps as recently as 60 years ago, humans were much healthier than we are today. I show the key driver of our ill-health: the adoption of the high-carbohydrate diet, which the 1977 US Dietary Guidelines promoted, by persons intolerant to carbohydrates – which turns out to be the majority of humans.

In the final chapter, Sboros summarises the many and glaring “imponderables” that should have prevented this “hearing” from ever happening.

The book is about the distortion and corruption of science that has led to our current state of global ill-health. It provides clear scientific evidence of what we need to do to regain our formerly healthy state.

Book details

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Quality education begins at home: read Jenny Hobbs’s advice on fixing South Africa’s literacy crisis

“Education is the new weapon in the liberation struggle, and our youth must arm themselves with books.”
Adelaide Tambo


The literacy crisis among South Africa’s youth is worse than expected. It was recently announced that eight out of 10 grade four pupils still cannot ‘read at appropriate level’. Dr Nic Spaull of Sellenbosch University is quoted saying that an inability to read properly means ‘many pupils never get a firm grasp on the first rung of the academic ladder and fall further and further behind.’

Co-creator and former managing director of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (and author!), Jenny Hobbs, composed the following piece on the necessity of nurturing a love of reading among children, including helpful tips on encouraging a reading culture in South Africa:

Here’s the important thing about quality education: it starts with you, parents and caregivers, from the time babies are born. Talking and singing to them, giving them words and songs and stories, is the best way to ensure that they learn to talk and read confidently. These are the building blocks of education and success in life.

• Parents, gogos, caregivers and child minders: talk and sing often to babies and toddlers, passing on the magic of spoken words and singing.
• Speak from the beginning in your mother tongues, adding words and songs from other languages (especially English) as they grow. Languages are easily picked up by small kids and you will be giving them invaluable free skills.
• As soon as they can sit on your lap, tell them stories and read to them from books, magazines or catalogues, letting them turn the pages – however clumsily! – to discover the excitements on the next page.
• Encourage them to talk, chat and tell their own stories. Teach them the songs you sang and the games you played, family history and traditions. Children who own many words talk easily with friends and adults.
• Take them as young as you can to libraries to enjoy exciting, different books and choose some to bring home. Municipal and community libraries are free, and librarians are always ready to help with advice.
• Give children books as presents. Ask at the library for the late, great Chris van Wyk’s Ouma Ruby’s Secret, which tells the story of how his loving grandma bought him books in second-hand shops, always asking him to choose and then read them out loud to her. He only realised when he grew older that she couldn’t read – like so many elders who were denied education.

• Seeing parents read newspapers and books is inspiring for children. Keep books in your home and make reading a cool thing to do.
• All reading is good reading. Look for book sales and street vendors selling comics and well-priced picture and story books. Visit a library to access the online South African book sites for children and teens.
• Enrol children as soon as possible in early learning centres to expose them to new skills and the first formal steps to reading.
• Fight harder and more fiercely for schools with libraries that actively promote reading and a culture of independent learning.

Note: The government mandates weekly library lessons in schools which all receive library allocations, but random bookshelves are not enough. Libraries need assistants to help readers and control the books. For more information, see the downloadable school library booklet at

• Link older children and teens with the FunDza Literacy Trust for daily reading on their cellphones.
• Readers should recommend books they’ve enjoyed and circulate personal libraries in their communities. Record who has borrowed each book by taking a cellphone photo with them holding it.

Surely it’s time for VAT on books to be abolished – it’s a tax on learning!

Online sites for South African children’s & young adult books:

Book Dash:
Children’s Book Network:

11-year-old Lindiwe Makhoba from Mangaung, Bloemfontein, the 2017 winner of Nal’ibali’s annual Story Bosso contest


Quotes about reading to live by:

It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories. – Nelson Mandela

The key to a healthy society is a thriving community of storytellers. Stories are what really make us human. – Franco Sacchi

Reading books at home is an important part of the early development of children during which they confront in a pleasurable activity those human passions of love and hate, of ambition and desire, of change and hope. – Jonathan Jansen

If we want to break down barriers between ourselves across race, linguistic and cultural lines, we must promote reading. Fiction forces you to live in other people’s worlds. It develops our empathetic capacities … it can and does help to build bridges. Reading will help us to humanise each other. In a time of violence, we must spread the word about the power of books to make South African life a little easier. – Eusebius McKaiser

A book can change your life. You can read yourself out of poverty. – Annari van der Merwe

Books not only change the mind, they can change the course of society. – Jonathan Jansen

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture – just get people to stop reading them. – Ray Bradbury

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Giveaway! Win a copy of Storytime: 10 South African stories for children

BooksLIVE, in collaboration with Nal’ibali, will be giving away 10 copies of Storytime: 10 South African stories for children – and just in time for the impending 2018 school year!

The first Sunday Times Storybook was launched three years ago to allow children from disadvantaged backgrounds to experience the magic of stories, especially in their own languages. The Sunday Times has distributed two million copies of the first book in all 11 official languages free of charge to school, libraries and reading clubs across the country.

Storytime is a delightful collection of new stories by skilled writers such as Wendy Hartmann, Chris van Wyk, Maryanne Bester, Carole Bloch, Kagiso Legeso Molope, and Tuelo Gabonewe. Various illustrators contributed to the selection of enchanting stories, including Joan Rankin, Paddy Bouma, Shayle Bester, with a gorgeous cover by none other than Madam & Eve‘s Rico!

“We have been fortunate to work with a number of talented South African authors and illustrators in putting together this magical collection of stories. A treasured storybook can be just the thing to spark a love of reading in children and this is precisely our intention – to skill children to become readers for life,” comments Patti McDonald, publisher of Times Media Education’s supplements.

“Books and stories deepen our thinking and understanding by stretching our imagination while encouraging creative problem-solving. To have stories that our children can relate to in their home languages is an invaluable asset that we need to keep growing in our country,” adds Dr Carole Bloch, Director of PRAESA.

If you would like to receive a copy of Storytime, simply tell us why it’s so important to nurture a love of stories and reading among school children who have limited access to books. E-mail your answer to Patti (, and always remember the profound words of Nelson Mandela: “It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories.”

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Book Bites (3 December)

Published in the Sunday Times

My Absolute DarlingMy Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent, HarperCollins, R250

It wasn’t the repulsive violence of this novel that defeated me. By now everyone knows that it features incest between a father and his 14-year-old daughter. It was never going to be a comfortable read, but judging by the euphoric reviews one expected something trenchant and thought-provoking. Instead the characters are straight out of central casting — ghastly gun-toting father spouting undigested philosophy before raping his daughter; she the tough tomboy with little interiority; kindly grandfather, caring-but-puzzled teacher. Tallent ladles on description with a palette knife, perhaps in an attempt to lift it to the heights of “literary fiction”, but ultimately it’s a hollow, crassly prurient book. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The Dying Game
Asa Avdic, Penguin Books, R295

Set in 2037, a faceless government coldly manipulates its citizens into overworking at the expense of their personal lives. The central character is Anna Francis, emotionally damaged from a mission on the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. On her return to Stockholm she is promised freedom if she completes one final mission – a high-pressure exercise to test the character of citizens being vetted for a top-secret intelligence post. Anna must travel to an island with an alcoholic colonel, a shallow TV host, one of Sweden’s richest men, a hyper-sensitive HR specialist and a key figure from her past who she thought she’d never encounter again. On the first night she will fake her death then monitor the reactions of the candidates. This well-paced Scandi Noir will certainly keep most readers captivated until the final chilling scene. – Efemia Chela @efemiachela

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, R285

Hoffman’s prequel to her bestseller Practical Magic is the delightful backstory of the magical Owens sisters’ eccentric aunts, Jet and Frances, and their mysterious brother Vincent. It’s late ’50s New York and the three children are brought up in a strictly no magic house by their parents. But their power cannot be harnessed and when they find out who they are, disaster happens. They realise they can’t love without consequences due to an ancestral curse. A fantastical tale of doomed love. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

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A Twist in the Tail for township kids: Meet Chloe De La Harpe, children’s literacy activist and head of the ‘Story Tails’ initiative

Nal’ibali Column 19: Term 4. Originally published in the Daily Dispatch (4 December 2017) and Herald (7 December 2017)

By Carla Lever

Chloe De La Harpe

Tell us a little about the work you do.

I work with building remedial classes within schools and after school programmes with children in Imizamo Yethu: an informal settlement in the greater Hout Bay Valley in Cape Town. This year, we relocated into an informal crèche within the township itself. We focused on the 4-6 year olds with emergent literacy in isiXhosa. We work with two incredibly passionate isiXhosa-speaking local teachers, both of whom are currently studying through UNISA. We have found the children grasped the isiXhosa letters and sounds easily and at a wonderful speed. They’ll be entering school next year with a great foundation for literacy in their home language.

You’ve said before that your primary role as a teacher is to advertise books – enthusiastically and incessantly. Why is that?

I read a survey once that changed my life. It stated that the one factor that affects a child more than reading to them is living in a home where parents read for their own personal enjoyment. I’d never heard this before. I wanted to jump up in public and shout out loud! It was my ‘AHA moment’! Everything else in our life is marketed: clothes and technology and hair products, but reading is never marketed. I truly believe the saying that ‘no child is born a reader: an adult makes a child a reader’ and so it is our job, as an adult or teacher, to advertise books!

You bring such a range of creative approaches to learning activities – you make it a form of play. Tell us about some of those.

What we truly wanted to look at was how to create a desire to read – for a child to grow the motivation to pick up a book independently of being told to do it. So two ways we attempt this are through The Cocoa Club and Story Tails.

The Cocoa Club was a small, read aloud book club with blankets, pillows and hot chocolate among school-age kids. Club members got warm and comfortable and slurped noisily as all of us read aloud to each other. The feeling of exclusivity, of being part of ‘a family’ and sharing a safe space created the perfect environment, but it was the books donated to us by FUNDZA that really stole the show. Stories written by locals about local township experiences just amazed and hooked the students immediately! It was lovely to see a list of students wanting to be in the Cocoa Club grow and grow – I’m pretty devastated that we won’t have enough funding to carry this project on in 2018.

We will be carrying on our Story Tails project, though, and it’s a real winner! Students visit with the wonderful DARG animal shelter in Hout Bay and do facilitated story time with the cats and dogs, making the experience a real treat. Additionally, DARG selects special Reading Assistant Dogs which I take into one local primary school library to sit and listen to shy students read during story time. There’s no listener as non-judgemental as a dog and anxious students really respond to reading aloud to them! We are so grateful here to be donated books by the awesome Book Dash charity for this project, who have them in a fantastic range of languages.

So to look back on our goals: there’s a special experience, there’s a new association to reading and there’s the adult joining in by reading their own books alongside everyone else.

Where do you access new books? What resources do you make use of?

We have been hugely lucky to receive resources from Fundza, Book Dash, Word Works and much help from Shine on launching. I love the way all the projects share the same goal and same love!

Do you find that having access to books in the kids’ mother tongue makes a big difference in how they are able to engage?

I am a massive fan of mother tongue books and the need for mother tongue story time as early as possible. I personally have found they make a huge difference! I adore the childrens’ wonder, enjoyment and sparkle in their eyes. Every day I do this is rewarding.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

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Buy discounted Book Dash titles and donate to the SHINE Literacy Trust!

Via Book Dash

Have we got a festive season surprise for you!

Ten of your favourite Book Dash titles will be sold in top Woolworths’ stores for just R25 each, or R60 for three!

But that’s not all: even at that low price, for every book bought, another gets donated to the SHINE Literacy Trust to give to kids and caregivers involved in their programmes. That means that if you buy six books for just R120, six more get given to a kid who needs them. Isn’t that awesome? Look out for them in a store near you, and we thank you in advance for support!

As always, thanks to our amazing creative volunteers: you are at the heart of this organisation.

All income generated will be channelled into creating, translating and printing more free books for kids. And finally, to Woolworths for jumping on the Book Dash bandwagon: moving ever closer to our vision of every child owning a hundred books by the age of five! #bookdash #everychild #100books

The list of shops are, Western Cape: Constantia Village, V&A Waterfront, Tygervalley and Milner Road, KZN: Gateway, Westville Pavillion, Delcairn, Balito Lifestyle Centre, Mackeurtan Avenue, Lillies Quarter. Gauteng: Sandton City, Nicolaway, Norwood Mall, Lonehill, Hydepark, Maroun Square, Lifestyle Crossing, Kyalami Mall, Farrarmere and Meyersdal

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The Exclusive Books Christmas Catalogue is out and it’s edited by Nik Rabinowitz!

The Exclusive Books Christmas Catalogue is out and it’s edited by the hilarious Nik Rabinowitz!

[Extended laugh track]

If you don’t know what to get your loved ones for Christmas this year, or you already know that books make the best gifts and want to get books for everyone, but don’t know WHICH ONES TO GET, OR you want to get YOURSELF a book but are terrified of choosing because you’re the type of person who ALWAYS finishes a book so the pressure is high to get it right – then the Exclusive Books Christmas catalogue is the perfect guide to help you make that big decision. It might be the last big decision you make in a while.

[Knowing giggles bordering on crazed shrieks]

And to help you along the way, this year’s Exclusive Books Christmas Catalogue is edited by the one and only COMEDIAN NIK RABINOWITZ, who really took the time to read each book, and by each we mean almost none, in order to ensure that everything on the list was to his very specific and exacting standards. Nik is a silly man – and Jewish, for that matter – but rest assured the books in this Christmas catalogue are not silly, or Jewish, unless they were intended to be, in which case they are.

The catalogue is free, Fanatics members get double points on all books featured and there’s a word search that could win you one of ten R1000 vouchers or a hamper of books that will SOLVE ALL YOUR GIFTING DRAMA FOREVER. Or, at least until 2018. What’s not to like?

Get the Exclusive Books Christmas catalogue in stores now. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good book!

[Wild laughter and applause lasting 10 minutes]


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“Segal’s account compels because of its visceral honesty.” Terry Shakinovsky reviews Lauren Segal’s Cancer: A Love Story

Published in the Sunday Times

Cancer: A Love Story
Lauren Segal, MFBooks Joburg, R265

“If this book helps just one person cross an invisible line of terror in their lives, I will have succeeded,” says Lauren Segal. And succeed it does, because this four-time cancer survivor’s book extends beyond cancer and illness.

We read of a childhood “like The Sound of Music before the war”; we warm to the insouciant optimist more concerned with her student romance than a first diagnosis of cancer. Decades later, a third diagnosis of cancer threatens that ebullience and “I am a cancer factory” becomes the pitiless internal dialogue. We recognise the stricken descent into terror as a universal one with familiar markers: self-contempt, shame, recrimination. “I circle the question of blame like a vulture,” Segal writes.

The fight for resilience, to remain capable of both taking and giving love, becomes a map of terror. Segal’s account compels because of its visceral honesty: a list of concerns about a mastectomy includes, “My fears are irrelevant. I won’t be here. I am dying.”

It is not only dying that the author has to stare down. Segal’s needle phobia adds further torment to her chemotherapy. We marvel as she chooses the “immersion therapy” of acupuncture and are aghast when it goes wrong.

We laugh at the coffee girls’ pink feather fan; we relish the chicken soup and flowers; we note the self-help truths intoned by an American therapist on a Skype call.

There are practical tips about what helped Segal, like: “I use anger and fear to paper over the long dark void that is opening up inside me;” or “I have tools and resources to conquer my distress.” – Terry Shakinovsky @terry_shak

Book details

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Bridge Books publishes its first book!

The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus GarveyBridge Books, your go-to bookstore for new and second-hand African and South African books in downtown Joburg, has just published its first book, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey!

Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887. He became a leading pan-Africanist in the United States, where he urged black Americans to return to Africa and preached solidarity among blacks around the world.

In South Africa in the 1920s, Garveyism inspired early protests for the return of land from whites to its ancestral owners.

This collection of his writings and speeches is the first volume of his work compiled by his second wife, the pioneering black journalist and publisher Amy-Jacques Garvey.

Book details

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