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 Just accidentally discovered the existence of a novel in which 1930s Hollywood is hit with a plague of vampirism; and it's mainly told from the PoV of Oliver Hardy. Unfortunately the novel is in Italian, and the only English version appears to have simply been run through Google Translate, which does add to the weird dreamlike quality, but does nothing for the story's coherence:

The sound played by the orchestra light the dances' fuses. On the waiters' trays glass full of Gimlet and White Lady shined constantly.


Hollywood's most dangerous lips, housed between the nose and the chin of Louella Parsons, acted as the perfect gossip machine they were as soon as she noticed the presence of Mary Pickford, followed by her most gossiped brother, Jack.

"Interesting. Have you noticed her pants suit, Mr. Rock? It's black, a sign of mourning. I've heard from credible sources that our Mary is on the verge of retiring. And what do you say about the absence of her husband? A very bad move to swap him for that spineless brother of hers."


On the eve of her forties, America's former sweetheart had cut her blonde curls and dressed in black. She could be hardly recognized. Above her pale and rouge-touched face, she hid her darkly circled eyes behind a smoked glass. The fluid mess of her movements could have be deemed sensual, if it hadn't been so creepy.

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 I guess my informal New Year's resolution is to try to stand up for causes I agree with, as least so far as a person can with limited income and a spouse who can't leave the house most days.

I'm among those irritated by Simon and Schuster giving a book-deal to arch-troll Milo Yiannopoulos, and [community profile] thisfinecrew  makes the case that the best way to get a publisher's attention is snail-mail.

Simon & Schuster is already pitching the deal as a blow for freedom of speech, and in any case I often find myself loathe to base an argument on political opinion or even ethics, as the other person may not share mine or even have any. Instead I've decided to try the suggestion that giving a large advance to someone whose previous published work is full of plagiarized lines might not have been the wisest move, and that at the very least the editors are going to have to earn every penny of their paycheques. My printer isn't working, so I hand-wrote it, but that will probably add an extra bit of passive-aggression to the missive. 

To to be mailed out tomorrow when the post offices open, I guess.
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 Woke up very achy this morning, emailed work that I was taking a sick day, and at present am feeling better enough that as usually happens, I'm feeling a bit guilty about not having gone in.

Meanwhile, I've been searching Project Gutenburg for things to read: Monday evening and Tuesday during breaks I read one of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries, <I>The Key</I>; it's definitely a cosy, but Miss Silver is saved from being a mere knockoff of Miss Marple by the detail of being a full-time professional private detective. She makes her living at it. Previously she was a governess, and it's implied she can win over middle- and upper-class witnesses by reminding them of their childhood nannies, and working-class ones by coming off as the sort of not-quite-gentry, not-quite-commoner who has the inside track on gossip while "not being the sort you have to mind your Ps and Qs with." I suspect she also plays a bit older than she actually is.

This afternoon, by contrast I read Charles Williams' <I>The Place of the Lion.</I> Felt rather stupid for not guessing Williams was one of the Inklings until I looked him up afterwards. True, he wrote it before he met Lewis or joined his circle, but when a book's genre is described as "theological thriller" and the premise involves a breach in reality unleashing Platonic forms on a small prewar English village, where they run around absorbing/possessing people and things, it's a bit of a giveaway. Need to think about this one for a bit, but there's a half-dozen or so by the same author waiting to be read.
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         Book 10 -- Now with Even More War

Ch. I-XI: It’s 1812. Napoleon is scary. Prince Andrei wanders around the war, looking for Anatole so he can challenge him to a duel for having tried to seduce/abduct Natasha, but doesn’t find him. He does invent chaos theory.

Ch. XII-XV: Elsewhere in the War, Nicholai has his own young sidekick now (where’s Denisov?!) Also he captures an enemy officer with such ease that he feels really guilty and embarrassed when he’s awarded a medal for it.

Book 11:


(More seriously: the first half of this novel was a slog, but somewhere around Book Eight, all the plots that the author had spent hundreds of pages setting up began to finally pay off, and it’s been really good for the last while. Now to go find out who’s not dead.)

The End:


More seriously -- Even though Epilogue I could pretty much be read as "and most of the surviving characters got a reasonably happy ending," it depressed me for some reason, maybe because it ended abruptly and sort of anticlimactically and was followed by a second epilogue in which Tolstoy recaps all the abstract historical-theory parts of the novel; maybe because Natasha and Sonya's endings were "being happy being an ordinary matron" and "being happy being a doormat."
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Book 8, Ch. III
I think the Count Rostopchin who shows up here is a real person and the father of Sophie Rostophchine, la Comtesse de Segur, AKA the author of half the books I read in French Immersion.

Ch. V
Smarmy Boris marries Julie, who is basically a Goth, but very rich:

To Boris, Julie was particularly gracious: she regretted his early disillusionment with life, offered him such consolation of friendship as she who had herself suffered so much could render, and showed him her album. Boris sketched two trees in the album and wrote: "Rustic trees, your dark branches shed gloom and melancholy upon me."

On another page he drew a tomb, and wrote:

    La mort est secourable et la mort est tranquille.      Ah! contre les douleurs il n'y a pas d'autre asile.

Natasha meets her future sister-in-law and has a strained awkward conversation.

Ch. IX

The floor of the stage consisted of smooth boards, at the sides was some painted cardboard representing trees, and at the back was a cloth stretched over boards. In the center of the stage sat some girls in red bodices and white skirts. One very fat girl in a white silk dress sat apart on a low bench, to the back of which a piece of green cardboard was glued. They all sang something. When they had finished their song the girl in white went up to the prompter's box and a man with tight silk trousers over his stout legs, and holding a plume and a dagger, went up to her and began singing, waving his arms about.

First the man in the tight trousers sang alone, then she sang, then they both paused while the orchestra played and the man fingered the hand of the girl in white, obviously awaiting the beat to start singing with her. They sang together and everyone in the theater began clapping and shouting, while the man and woman on the stage—who represented lovers—began smiling, spreading out their arms, and bowing.


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 So, the wolf-hunting scene was… fairly horrifying. I can’t tell if Tolstoy meant us to go, “ugh, animal cruelty” or “yay, sport in the countryside.” Maybe the latter, because it starts off several chapters in which the Rostovs Do Traditional Stuff and Are Folksy and Russian Instead of Sophisticated and French.

 Interestingly, their traditions include both Christmas mumming and trying to fortell one’s future husband by looking in a mirror in a dark room, both of which I knew in western variants.

While they’re both  cross-dressed as part of the mumming, Nicholai suddenly remembers he’s in love with Sonya and proposes. Never let it be said this book goes for the obvious romantic cliché.

While the girls are fortune-telling with the mirror (still with mustaches drawn on their faces from earlier) Natasha asks Sonya to look on her behalf:

“Of course she will!” whispered Natasha, but did not finish… suddenly Sonya pushed away the glass she was holding and covered her eyes with her hand.

“Oh, Natasha!” she cried.

“Did you see? Did you? What was it?” exclaimed Natasha, holding up the looking glass.

Sonya had not seen anything, she was just wanting to blink and to get up when she heard Natasha say, “Of course she will!” She did not wish to disappoint either Dunyasha or Natasha, but it was hard to sit still. She did not herself know how or why the exclamation escaped her when she covered her eyes.

“You saw him?” urged Natasha, seizing her hand.

“Yes. Wait a bit… I… saw him,” Sonya could not help saying, not yet knowing whom Natasha meant by him, Nicholas or Prince Andrew.

“But why shouldn’t I say I saw something? Others do see! Besides who can tell whether I saw anything or not?” flashed through Sonya’s mind.

“Yes, I saw him,” she said.

“How? Standing or lying?”

“No, I saw… At first there was nothing, then I saw him lying down.”

“Andrew lying? Is he ill?” asked Natasha, her frightened eyes fixed on her friend.

“No, on the contrary, on the contrary! His face was cheerful, and he turned to me.” And when saying this she herself fancied she had really seen what she described.

“Well, and then, Sonya?…”

“After that, I could not make out what there was; something blue and red…”

This is kind of interesting, because if it does later turn out to be prophetic in some way, it would seem that the prophesy lies not in consciously seeing anything, but in what one’s mind prompts one to say about it afterward.

Oh, also Natasha is presently engaged to Prince Andrei, which is… either they’re perfect for one another or a hot mess, and no one (including themselves) seems to know which.

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 It’s, like, 1810 by now

Pierre is back together with Helene, though it’s a marriage in name only. Actually it seems to work better this way: she’s somehow got a reputation for being witty as well as beautiful, and he’s her quiet, good-natured husband. Actually he’s thinking about God and the meaning of life the whole time, but no one notices.

ETA – and, um, having somewhat erotic dreams about the head of the Masonic order.

“And he’s very nice, very, very nice. Only not quite my taste—he is so narrow, like the dining-room clock…. Don’t you understand? Narrow, you know—gray, light gray…”

“What rubbish you’re talking!” said the countess.

Natasha continued: “Don’t you really understand? Nicholas would understand…. Bezukhov, now, is blue, dark-blue and red, and he is square.”

“You flirt with him too,” said the countess, laughing.

“No, he is a Freemason, I have found out. He is fine, dark-blue and red…. How can I explain it to you?”

Natasha is synaesthetic, apparently.


Meanwhile, Berg & Vera’s relationship appears to be a happily awful one:

Berg smiled with a sense of his superiority over a weak woman, and paused, reflecting that this dear wife of his was after all but a weak woman who could not understand all that constitutes a man’s dignity, what it was ein Mann zu sein. * Vera at the same time smiling with a sense of superiority over her good, conscientious husband, who all the same understood life wrongly, as according to Vera all men did.

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OK, when it’s just Pierre and Andrei talking philosophy/religion, this story is pretty good.

”When returning from his leave, Rostov felt, for the first time, how close was the bond that united him to Denisov and the whole regiment.”

War & Peace: Friendship Is Magic

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So Pierre’s suddenly become a Freemason:

“Yes, that must be so,” thought Pierre, when after these words the Rhetor went away, leaving him to solitary meditation. “It must be so, but I am still so weak that I love my life, the meaning of which is only now gradually opening before me.” But five of the other virtues which Pierre recalled, counting them on his fingers, he felt already in his soul: courage, generosity, morality, love of mankind, and especially obedience—which did not even seem to him a virtue, but a joy. (He now felt so glad to be free from his own lawlessness and to submit his will to those who knew the indubitable truth.) He forgot what the seventh virtue was and could not recall it.

He’s really more into the initiation than the Masons conducting it, tho:

The bandage was taken off his eyes and, by the faint light of the burning spirit, Pierre, as in a dream, saw several men standing before him, wearing aprons like the Rhetor’s and holding swords in their hands pointed at his breast. Among them stood a man whose white shirt was stained with blood. On seeing this, Pierre moved forward with his breast toward the swords, meaning them to pierce it. But the swords were drawn back from him and he was at once blindfolded again.

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"Denisov! We're here! He's asleep," he added, leaning forward with his whole body as if in that position he hoped to hasten the speed of the sleigh.




She pulled up her muslin sleeve and showed him a red scar on her long, slender, delicate arm, high above the elbow on that part that is covered even by a ball dress.  "I burned this to prove my love for her. I just heated a ruler in the fire and pressed it there!"
Of Bolkonski, nothing was said, and only those who knew him intimately regretted that he had died so young, leaving a pregnant wife with his eccentric father.
WAIT is Prince Andrei dead after all I’m confused

Is *Dolokhov* dead?

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So far:

Book I, Ch. VI
– okaaaaayyyy, yeah, I think there’s some sibling incest being implied there….

Ch. IX

Ch XII — I… I’m going to need a spreadsheet to track all these characters, aren’t I?

- “The story told about him at Count Rostov’s was true. Pierre had taken part in tying a policeman to a bear.”
Also, I want to lock Anna Mikhaylovna and Miss Clack from The Moonstone in a room together and run far, far away.

Ch XXVI --“About Mikhelson’s army I understand–Tolstoy’s too… a simultaneous expedition….“ I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE COUNT

CH Whatever -- Does the Orthodox Church have convents? Because Princess Mary seriously needs to be in one, communing spiritually with some like-minded women, and does not need to be married off to some random guy so she can reform him. I’m already sure that’s not going to work out.


CH I -- Nineteenth century warfare is…. weird.

CH XX -- OK, Captain Tushin is *badass*:

"Amid the smoke, deafened by the incessant reports which always made him jump, Tushin not taking his pipe from his mouth ran from gun to gun, now aiming, now counting the charges, now giving orders about replacing dead or wounded horses and harnessing fresh ones, and shouting in his feeble voice, so high pitched and irresolute. His face grew more and more animated. Only when a man was killed or wounded did he frown and turn away from the sight, shouting angrily at the men who, as is always the case, hesitated about lifting the injured or dead. The soldiers, for the most part handsome fellows and, as is always the case in an artillery company, a head and shoulders taller and twice as broad as their officer--all looked at their commander like children in an embarrassing situation, and the expression on his face was invariably reflected on theirs."

Book 3

CH I -- 
Prince Vasili: Hm, Pierre is super-rich now. Gonna get him to marry my daughter.

Me, and the sensible part of Pierre’s brain:

CH VI -- It’s occurred to me just now that Pierre is more like the *heroine* of a 19th-century novel, in that he’s incredibly aware of, yet vulnerable to, social pressure; possibly because he grew up as the illegitimate son of a wealthy man, with no guarantee of inheriting anything, but at the same time without being able to train for a middle-class existence without scandalizing everybody.

Also, he pretty much feels like he *has* to marry Helene because he once had a sexual thought about her and now he feels like he doesn’t have the right to say no.

CH V --
YAY! Princess Marya just turned down Prince Anatole, which was absolutely the most sensible thing she could have done, and I’m cheering for her (even if she doesn’t realize what a jerk he is and thinks she’s nobly giving him up so Mlle. Bourienne can have him).
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So, I finally read Experimental Film: A Novel, today, and it's great, but a very weird experience. Apparently it's a truism that female writers have to cope with everyone assuming their work is autobiographical; except in this case it's partly right -- Gemma's made no secret that Lois, the narrator, is based on herself (or how she feels about herself when it's four in the morning and she can't sleep), and Lois' family are based on hers. Which, since I've met them all, makes it read sort of like fanfiction about real people I know. The first act, especially, is like everything I've heard her talk about in the past five years, condensed into a hundred pages. The big difference between Lois and Gemma is that the former doesn't have a career of fifteen-odd years as a fiction writer on her resume, and consequently with her other careers (film critic, teacher) having gone under (through no fault of her own,) feels like a failure.

I'd been looking forward to this book for a while, because I'd suspected that Gemma's horror and fantasy works aren't so much divergent streams of fiction, but the outcome of different story lengths: her short stories are horror because they end just as the protagonist sees what they're falling towards, while the Hexslinger trilogy gives the characters time to hit bottom and start climbing out of that hole and redeem themselves. I don't think Lois needs as much redemption as she thinks she does; unlike some other Files protagonists, she's never killed anyone.(1) Anyway, I still need some time to process this latest novel before I decide if my theory holds; also I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

1. She's not even involved in an underground necrophiliac puppetry ring (and I did wonder if "Ding Dong the Derry-O" is a children's show in this book's universe, but probably not, since Lois never lists it among the tv shows that filter into her son's echolalia.)
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Making Light had a sidebar link today to Shattersnipe’s post, Rebecca, Rowena, Puppies, Fanfic. When The Woman in White came up in the comments as another example of the Rebecca/Rowena trope (AKA interesting female supporting character vs really boring idealized female lead), I had to counter:

I felt that way when I first read it, but re-reading it a few years ago I was surprised to find Laura more interesting than I remembered — I think there are some very odd things going on under that bland beautiful surface: she’s not rebellious, but she’s fiercely principled. She refuses to go back on a promise made to her dying father no matter how little she wants to marry Sir Percival and how much Marion begs her to reconsider — but, the moment Sir Percival lets his mask slip and strikes her, she tries to get out of there, because her promise didn’t include staying with an abuser. (I also tend to read both her and Anne as autism-spectrum.)

Anyway, reusing that here that so I can discuss Wilkie Collins/Victorian heroines in my own space, if anybody wants to.
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San Francisco jeweller Alexander Eden, who's brokered the sale of a valuable necklace for Madame Sally Jordan of Honolulu, becomes suspicious when the purchaser, millionaire P. J. "The Plunger" Madden, suddenly calls and asks that the pearls be delivered to his ranch outside Eldorado, instead of his home address in New York. Det. Sgt. (not acting in his official capacity here) Chan, who couriered the necklace from Honolulu as a favour to Mme. Jordan, his former employer, concurs; and so Eden's son Bob travels to Eldorado, ostensibly to deliver the necklace, while Chan (who actually has it) works there undercover as a cook. At the ranch, Chan senses that something is not right, but with no obvious crime, he can't tell what. He convinces Bob to keep stalling while the two of them (quickly joined by local journalist Will Holley and movie-location scout Paula Wendell) investigate. At first the only murder victim is a parrot, but when the ranch's usual cook and caretaker Louie Wong returns unexpectedly, someone dispatches him as well...

Project Gutenberg has Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan novels, and I've just finished reading The Chinese Parrot (1926). It bolsters my (admittedly white, Canadian, and 21st-century) opinion that the novels are less problematic than the movies -- we don't have to see Chan played by a white actor in makeup, and his dialogue is a bit less stereotypical than in most portrayals. Biggers lampshades this by having the detective go undercover; as "Ah Kim," he affects a very heavy dialect and plainly feels humiliated at having to do so. I was thinking it would be interesting to see a modern adaptation with Keone Young or somebody, when I realized the real problem with adapting this novel:

(Spoilers for 89-year-old novel ahead)
Read more... )

You see, the plot turns on a case of impersonation: the real Madden appears in the opening chapter, but when we change locations to Eldorado an imposter has taken over. In a visual medium, you'd therefore need to either cast two different actors and risk the audience spotting the substitution, or one actor in a dual role and risk the audience feeling cheated. (Though having watched more than one season of Orphan Black, the latter trick might work with the right actor and a makeup artist who can create enough inconsistency between scenes to plant some subconscious doubt.)

In the text, OTOH, Biggers can do a beautiful job of misdirection while dropping enough hints to satisfy the golden-age-mystery rules of Fair Play. The physical descriptions of Madden constantly dwell on his red face (distinctive, and easy to fake); and at least twice someone states they "recognize him from photos in the newspaper;" in other words, from a grainy black-and-white photo that they don't actually have with them at the moment. Holley, who does recall meeting him years before, turns out to have met the imposter back when he was first pulling his con.

The main trick, however, was switching the POV without setting off alarm bells. It occurs to me that Fair Play is the reason mysteries use either first-person narration, or third-person-but-we-only-hear-one-character's-thoughts. In The Chinese Parrot, the POV character in the first two chapters is Alexander Eden;he third chapter POV is Chan; and chapters IV and onward are from the POV of Bob. Neither Bob Eden nor Chan were on the scene when the real Madden was introduced in chapter 1, but as the perspective shift falls into the natural flow of the story, it doesn't seem suspiciously forced. Furthermore it's soon forgotten in the bewildering crowd of incidents and characters. This is a novel with a large and vividly-described cast. I'm not sure it passes the Bechdel test, but even the female supporting characters include a Chinese-American telephone switchboard operator, a doctor running a desert sanatorium, and a stage performer who outwits Bob when she suspects he's trying to trick her into giving up information about her boyfriend; even Paula gets to advance the plot in at least one way besides being Bob's love interest. It's sort of depressing to write that sentence, and about a novel from the 1920s; maybe someone really should have a go at an adaptation.
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Andrew is listening to a recording of The Fireman, the novella Bradbury reworked into Fahrenheit 451. It already contains the fire chief's speech emphasizing what most people (including Bradbury sometimes) forgot about the story -- that reading had died out well before the government officially banned all books, though I remain irritated by the inference that it was largely "minorities" taking offense that got books banned one at a time until publishing and reading died out.

What gets me, though, is how much sympathy I have for Mildred, the fireman's wife, in this version. She's portrayed as dimwitted and conventional, of course, but being ordered by her husband, with threats, to read is not going to change that; and when, at the ringing of the telephone, she promptly breaks off into chatty conversation about the evening's tv, she's not being emotionally shallow so much as doing what she needs to do to deflect suspicion.

Basically I started to hope that if/when she finally did pick up a book, it'd be Betty Friedan and she'd be moved to dump Montag and go make a life on her own (actually Montag would probably be happier without her around anyway.)
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Siderea has been posting about Watership Down, specifically it theme of how to be King (in the Jungian archetypal sense, but also in the more literal sense, because Hazel actually does become Chief Rabbit.) This is pretty much tailored to appeal to me as a topic, as I loved that book as a child, as much for the story of Hazel doing his best to lead his people as for the immersive descriptions of landscape from ground level.
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When I was a kid, even though I generally enjoyed movies and plays, I always felt a sense of dread going into one, and left to my own devices I probably would have backed out. When I was in my twenties, I began to have trouble making myself read fiction — at the time, I thought it was a reaction to having majored in English; that *having* to read books had taken some of the joy out of it; but now I think that fear of being trapped in the audience and not being able to escape the story had begun to spread to the page as well. Since then, I occasionally go on a narrative binge, but I find more and more that I can only bear to read things like how-to guides or recipe books, in which there is no emotional conflict and no characters. This makes me feel like a hypocrite, because I was such an enthusiastic reader as a child, and because I still attempt to write stories myself. I just can’t deal with exposing myself to the pain of fictional narratives, though. When I read to escape I want to escape from emotion completely, not into other emotion.
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Today was our second year with a table at the Friends of the Merril Collection Science-Fiction and Anime Flea Market. As always it was held at the Metro Reference Library.

We brought a rollaway suitcase full of paperbacks, and a poseable 18-inch Hal Jordan, Green Lantern doll with cloth costume and light-up ring. There were many people with brightly coloured hair and anime t-shirts. Also a baby in a tiny knitted Jayne Cobb hat. An old man at the table across from ours was talking up the collectability of his vintage paperbacks, in a plaintive yet extremely loud voice. I tried to assume he was hard of hearing; Andrew just kept muttering under his breath about how his books were overpriced for the venue and he wasn't even grading them correctly. There's no sniping like geek sniping.

He eventually got to gloat that we were selling more books than his rival, as we sold all but four of the paperbacks. He'd originally marked the Green Lantern doll at $80, but sold it at half-price to the young man who was selling manga and video games at the table next to ours with his wife who was dressed as Pikachu. I picked up a copy of Nalo Hopkinson's Skin Folk, and some costume jewelry which included a large felt brooch shaped like a donut with embroidered sprinkles:
Loot from the Merril SF Flea Market

I see the Toronto Library System now runs a small press for people who want to self-publish; and their Digital Hub includes a 3D printer. They had a glass case full of examples of things they'd printed on it. All in all, a very successful day out.
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Andrew put on the movie of Moby Dick the other day, and for (embarrassingly) the first time it occurred to me that Queequeg not only foresaw his own death, but the sinking of the ship; he commissioned the water-tight "coffin" not for himself, but to save Ishmael.
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Les Silences du Colonel Bramble (The Silence of Colonel Bramble) and Patapoufs et Filifers (Fattypuffs and Thinifers) were both written by the same author (Andre Maurois).

That actually…. kind of makes sense now that I think about it.


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