Historical Novels Based on Real Lives

My Books

Flight of the Sparrow


Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson,Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meanings of freedom, faith, and acceptance.

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Mr. Emerson's Wife


This novel about Ralph Waldo Emerson's second wife, Lidian, examines the emotional landscape of love and marriage.  In the course of the book, Lidian deals with overwhelming social demands, faces devastating personal loss, and discovers the deepest meaning of love.

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Island Summer Love

Originally published in 1992, this light romance

In this light romance, first published in 1992, newly-engaged Allison Curtis accepts her best friend’s invitation to spend the summer with her on a picturesque island off the Maine coast. There she repeatedly crosses paths with a disturbingly handsome lobsterman who arouses her secret desires and intensifies all her doubts about the future.

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Strawberry Lace


Originally published in 1994, this light romance set in southern Maine begins when Chelsea Adams reluctantly agrees to cater a party for a wealthy and demanding woman.  Her problems multiply when she meets the employer's handsome son and is powerfully drawn to him despite her employer's threats. Will she choose a sensible prudence? Or will she follow the bewildering desires of her  heart?

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I Love Book Groups!

If you belong to a reading group or book club, consider choosing Flight of the Sparrow or Mr. Emerson's Wife as a selection.  Both novels come with a Reader's Guide the includes discussion questions and an author interview.  I've been honored to be a guest at many discussions of my novels by Skype, FaceTime, phone, and in person.   I'm always impressed by the insights and questions group members share.   Check out the pages on this website, and contact me.  I'll be happy to meet you -- through modern technology, or if I'm in the area, face-to-face.

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Flight of the Sparrow

On a bitter winter morning in 1676, the Puritan minister's wife, Mary Rowlandson, is captured by Indians.  Her home destroyed and her children lost to her, she becomes a pawn in the bloody struggle between English settlers and the indigenous people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, she witnesses harrowing brutality, but also unexpected kindness. 

To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.

Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meanings of freedom, faith, and acceptance.

A reader's guide and author interview are included in the book.


Praise for Flight of the Sparrow

Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice

"In this amazingly written and deeply researched book, Amy Belding Brown delivers 17th-century Massachusetts to the reader with a prose that springs from the page and wraps you in wonder. Flight of the Sparrow showcases the author’s imagination bound by her dedication to historical fact. Her writing engages with a passion and longing as Rowlandson struggles with a life she desires living in the woods with the Indians or reverting to a subservient Puritan wife and mother. As Mary tells her husband, “The truth is… that my time in the wilderness has changed me. Forever.” And so will you be. This is a book for both readers of literary fiction as well as those who love a well-researched work of historical fiction."

Library Journal Starred Review

"Brown has written an engaging and enjoyable novel based on solid research. Students of history may be put off by the trappings of a romance in the story line but will value the authentic representation of early Colonial America and the more sympathetic portrait of Native Americans that is lacking in James Alexander Thom's similar Follow the River."—Cheryl Bryan, Orleans, MALibrary Journal Booksmack! LJXpress Prepub School Library Journal Horn Book Guide Horn Book Magazine Junior Library Guild

RT Book Reviews

“Brown retells the actual events surrounding Mary Rowlandson’s abduction to expose the difficult role of women in colonial Puritan society, explore Mary’s quest for freedom and offer a fuller understanding of her faith.  She eloquently allows Mary’s story to unfold, while ransporting the reader into the rigid world of the Puritans and juxtaposing that with the more natural life of the Native Americans.  Brown’s story is as much inspirational as it is historical, and more intriguing because it is true.” 

Elliot Pattison

"Flight of the Sparrow is a fresh, engaging chronicle of the human heart that breathes life into a vital but oft-neglected chapter of our history.  Amy Belding Brown has turned an authentic drama of Indian captivity into a compelling, emotionally gripping tale that is at once wrenching and soulful."  - Eliot Pattison, author of the Mystery of Colonial America series.

Donna Thorland

"A mesmerizing tale of survival and awakening. Flight of the Sparrow breathes life into Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative.  The deftly depicted cross cultural friendship reminded me of Caleb's Crossing and the fast-paced story kept me turning pages.  Belding Brown has crafted a fine-limned portrait of a remarkable and resourceful woman." - Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat and The Rebel Pirate.

Goodreads Reviews

"TEN STARS to Amy Belding Brown's Flight of the Sparrow. Couldn't put it down. For the past several years I have felt that every book tells the same old sad stories just cast with characters of different names/descriptions. . ."


COLLISIONS: A Companion Blog to Flight of the Sparrow

Recommended reading

The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict by Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias 

The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England  by Diane Rapaport

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

The Mayflower Papers: Selected Writings of Colonial New England by Nathaniel Philbrick and Thomas Philbrick

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

John Eliot's Mission to the Indians before King Philip's War by Richard W. Cogley

Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America by Virginia DeJohn Anderson

Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America by Kathleen M. Brown

Indians of the Nipmuck Country in Southern New England 1630-1750: A Historical Geography by Dennis A. Connole

Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England by Bruce C. Daniels


Links to More Information

Video Dramatization


Katie Green, Storyteller, does a 15 minute dramatic portrayal of Mary Rowlandson.

Mary Rowlandson's Narrative


Searchable Text of Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of Her Captivity.

Plymouth Plantation

Living History Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Natick Praying Indians


The Story of the Praying Indians of Natick, from the 17th century until today.

The Story of Deer Island


Historian Jill Lepore's article on Deer Island and King Philip's War.

Nipmuc Nation


The website for Today's Nipmuc Nation

Flight of the Sparrow is on the Penguin Random House list of Best Historical Novels!

Go to Website

Flight of the Sparrow is available at:


Mr. Emerson's Wife

In this novel about Ralph Waldo Emerson's wife, Lidian, Amy Belding Brown examines the emotional landscape of love and marriage. Living in the shadow of one of the most famous men of her time, Lidian becomes deeply disappointed by marriage, but consigned to public silence by social conventions and concern for her children and her husband's reputation. Drawn to the erotic energy and intellect of close family friend Henry David Thoreau, she struggles to negotiate the confusing territory between love and friendship while maintaining her moral authority and inner strength. In the course of the book, she deals with overwhelming social demands, faces devastating personal loss, and discovers the deepest meaning of love. Lidian eventually discovers the truth of her own character and learns that even our faults can lead us to independence.


Praise for Mr. Emerson's Wife

“This is the book I longed to read. It is the story of Lidian, the fascinating woman who was loved insufficiently by Emerson and perhaps too much by Thoreau. Amy Belding Brown has brought her back to life in a novel that glitters with intelligence and authenticity.” ―Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders and March

“In this extraordinary book, Amy Belding Brown has brought the 19th century to life. We may think of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family and friends as static daguerreotypes, but in this story they lightly spring off the page with all the inconvenient desires and ambitions that are the texture of our own lives. A soaring imaginative leap, this book combines detailed history with a page-turning illicit love story. It's a look at a rich moment in American History and a great read, a rare combination.” ―Susan Cheever, author of My Name is Bill and Note Found in a Bottle

“Brown's writing is graceful, at times giving Lidian a poetic voice….In an age when scholarly biographers meticulously document every detail in the actions and settings of their subjects, Brown has escaped to the freedom of fiction to suppose ‘what might have been.'” ―Christian Science Monitor

“Amy Belding Brown's novel is a beautiful work that renders effortlessly the sentiments and sensuousness of a woman who is, to use Ms. Brown's own terms, "at war with herself, a woman of opposites who yearns to reconcile her mental acuity with her emotional sensitivity." The spiritual, emotional and intellectual lives she is after illuminating for us are wonderfully ambitious, and it is quite refreshing to see that ambition backed up with a quality of writing that bears up to the weight of its subject matter.” ―Bret Lott, author of the bestseller and Oprah-pick Jewel

Mr. Emerson's Wife engages with intelligence and passion the mind of Lidian Emerson and what is found are the staggering daily compromises and 

frustrations of an intellectual 19th century woman. Bless all the conflicted freedoms she sought and bless too Amy Belding Brown for delivering us a robust novel that situates itself with grace and struggle in feminine consciousness among the Concord men.” ―Victoria Redel, author of Loverboy

“Where historians dare not go, Amy Belding Brown's imagination takes us in this fictional story of "Mr. Emerson's Wife" and she takes us in a vessel securely crafted from historical fact. She fills in the dark gaps of history with vivid imagination, and she does it without violating a single historical fact. Her powerful story telling allows us to see and understand a chapter in the making of America that all the biographies of Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and the Alcotts can only hint at. I don't know who to celebrate more, the resurrection of Lidian Emerson or Amy Belding Brown's ascent to the first ranks of historical fiction.” ―Wallace Kaufman, science writer and author of Coming Out of the Woods: The Solitary Life of a Maverick Naturalist

“Everyone who has ever entered into marriage with expectations that aren't met will be touched by this portrait of Lidian Jackson Emerson whose life was fixed on coupled stars: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Mrs. Emerson ultimately enters a terrain beyond duty and romance which is carved from years of hurt, loneliness, sterility of affection and the temptation to find love beyond the bounds of her promise. Finally understanding that "disillusion is the nature of marriage," she discovers the strength to live the life she was given rather than the life she once thought she must have.” ―Phyllis Barber, author of How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir


More About Lidian

Lidian Jackson Emerson was married for forty-seven years to one of the most famous philosophical and literary figures in American history. As Ralph Waldo Emerson's second wife, she bore and raised his four children, managed his house and entertained his many guests with her remarkable wit and intelligence, yet she remains in the shadows of history while her friends Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau enjoy universal interest and praise.  


There are several possible reasons why Lidian has been overlooked.  The most obvious is her husband's monumental reputation.  Emerson was extraordinarily famous in his own day, friends with the best-known intellectual lights of his

generation, he corresponded with philosophers and scholars around the world, counseled Presidents, mentored a generation of reformers, and wrote essays and books that profoundly influenced the American viewpoint in the world.  Another possible reason is that the Emerson's marriage was a rocky one.  Although the first few years were happy enough, they grew apart after the birth of their first son, Waldo. 

By the early 1840's Emerson was already writing critiques of marriage in his journal. The emotional distance between them grew with Emerson's fame and influence. 

Were there other reasons? Was Ellen, the Emerson's oldest daughter, a life-long and rather conservative spinster, partly responsible for Lidian's slighted reputation? At this historical distance it's hard to know for sure, but the facts of the case encourage speculation.  

Born on September 20, 1802 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the fifth child of Charles and Lucy [Cotton] Jackson, Lydia Jackson was one of three children who survived into adulthood. Her older sister, Lucy, was abandoned by her husband in 1834, leaving her to care for her two young children, Frank and Sophia. Lydia's younger brother, Charles Thomas Jackson, would become of the most highly respected physicians in New England. He would spend many years of his adult life embroiled in controversies over the invention of the surgical use of ether, and the development of the telegraph-both ideas which he claimed to have authored but for which he was never given proper credit. 

Lidian married Ralph Waldo Emerson on September 14, 1835, in the parlor of the family home overlooking Plymouth Harbor. Now the headquarters of The Mayflower Society, Winslow House, as it was called in Lidian's day, was one of the most impressive homes in Plymouth. Originally built by Edward Winslow, the great-grandson of Governor Winslow, it had been purchased by Lidian's grandfather in 1782. Lidian was born and raised there until the age of sixteen, when the deaths of both parents within a few months forced her to move in with relatives. It was still the family home, however, and later was to become the residence of Dr. Charles T. Jackson, Lidian's younger brother.  

This marriage was Emerson's second. His first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, died of tuberculosis at the age of 19, only eighteen months after they were wed. Emerson, deeply in love with Ellen, continued to carry a torch for the rest of his life. Lidian had not been particularly interested in marriage before she met Emerson. At 32, she was well-established as an intellectual and charitable woman in Plymouth, one of the new lights who sought reforms to both church and society. She had settled comfortably into the life of maiden aunt to Lucy's two children, Frank and Sophia Brown by the time she met Emerson. Though she was four years younger than her sister, Lidian was nevertheless possessed of unusual confidence and certitude and took on the role of provider and protector. She became well known in Plymouth as a graceful, charitable woman who took particular joy in her garden. She was also known for her sharp wit and contentious nature. She loved nothing better than a vigorous debate. Though she tried to tame this side of herself, it impressed many, and she was favorably compared with her friend and contemporary, Margaret Fuller. She was a reformer and activist by nature, horrified by slavery, appalled by the treatment of Native Americans, and deeply sensitive to the welfare of animals. She spent years vigorously prevailing upon her famous husband to take a public stand on her causes. 

Immediately after the wedding, Lidian and Emerson moved to Concord, where she saw her new home for the first time. An L-shaped clapboard building situated on the Cambridge Turnpike at the eastern end of town, the house had been built seven years before by a Mr. Coolidge, and was known in Concord as "Coolidge Castle." The Emersons later renamed it "Bush." As soon as they settled in, the Emersons hired carpenters to expand the house, adding two large rooms (one upstairs and one down) to the back of the house, turning the L into a square. These rooms were to be the apartment for Charles Emerson and his fiancée, Elizabeth Hoar, after their marriage. Charles, Emerson's youngest brother, was studying for the law in Concord and the two men planned to live together as an extended family. Tragically, Charles died of tuberculosis in May of 1836, less than a year after Lidian and Emerson were married. Elizabeth Hoar was devastated and never married, though she continued to remain so close to the Emerson family that she was regarded as "Aunt Lizzie" by the Emerson children. 

 The Emersons had four children: Waldo, born on October 30, 1836; Ellen, born February 24, 1939; Edith, born November 22, 1841; and Edward, born July 10, 1844. The oldest child, Waldo-a charming and intelligent boy-contracted scarlet fever in January, 1842, and died tragically at the age of five. The Emersons' marriage, which had weathered the usual tensions with the coming of children and had been complicated by a deepening split in religious viewpoint, was dealt a blow in little Waldo's death from which the relationship never fully recovered.  Emerson retreated into his writing and increasingly demanding lecture schedule, while Lidian withdrew into a prolonged and lonely bereavement.  She had her house and children to attend, including the infant Edith, but nothing could lift the terrible burden of her grief.    

In April of 1841, Emerson had invited Henry David Thoreau to live with the Emerson family.  In exchange for room and board, Thoreau agreed to act as handyman and gardener. This was a good situation for both parties, for Emerson was notably inept with a hammer and shovel, and Thoreau needed a quiet place to write, away from the noise and confusion of his mother’s boarding house.  The routine of the household was unusual for the time – visitors commented on the strange way the different household members dispersed after breakfast on solitary tasks.  Lidian’s and Thoreau’s duties must have coincided and thrown them together often.  It’s very likely that their strong friendship developed at this time.  They shared a passion for abolition and a concern for animals.  The two particularly enjoyed discussing philosophy and religion.  Lidian was known in her own day as a lively debater, and no doubt Thoreau enjoyed the exchanges immensely.  

In early January of 1842, two weeks before Waldo passed away, Thoreau’s older brother, John, died of lockjaw.  Thoreau was devastated and developed what was probably a psychosomatic case of lockjaw.  By the time he had recovered, Waldo Emerson was dead.  In the weeks and months that followed, in the course of the normal Emerson household routine, Lidian and Thoreau spent many hours together, and almost certainly shared their grief with each other.  They almost certainly provided support and sympathy for each other, which strengthened their relationship.  

In 1843, Emerson arranged for Thoreau to tutor his nephews, the sons of William and Susan Emerson, on Staten Island, New York.  In a cryptic comment to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson noted that Thoreau’s presence in the Emerson home had become “an inconvenience.”  Thoreau apparently had some ambivalence about his move – though he wanted to explore the world of New York publishing, he was reluctant to leave Concord.  His sojourn on Staten Island did not last long. He was back in Concord by mid-December of that year, living once again in his mother’s boarding house. 

The Emerson’s last child, Edward Waldo Emerson, was born in July 1844, a large, full-term baby.  By this time, Emerson’s lecture schedule required him to be often away from home, sometimes for weeks at a time, forcing Lidian to take on the responsibilities of the financial management of the family. She was often ill, perhaps because of the twin stresses of trying to fulfill her tasks, and preserve what was clearly a troubled marriage.  A perfectionist, she saw one of her chief responsibilities as playing hostess to the endless stream of visitors.  Margaret Fuller was a frequent visitor and sometimes stayed with the Emersons for more than a month, residing in the “Red Room,” a handsome guest room across the hall from Emerson’s study.  Lidian was an admirer of Margaret Fuller, and had attended her "Conversations” in Boston and had even been favorably compared to her in the past, but sometimes felt shut out by Fuller’s close friendship with Emerson.

By 1847 the Emerson marriage was severely stressed.  Emerson, whose fame had risen dramatically in the preceding years, decided to accept Thomas Carlyle’s invitation to lecture in Europe and arranged for passage to England in the early fall of 1847.  At Lidian’s request, he asked Thoreau to leave his cabin at Walden Pond and move into the Emerson house again.  Thoreau agreed to help manage the house and took up residence a few weeks before Emerson’s departure.  During the ten months of his absence, Thoreau acted as Lidian’s chief assistant.  He helped her manage Emerson’s financial affairs, maintained the house and gardens, and helped care for the children.  Some letters from Thoreau to Emerson at this time indicate some annoyance toward Emerson on Thoreau’s part – whether it was caused by Emerson’s inattention to Lidian, who was ill with jaundice for much of that time, or some other circumstance, is speculation.  There is a poignant and pointed passage in one of Thoreau’s letters in which he describes little Eddy (who was three at the time) asking Thoreau if he would be his father.  Was this bit of reportage intended to hurt Emerson?  

After Emerson’s return to Concord in late July of 1848, there was a subtle but important shift in the Emerson marriage.  They seemed to settle down, and no longer played as many visitors or invited them to stay the night.  Thoreau left the Emerson residence immediately upon Emerson’s return and the friendship between the two men was noticeably strained afterward.  Though they still saw each other frequently, and Thoreau still came and went in the Emerson house as if he were family, there was a palpable tension between them.  They no longer walked together, and Thoreau turned to an in-depth study of nature.  

On July 19, 1850, Margaret Fuller drowned with her husband, Count Ossoli, and their 20 month old son in a shipwreck off Fire Island in New York. She was returning to the United States with a manuscript of her experiences in the Italian uprisings. When Emerson learned of her death he was devastated, and began almost immediately to work on a book memorializing her. 

Though there is no documented evidence that the Emersons ever housed slaves during the Underground Railroad, Lidian and Emerson signed a paper in 1854, declaring that they would ot turn away a refugee from slavery, should one appear at their door.  They hosted John Brown on a fund raising tour of New England in 1857.  Lidian was a assionate advocate of abolition and when Brown was executed in December of 1859, she attended the vigil ceremony in Concord that had been organized by Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau.  The Civil War began in 1861, and Lidian believed Emancipation would follow.   She was, however, reluctant to allow her

son, Edward, to join the army, for he was young and had recently suffered a

serious bout of typhoid fever. 

In the winter of 1862, Emerson traveled to Washington where he met and talked with Abraham Lincoln.  In May of that year, Thoreau died in his home of tuberculosis. Emerson took over the funeral arrangements, and also persuaded Sophia Hawthorne to loan him Thoreau’s journals, which he spent the next month reading.  He arranged to have the funeral in the church, over the objections of some of Thoreau’s friends, who knew of Thoreau’s aversion to the institutional church.  Emerson gave the funeral oration, and soon expanded the speech into an essay, which was published in The Atlantic Monthly.  

In 1865, Edith Emerson married William Hathaway Forbes. The Emersons’ first grandchild, Ralph Emerson Forbes was born the next year.  Edith was the only daughter to marry.  Ellen, named for Emerson’s beloved first wife, dedicated her life to the care of her parents, and served as traveling companion and aid to her father. 

In June of 1872, a fire broke out in the attic of the Emerson home.  The only people at home that night were Waldo and Lidian, but they escaped safely, and neighbors soon came to help battle the blaze.  

When the fire was finally extinguished, it was clear that much of the house was in ruins.  It would have to be restored.  Money was raised and so much was given that there was enough for Emerson to travel abroad once more.  This time he went with Ellen, who by then was a necessary adjunct in his lectures and writing.  Emerson, sadly, was falling into dementia, and often had problems recalling the names of familiar objects.  Lidian, who never traveled with Emerson, stayed with their daughter Edith while Emerson was abroad and the house was being restored.

As Emerson deteriorated, Lidian became healthier and stronger.  She began to go out more, and became more noticeably social.  In 1881 she danced at Ellen’s 42nd birthday ball. At the age of 85, she attended the Concord School of Philosophy. Emerson died on April 27, 1882.  His son, Edward, a medical doctor, administered ether in his last hours to relieve his pain.  From that day on, Lidian kept a lamp burning in Emerson’s study as a memorial. She lived for 10 more years, and died peacefully in her bed on November 13, 1892 at the age of 90.


Mr. Emerson's Wife is available at


Light Romances

Island Summer Love


Allison Curtis knows she’s the luckiest woman in New England when she accepts the proposal of the wealthy and charming bachelor, Cabot Wilder. But when his socialite mother insists on planning the fall wedding, Allison accepts her best friend’s pleas to spend the summer with her on picturesque Harper’s Island, off the Maine coast. There she’ll be able to relax and calm her pre-wedding jitters.

But from the moment of her arrival, Allison’s days are anything but calm. She repeatedly crosses paths with the disturbingly handsome lobsterman, Brent Connors, who arouses her secret desires and intensifies all her doubts about the future. And when Cabot makes a surprise visit to the island, Allison is forced to choose between her longings and her loyalties.

Originally published in 1992, this light romance is now available for the first time in ebook and trade paperback.

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Strawberry Lace


When Chelsea Adams agrees to cater Muriel Winter’s Independence Day party, she has mixed feelings. She’s eager to widen her company’s clientele in southern Maine, but it’s hard to hide her distaste for her wealthy employer’s condescending elitism. Chelsea’s problems multiply when she meets Muriel’s handsome son, Jeff Blaine, and finds she must struggle to resist the powerful longings he awakens in her. Muriel soon detects the chemistry between them and makes it clear she’ll destroy Chelsea’s business if she shows any interest in Jeff.

To regain control of her turbulent feelings, Chelsea spends her off-hours with long-time friend Stuart Potter, a down-to-earth lobsterman. When Stuart surprises her by proposing marriage, Chelsea accepts in the belief it will resolve her problems and stabilize her life.

But Chelsea’s emotions are not to be tamed with an engagement ring. When circumstances repeatedly bring her into contact with Jeff, she’s forced to decide: Will she choose a sensible prudence? Or will she follow the bewildering desires of her incautious heart?

Originally published in 1994, this light romance is now available for the first time in ebook and trade paperback.

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