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In 1321, the English town of Ulewic teeters between survival and destruction, faith and doubt, God and demons. Against this intense backdrop, a group of women have formed a beguinage, a self-sustaining community of women. Led by the strong-willed Servant Martha, these women are committed to a code of celibacy and prayer, hard work and charity that is unsanctioned by the all-powerful church. Still, the villagers have come to rely on this remarkable group of women for their very lives. And seeking shelter among them now is the youngest daughter of Ulewic’s lord, a man who holds power over them all.

But when a series of natural calamities strikes, the beguinage’s enemies make their move, stirring the superstitious villagers with dark rumors of unspeakable depravities and unleashing upon the defiant all-female community the full force of their vengeance in the terrifying form of the Owl Killers. Men cloaked in masks and secrecy, ruling with violence and intimidation—the Owl Killers draw battle lines. In this village ravaged by flood and disease, the women of the beguinage must draw upon their deepest strength if they are to overcome the raging storm of long-held secrets and shattering lies.
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on Sep 29, 2009
ISBN: 9780440338888
List price: $11.99
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This story takes place in England in the year 1321. It is also set literally and metaphorically in the Dark Ages.A group of women have set up a commune near an village somewhere in Norfolk. They are self-sufficient and although they help the villagers with food and medical assistance,they are resented by the locals.A mysterious group who are known as the Owl Masters hold the locals in fear and additional threats come from the Church and the local nobility. Within the commune itself rifts appear and the break-up of the group becomes more and more certain as heresy is suspected within.Not a happy tale,but a very readable one. As with Karen Maitland's other book (Company of Liars) she ends with Historical notes which tell the reader that each story is based on a set of facts.read more
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Set in medieval England this book takes you into the countryside where villagers lived a hard life - oppressed by the church and the wealthy, and battling the elements to survive. I loved the detail about this period, and the book made me feel as though I was there. Quite horrific and chilling in parts it gripped me all the way. Highly recommended.read more
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Set in the English village of Ulewic (fictional, but placed somewhere near Norwich) in 1321-22, The Owl Killers is the story of a village fighting against forces both known and unknown. At the story’s center is the town’s beguinage, a community of women originally from Bruges who came to England to lead lives independent of marriage or the convent. When the town suffers from flood and plague, and the women are unaffected, the people in the town start to suspect them of harboring a holy relic. Meanwhile, the village is controlled by a group of men called the Owl Masters and haunted by the specter of the Owlman, who delivers nothing but death and destruction to the places and people he visits.The story is narrated by a number of characters, including the beguinage’s leader, Servant Martha; the angry and bitter beguine named Beatrice; the town’s self-righteous priest, Father Ulfrid; Osmanna, daughter of the lord of the manor who is sheltered by the beguines; and one of the village children. The novel contains a curious and intriguing combination of pagan belief and Christianity, witchcraft and superstition. I don’t normally read books with supernatural themes, but The Owl Killers grabbed me from page one and refused to let me go. One of my favorite things about this book is the characters; each narrator has their own strong, unique voice (my favorite was the sensible, practical Servant Martha). Maitland shows the middle ages as they really were, and she does so perfectly. Maitland delivers the symbolism a little heavy-handedly (of the “a candle blows out and someone dies” variety), but I nevertheless enjoyed this novel. Read it, and you’ll never feel the same way about owls or men in masks again.read more
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It is 1321 and England is in the grip of a famine. A group of women, beguines from Flanders and a few locals, have established their place of refuge outside the village of Ulewic in rural Norfolk, and tensions with the villagers increase after they defy the local priest in a number of disputes. With their prayers not being answered, the population turns to some old, pagan, beliefs but they only manage to unleash a demon.Karen Maitland has already established herself as one of my favourite authors with Company of Liars and The Falcons of Fire and Ice with her masterful art of storytelling and atmosphere, as well as tackling topical ideas cloaked in the disguise of a historical novel. As in Falcons, Karen Maitland pitches the doctrine of the established Church against other forms of belief, in this case the old pagan traditions, the simpler faith of the beguines and the villagers’ superstitions. It is mysterious and filled with a dark sense of foreboding, suspenseful and terrifying in equal measures. The voices of the five narrators are discrete and distinct, entirely believable throughout, and you feel for each of them in turn. The whole book is brimming with evocative and atmospheric details that bring home the harsh realities of living in the 14th century, with a clear sense of the hardship, social order and mixture of religious faith and superstitions, yet it also manages to explore notions of free will and being different that still have resonance today. Highly recommended.read more
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I think this might be my favourite of Karen Maitland's books so far -- I definitely liked it more than The Gallows Curse, although it didn't grip me as tightly as Company of Liars. I have nothing really to nitpick about here, though: the five POVs were well done and cast interesting lights on each other, and I love the research Maitland clearly put into it. The very concept of a beguinage is pretty fascinating, so that helps, but the way Maitland brought this one to life -- and tried to explain a real historical event through it -- is even more so. I've always loved historical novels that take something we know (a wingless Roman Eagle was found buried in Silchester, and Rosemary Sutcliff wrote The Eagle of the Ninth to explain it, for example) and try to puzzle out why. Karen Maitland explores why the beguinages failed to take root in Britain, despite some evidence of them existing here, and despite their longevity and appeal on the continent.

As with her other books, she evokes the Middle Ages well -- the smells, the sounds, the sights. Perhaps a little predictably, I suppose: she gives us the vision of the Middle Ages we expect, dirt and plagues and superstition, but still. She does her work well.

I suppose I do have one nitpick, and that's the POV of Pisspuddle, which doesn't add much. It does add a villagers-eye view, so there's that, but mostly she's just a small child who doesn't matter that much to the events happening around her.

The characters are all intriguing: I really felt for Osmanna, and for Servant Martha, particularly. I felt very sorry for Beatrice, even though I knew she was seeing things from a very biased point of view. And Healer Martha deserved better.

Oh yes, and trigger warning: rape, abusive parents, sickness. More or less what you might expect, but just in case.read more
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A fantastic page turner. Highly recommended. Life like characters which are well built through the whole book. Written with such poignancy that it is a whirlwind of emotions. I have now read all books by this Author (who also aliases as Karen Mailman), and she now rates among my favourites. We need more!! Please” bring it on”read more
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This is an excellent read. The plot is strong, the research thorough and the descriptions so good, you can smell the filth and hear the rumbles in the bellies of the the starving villagers. Extraordinary!read more
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I loved Company of Liars, Karen Maitland's previous book about the Middle Ages. This one just didn't hook me. I found the characters almost entirely unsympathetic or unlikable, and the setting incredibly bleak. For me that made it difficult to get through. That said, Maitland does have an eye for the Middle Ages and her use of multiple narrators is a nice touch. It's probably worth a read, but not my cup of tea. Company of Liars is a far better book.read more
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For me, this just didn't live up to my expectations.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the second Medieval historical novel I have read by this author. In a number of places, it feels more like fantasy or horror, rather than historical fiction, as there are unexplained supernatural events and it almost feels timeless, there being very few references to events in the outside world, other than generically. One of the very few exceptions is an anachronism, a mention of the notorious alleged way in which King Edward II was murdered in 1328 - but the novel is set in 1321-2. The author describes very well the sights, atmosphere and, in particular, the smells, of a Medieval village. Almost all the villagers are very unsympathetic characters; in the first half, the village priest was fairly sympathetic, showing concern for his poor parishioners against their oppressive masters, but then turning to the bad in the second half, albeit arguably under almost intolerable pressure. The beguines were an interesting movement, of which I had not previously heard, much less well known that the Cathars, for example.read more
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Set in the mid-14th century, this is of an isolated village in England, where the old religion hasnt quite been usurped by Christianity. The obligatory witch lives on the edge of town, the gargoyles on the church are still a little too paganistic for some and the "outlanders" are still to be suspected. These outlanders include the Squire and his family, who is still despised after generations living there. The Beguines - a group of women who are near nun-like in their vows to the Church, but work in the community - are also outsiders, and are to be suspected even more when their crops dont fail and their livestock dont succumb to a local disease.The priest has been sent down from Norwich to serve penance for doing more than breaking his vow of chastity.Told in various different voices this is a page turning read and only took a few days to finish. There were a couple of characters who you did wonder what they were there for apart from showing what life was like back then (e.g. the leper, the two children who lost their mother in a flood). I also thought that the battling against the owl master by the Servant Martha at the end was just a little too.....simple? easy? I dont know...read more
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Entertaining, yet odd book, about a village steeped in superstition, the corruption of those in power and the distrust of outsiders. Parallels can be drawn with society today, quite easily. A lot of people probably won't like this because its characters are not particularly loveable, all manner of horrible things happen and life is grim. But it's for those reasons that I enjoyed it. The sections narrated by Beatrice were the most difficult to read as she just annoyed me intensely. Overall the multiple viewpoints gave the book a good balance.read more
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Perhaps because I read Company of Liars first, I was disappointed in The Owl Killers. Disappointed because like Devenish said (above) the supernatural element was both unnecessary and distracting - and somehow cheapened the story for me. And like Kasthu (above as well), the imagery was heavy-handed. Good & evil run along rather rigid impermeable lines: bad church, bad aristocracy vs. downtrodden villagers, marginalized women. Having said all that, the story was gripping (even if the characters were somewhat predictable)and I would recommend it. Maitland certainly captures the ambiance of Medieval England.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
 Set in fourteenth century England, this novel follows the fortunes of several characters in the village of Ulewic (not sure about that name, by the way) and in the nearby beguinage. Some in the village reject the church and want to return to the old ways, when the people worshipped a terrifying demon known as the Owlman. So there are demons, witches real and imagined, cattle plague, floods, leprosy, heresy and holy relics - did we miss anything out? Oh, yes - bravery, cruelty, jealousy, love, misogyny, despair, fear, compassion and more than one murder. Still, it's not just a good old-fashioned battle between good and evil - the characters are complex and multi-faceted, and the "good" is often ambiguous. It took a while to get going, especially because the story is told from multiple viewpoints which is always difficult to pull off, but it was definitely worth ploughing on - and I look forward to reading Karen Maitland's other work.NOTE: Beguines are religious women who banded together as a community to do good works. They were in some ways similar to nuns but they were not - for example, they did not take vows or renounce their property and were free to leave at any time. For many women it was the ideal way, perhaps the only way, to live independently outside of marriage.read more
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I was hooked from the moment I started reading this book, and I have to say, I think it's mostly because of the characters Maitland has created. Even the people I was rooting for (Osmanna, Pisspuddle, Servant Martha) had moments where i wanted to smack them, or see then proved wrong. Each character had it's flaws (some more than others) and it made them all very real. I think the struggle between the church and the beguines was interesting, considering they shared the same beliefs, but ended up having different ways of expressing them, due mostly to the domination of the church as the sole link to god. I think the pace moved along well and I will definitely be reading more of Maitland's work.read more
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While the premise and historical research are wonderfully manifested, the constantly shifting first person narrative creates a fragmented experience for the reader. I longed for a third person narrator (which we strangely get in the epilogue?-- who is speaking then?) A third person pov would simplify the experience as well as solidify the philosophical center of the novel-- is this a place of magic or delusion for the narrator who is stringing together these (sometimes too similar) voices? There was something coy about the constantly shifting 1st person, the device became obvious as a suspense-creation machine.

Still, the story is vital and fascinating. I don't want to be overly critical, it's just that the flaws seem so obvious and I believe with some good editing this book could have been so much better.

I felt that this book was written in the rush of the success of the first, and there were many writerly decisions that left me confused. I could only make sense of them by deciding that this book had come out under some kind of "repeat performance" market pressure after the Company of Liars.read more
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Loved her first book and this one was also very good. Dark and atmospheric, Paganism vs. Christianity in the Dark ages. Compelling characters, quite a bit of terror and I am just so glad we are not living during that time period.read more
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This story takes place in England in the year 1321. It is also set literally and metaphorically in the Dark Ages.A group of women have set up a commune near an village somewhere in Norfolk. They are self-sufficient and although they help the villagers with food and medical assistance,they are resented by the locals.A mysterious group who are known as the Owl Masters hold the locals in fear and additional threats come from the Church and the local nobility. Within the commune itself rifts appear and the break-up of the group becomes more and more certain as heresy is suspected within.Not a happy tale,but a very readable one. As with Karen Maitland's other book (Company of Liars) she ends with Historical notes which tell the reader that each story is based on a set of facts.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Set in medieval England this book takes you into the countryside where villagers lived a hard life - oppressed by the church and the wealthy, and battling the elements to survive. I loved the detail about this period, and the book made me feel as though I was there. Quite horrific and chilling in parts it gripped me all the way. Highly recommended.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Set in the English village of Ulewic (fictional, but placed somewhere near Norwich) in 1321-22, The Owl Killers is the story of a village fighting against forces both known and unknown. At the story’s center is the town’s beguinage, a community of women originally from Bruges who came to England to lead lives independent of marriage or the convent. When the town suffers from flood and plague, and the women are unaffected, the people in the town start to suspect them of harboring a holy relic. Meanwhile, the village is controlled by a group of men called the Owl Masters and haunted by the specter of the Owlman, who delivers nothing but death and destruction to the places and people he visits.The story is narrated by a number of characters, including the beguinage’s leader, Servant Martha; the angry and bitter beguine named Beatrice; the town’s self-righteous priest, Father Ulfrid; Osmanna, daughter of the lord of the manor who is sheltered by the beguines; and one of the village children. The novel contains a curious and intriguing combination of pagan belief and Christianity, witchcraft and superstition. I don’t normally read books with supernatural themes, but The Owl Killers grabbed me from page one and refused to let me go. One of my favorite things about this book is the characters; each narrator has their own strong, unique voice (my favorite was the sensible, practical Servant Martha). Maitland shows the middle ages as they really were, and she does so perfectly. Maitland delivers the symbolism a little heavy-handedly (of the “a candle blows out and someone dies” variety), but I nevertheless enjoyed this novel. Read it, and you’ll never feel the same way about owls or men in masks again.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It is 1321 and England is in the grip of a famine. A group of women, beguines from Flanders and a few locals, have established their place of refuge outside the village of Ulewic in rural Norfolk, and tensions with the villagers increase after they defy the local priest in a number of disputes. With their prayers not being answered, the population turns to some old, pagan, beliefs but they only manage to unleash a demon.Karen Maitland has already established herself as one of my favourite authors with Company of Liars and The Falcons of Fire and Ice with her masterful art of storytelling and atmosphere, as well as tackling topical ideas cloaked in the disguise of a historical novel. As in Falcons, Karen Maitland pitches the doctrine of the established Church against other forms of belief, in this case the old pagan traditions, the simpler faith of the beguines and the villagers’ superstitions. It is mysterious and filled with a dark sense of foreboding, suspenseful and terrifying in equal measures. The voices of the five narrators are discrete and distinct, entirely believable throughout, and you feel for each of them in turn. The whole book is brimming with evocative and atmospheric details that bring home the harsh realities of living in the 14th century, with a clear sense of the hardship, social order and mixture of religious faith and superstitions, yet it also manages to explore notions of free will and being different that still have resonance today. Highly recommended.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I think this might be my favourite of Karen Maitland's books so far -- I definitely liked it more than The Gallows Curse, although it didn't grip me as tightly as Company of Liars. I have nothing really to nitpick about here, though: the five POVs were well done and cast interesting lights on each other, and I love the research Maitland clearly put into it. The very concept of a beguinage is pretty fascinating, so that helps, but the way Maitland brought this one to life -- and tried to explain a real historical event through it -- is even more so. I've always loved historical novels that take something we know (a wingless Roman Eagle was found buried in Silchester, and Rosemary Sutcliff wrote The Eagle of the Ninth to explain it, for example) and try to puzzle out why. Karen Maitland explores why the beguinages failed to take root in Britain, despite some evidence of them existing here, and despite their longevity and appeal on the continent.

As with her other books, she evokes the Middle Ages well -- the smells, the sounds, the sights. Perhaps a little predictably, I suppose: she gives us the vision of the Middle Ages we expect, dirt and plagues and superstition, but still. She does her work well.

I suppose I do have one nitpick, and that's the POV of Pisspuddle, which doesn't add much. It does add a villagers-eye view, so there's that, but mostly she's just a small child who doesn't matter that much to the events happening around her.

The characters are all intriguing: I really felt for Osmanna, and for Servant Martha, particularly. I felt very sorry for Beatrice, even though I knew she was seeing things from a very biased point of view. And Healer Martha deserved better.

Oh yes, and trigger warning: rape, abusive parents, sickness. More or less what you might expect, but just in case.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A fantastic page turner. Highly recommended. Life like characters which are well built through the whole book. Written with such poignancy that it is a whirlwind of emotions. I have now read all books by this Author (who also aliases as Karen Mailman), and she now rates among my favourites. We need more!! Please” bring it on”
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is an excellent read. The plot is strong, the research thorough and the descriptions so good, you can smell the filth and hear the rumbles in the bellies of the the starving villagers. Extraordinary!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I loved Company of Liars, Karen Maitland's previous book about the Middle Ages. This one just didn't hook me. I found the characters almost entirely unsympathetic or unlikable, and the setting incredibly bleak. For me that made it difficult to get through. That said, Maitland does have an eye for the Middle Ages and her use of multiple narrators is a nice touch. It's probably worth a read, but not my cup of tea. Company of Liars is a far better book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
For me, this just didn't live up to my expectations.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the second Medieval historical novel I have read by this author. In a number of places, it feels more like fantasy or horror, rather than historical fiction, as there are unexplained supernatural events and it almost feels timeless, there being very few references to events in the outside world, other than generically. One of the very few exceptions is an anachronism, a mention of the notorious alleged way in which King Edward II was murdered in 1328 - but the novel is set in 1321-2. The author describes very well the sights, atmosphere and, in particular, the smells, of a Medieval village. Almost all the villagers are very unsympathetic characters; in the first half, the village priest was fairly sympathetic, showing concern for his poor parishioners against their oppressive masters, but then turning to the bad in the second half, albeit arguably under almost intolerable pressure. The beguines were an interesting movement, of which I had not previously heard, much less well known that the Cathars, for example.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Set in the mid-14th century, this is of an isolated village in England, where the old religion hasnt quite been usurped by Christianity. The obligatory witch lives on the edge of town, the gargoyles on the church are still a little too paganistic for some and the "outlanders" are still to be suspected. These outlanders include the Squire and his family, who is still despised after generations living there. The Beguines - a group of women who are near nun-like in their vows to the Church, but work in the community - are also outsiders, and are to be suspected even more when their crops dont fail and their livestock dont succumb to a local disease.The priest has been sent down from Norwich to serve penance for doing more than breaking his vow of chastity.Told in various different voices this is a page turning read and only took a few days to finish. There were a couple of characters who you did wonder what they were there for apart from showing what life was like back then (e.g. the leper, the two children who lost their mother in a flood). I also thought that the battling against the owl master by the Servant Martha at the end was just a little too.....simple? easy? I dont know...
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Entertaining, yet odd book, about a village steeped in superstition, the corruption of those in power and the distrust of outsiders. Parallels can be drawn with society today, quite easily. A lot of people probably won't like this because its characters are not particularly loveable, all manner of horrible things happen and life is grim. But it's for those reasons that I enjoyed it. The sections narrated by Beatrice were the most difficult to read as she just annoyed me intensely. Overall the multiple viewpoints gave the book a good balance.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Perhaps because I read Company of Liars first, I was disappointed in The Owl Killers. Disappointed because like Devenish said (above) the supernatural element was both unnecessary and distracting - and somehow cheapened the story for me. And like Kasthu (above as well), the imagery was heavy-handed. Good & evil run along rather rigid impermeable lines: bad church, bad aristocracy vs. downtrodden villagers, marginalized women. Having said all that, the story was gripping (even if the characters were somewhat predictable)and I would recommend it. Maitland certainly captures the ambiance of Medieval England.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
 Set in fourteenth century England, this novel follows the fortunes of several characters in the village of Ulewic (not sure about that name, by the way) and in the nearby beguinage. Some in the village reject the church and want to return to the old ways, when the people worshipped a terrifying demon known as the Owlman. So there are demons, witches real and imagined, cattle plague, floods, leprosy, heresy and holy relics - did we miss anything out? Oh, yes - bravery, cruelty, jealousy, love, misogyny, despair, fear, compassion and more than one murder. Still, it's not just a good old-fashioned battle between good and evil - the characters are complex and multi-faceted, and the "good" is often ambiguous. It took a while to get going, especially because the story is told from multiple viewpoints which is always difficult to pull off, but it was definitely worth ploughing on - and I look forward to reading Karen Maitland's other work.NOTE: Beguines are religious women who banded together as a community to do good works. They were in some ways similar to nuns but they were not - for example, they did not take vows or renounce their property and were free to leave at any time. For many women it was the ideal way, perhaps the only way, to live independently outside of marriage.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I was hooked from the moment I started reading this book, and I have to say, I think it's mostly because of the characters Maitland has created. Even the people I was rooting for (Osmanna, Pisspuddle, Servant Martha) had moments where i wanted to smack them, or see then proved wrong. Each character had it's flaws (some more than others) and it made them all very real. I think the struggle between the church and the beguines was interesting, considering they shared the same beliefs, but ended up having different ways of expressing them, due mostly to the domination of the church as the sole link to god. I think the pace moved along well and I will definitely be reading more of Maitland's work.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
While the premise and historical research are wonderfully manifested, the constantly shifting first person narrative creates a fragmented experience for the reader. I longed for a third person narrator (which we strangely get in the epilogue?-- who is speaking then?) A third person pov would simplify the experience as well as solidify the philosophical center of the novel-- is this a place of magic or delusion for the narrator who is stringing together these (sometimes too similar) voices? There was something coy about the constantly shifting 1st person, the device became obvious as a suspense-creation machine.

Still, the story is vital and fascinating. I don't want to be overly critical, it's just that the flaws seem so obvious and I believe with some good editing this book could have been so much better.

I felt that this book was written in the rush of the success of the first, and there were many writerly decisions that left me confused. I could only make sense of them by deciding that this book had come out under some kind of "repeat performance" market pressure after the Company of Liars.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Loved her first book and this one was also very good. Dark and atmospheric, Paganism vs. Christianity in the Dark ages. Compelling characters, quite a bit of terror and I am just so glad we are not living during that time period.
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