World War II

All posts in the World War II category

Etta And Otto and Russell And James – Emma Hooper

Published March 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

What did I think?:

There were quite a few things that immediately drew me to Emma Hooper’s debut novel. First of all, the lovely cover with the cheeky little animal on the front (which I now know to be a coyote). Secondly, the title – I mean, four names in a title, what’s that all about? I simply had to find out! Finally, there had been a lot of comparisons of this book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which happens to be one of my all time favourite novels. I normally don’t like it when books are compared to others but I loved Harold Fry so much I needed to give Etta & Co a chance to stand as a story on its own merits.

So where this book is similar to Harold Fry is that it involves an adult in their eighties undergoing a long walk to get to a destination, meeting different people and well-wishers along the way. In this novel, our protagonist is Etta, 83 and slowly losing her memory. She wakes up one day and decides to walk to the ocean as she has never seen it, leaving her husband Otto a note explaining this and that she would “try to remember to come back.” The story follows Etta’s journey but is in no way chronological and dips back into the past and present as memories surface for Etta during her journey. We learn about her life as a teacher when she first met Otto. We also learn about Otto’s early life, part of a family fifteen-strong with the addition of his best friend (and current neighbour) Russell who becomes the honorary sixteenth member.

Most of Etta and Otto’s relationship is told in the form of letters, particularly when Otto has to go away to fight in World War II. Russell is Etta’s main support system when Otto is gone, unable to join up himself because of a childhood accident that left him with a lame leg. Russell is also deeply in love with Etta and when he hears about her pilgrimage later in life, immediately sets out to find her. Otto, her husband, stays at home making paper mache animals for Etta’s return and learning to bake from the recipes Etta has left him, deliberately so he can manage without her. Meanwhile on her journey, Etta meets many well-wishers and makes new friends, particularly a wily talking coyote called James who has quite the gift of the gab but encourages Etta through harder times on the road. The ending is somewhat bitter-sweet and very much left open to the readers own interpretation – it’s something I was slightly surprised by but thoroughly enjoyed at the same time.

I guess if you’ve read Harold Fry before you can see the similarities between them but I think this novel deserves to be talked about as a story all of its own. There are many differences between the stories also, particularly the magical realism part with the talking coyote, James, the dementia that Etta is sliding into and the hardships that Etta and Otto have suffered as a couple. I really fell in love with Etta as a character and the pure whimsical nature of this book (yes a talking coyote was always going to be a bonus for me, even if he was just in Etta’s mind?). It was also nice to hear from the spouse left behind, in this case Otto whose little paper mache animals and determination to learn to cook warmed the cockles of my heart. Initially, I was a bit wary of the ending of this novel and I have to admit, slightly disappointed but on closer reflection, I realise it was a perfect way for the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens. I’ll certainly be reading anything else Emma Hooper releases, this is one debut author with a bucket load of talent and beautiful writing to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Talking About A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton with Chrissi Reads

Published August 25, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love
 
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Amaterasu spends most of the novel feeling that she is to blame for things that have happened. How has this affected her life and does the novel provide a resolution?

BETH: Poor Amaterasu! I found her such a fascinating character and alternated between feeling really cross with her and then really sorry for her after her actions lead to her living such a sad, lonely life when her husband dies. Her potential grandson turns up on her doorstep one day after he had been searching for her for quite a while and you begin to see the start of a relationship between the two as Amaterasu thinks back to the events that caused her to lose her daughter and believe her grandson was dead. She escapes to America with her husband as she doesn’t feel that she can stay in Nagasaki because of all the bad memories associated with it. Even though she promises her husband on his death bed that she will try and integrate herself with the community, she becomes a virtual recluse, even developing a bit of an alcohol problem and it is only with the appearance of a man that claims to be a grandson that she can put old ghosts to rest.

BETH: Could you understand why Amaterasu made the decisions she did?

CHRISSI: Somewhat, I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for others! Amaterasu has to look back at her life and begin to come to terms with what happened in the time period before, during and after the bombing. It takes Amaterasu some courage to look back at her past and look for forgiveness for her actions so she can live the rest of her life in peace. It is a particularly painful look back for Amaterasu as she feels pain and immense guilt after her actions.

CHRISSI: What did you feel that you learnt about Japanese culture and the differences between East and West?

BETH: I felt I learned so much! This book is really special for the little paragraphs above each chapter that describe a Japanese word or phrase and what it means for the Japanese people. Even though the author is British, the novel is inspired by her years living in Nagasaki in the 90’s and it’s obvious she’s done her research and really integrated herself into the Japanese mindset. The East and West cultures can be quite different but it’s always fascinating to learn about a different culture and way of life.

BETH: Did your opinion of Sato change at any point in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: Not really. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like Sato as a character at all. I get the feeling that I was supposed to find some sympathy for him, but I just found him infuriating. I guess he did try and find redemption within his letters and his adopting an orphan, but for me, my opinion didn’t change. I didn’t find him likeable at all.

CHRISSI: You love Japanese fiction.  Did this book live up to your expectations?

BETH: I certainly do and it certainly did. It reminded me of Memoirs Of A Geisha and was beautifully written with a fascinating plot and intriguing characters, especially our main character Amaterasu. I also felt like I learned a lot about the horrors of the Nagasaki bombing and the effect it had on so many people’s lives and it’s encouraged me to read a bit more into it.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think it would depend on what the subject matter was. I do think the writer has a beautiful writing style, but I wouldn’t race to read another.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’S star rating (out of 5):

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Sweet Caress – William Boyd

Published August 8, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When Amory Clay was born, in the decade before the Great War, her disappointed father gave her an androgynous name and announced the birth of a son. But this daughter was not one to let others define her; Amory became a woman who accepted no limits to what that could mean, and from the time she picked up her first camera, one who would record her own version of events.

Moving freely between London and New York, between photojournalism and fashion photography, and between the men who love her on complicated terms, Amory establishes her reputation as a risk taker and a passionate life traveler. Her hunger for experience draws her to the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin and the violence of London’s Blackshirt riots, to the Rhineland with Allied troops and into the political tangle of war-torn Vietnam. During her ambitious career, the seminal moments of the twentieth century will become the unforgettable moments of her own biography as well.

In Sweet Caress, Amory Clay comes wondrously to life, her vibrant personality enveloping the reader from the start. And, running through the novel, her photographs over the decades allow us to experience this vast story not only with Amory’s voice but with her vision. William Boyd’s Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

What did I think?:

I haven’t read much by William Boyd before although I am very aware of the genius of his writing and Sweet Caress is a beautiful example of just how amazing he can be. What makes this book really special though, is the inclusion of multiple photographs (supposed to be taken by Amory) but actually amassed from Boyd’s own collection of intriguing and anonymous photographs he has amassed. The entire narrative has actually been written around and occasionally altered by the author to fit some of the photos. It blends historical fact and fiction seamlessly to the extent that I actually had to go investigating after reading this novel as to whether Amory Clay as a person actually existed! Unfortunately, she seems to be entirely fictional but it represents the strength of writing that I actually believed this woman was a “real life” historical figure.

The story is told in two parts – the first is Amory’s journal entries from the 1970’s where she is happily ensconced on a Scottish island enjoying her retirement and taking the occasional photographs, her one true passion and something she did very successfully in her youth to middle age. Then as Amory reminisces over her life, we learn of her early life experiences at boarding school, her troubled relationship with her father – a war hero who has been deeply psychologically affected by what he experienced during the war and, as a result, tries to kill both Amory and himself by driving their car into a lake.

Her life continues to fascinate and compel the reader as by defying the standards of society at that time as to what is an acceptable career for a woman and she is determined to become a world class photographer. She starts small with the help of her uncle by assisting him in photographing society ladies but soon develops a bit of a reputation for herself when she starts to push the boundaries of what photographs should show. This leads to her completing occasionally risky assignments, like going to the brothels of Berlin in the 1920’s, covering fascist riots in London in the 1930’s and being very close to the front-line in World War II and Vietnam. She makes some very wobbly decisions regarding her career, her personal safety and the men she chooses to love but despite everything comes across as an independent, dynamic and endlessly intriguing character that led such an admirable and exciting life.

I simply loved Amory as a character and because the reader gets to see her whole life in its entirety from tentative girl to assured and brave woman, you really felt like you knew her and when it ended, it almost felt like you were leaving a friend behind. As I mentioned before, the beauty of Boyd’s words is increased exponentially by his decision to include some riveting photographs that really enhanced the text and the story as a whole. Even though some of the images were quite shocking (I’m thinking of a particular photo showing a dead German soldier), you couldn’t help but go backwards to look at them again and I thought it was a really unique way to tell a story. I’ll definitely be checking out some more of William Boyd’s work – he’s a force to be reckoned with!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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A Year Of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

Published April 24, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Cornwall, 1947. Marvellous Ways is a ninety-year-old woman who’s lived alone in a remote creek for nearly all her life. Recently she’s taken to spending her days sitting on the steps of her caravan with a pair of binoculars. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it. Freddy Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the war. He’s agreed to fulfil a dying friend’s last wish and hand-deliver a letter to the boy’s father in Cornwall. But Freddy’s journey doesn’t go to plan, and sees him literally wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit. When Marvellous comes to his aid, an unlikely friendship grows between the two. Can Freddy give Marvellous what she needs to say goodbye to the world, and can she give him what he needs to go on?

What did I think?:

A Year Of Marvellous Ways is on the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club list this year and I think I had quite high expectations for it after enjoying Sarah’s previous novel, When God Was A Rabbit. Unfortunately, I’m quite sad to say that I was bitterly disappointed, it had oodles of potential and a really promising plot line but for some reason I just didn’t get it. Magical realism is a genre that I lap up and usually crave more of but dare I say this novel was too whimsical and in parts, very confusing even for me!

Its the 1940’s, post World War II and the “Marvellous Ways” of the story is an eccentric and fascinating old woman who at ninety years ago still lives on her own in a caravan by a creek in Cornwall, swims naked on a daily basis, believes she is the daughter of a mermaid and is famed locally for her healing abilities and potions. When we first meet Marvellous she appears to be on edge, staring out at the sea, certain that there is someone important that will visit her, one last person that she has to help before she dies.

The person who does turn up on her doorstep is Freddy Drake, a soldier fresh from his traumatic World War II experiences and completely broken and scarred from what he has seen during the war and from losing his first real love. Marvellous manages to heal both his body and mind by sharing some stories of the three great loves in her own life and helping Freddy piece together the mystery of who he is as a person. As these two mysterious and intriguing characters cement an unlikely yet important friendship it appears that there are wounds to be healed on both sides of the relationship.

There are so many positives about this book and that’s why I’m certain a lot of people would really enjoy it. Sarah Winman’s writing is beautiful and so poetic and for that reason I would usually give the novel a higher rating than I have, but I feel I have to be honest with myself about my enjoyment of the story. The characters were intriguing and I did fall in love a little bit with Marvellous Ways and Freddy Drake but everything just seemed so disjointed and a lot of the time I felt I couldn’t follow the thread of the plot properly. By the end I just became frustrated and kind of like – “What just happened?” I’m a huge lover of literary fiction normally, books that jump around in time and as I mentioned before, books with a bit of a magical edge but this novel just didn’t sit right with me. I don’t want to put anyone off as I know there are fans of the genre out there who will “get” it and I’d love to know your thoughts!

Would I recommend it?

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2016 – FEBRUARY READ – Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

Published February 28, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

It is the Second World War and Carrie and Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in Wales, where they are placed with strict Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister. Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with Hepzibah Green who tells wonderful stories, and the strange Mister Johnny, who speaks a language all of his own.

What did I think?:

Carrie’s War was an absolute must for our Kid Lit challenge in 2016 as I was determined this was the year I was finally going to read it. What a surprise I got to find that I remembered certain parts of the book as I came across them – yes, I had already read it! Goodness knows when, but as I read it for the second time some sections felt very familiar and others very new. From the synopsis, you assume it’s going to be another one of those “war books,” involving children, similar to War Horse by Michael Morpurgo and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. In essence it is – it tells the story of Carrie and her little brother Nick and their new friend Albert Sandwich as they are all evacuated from London on the train to the countryside in Wales as it is presumed a safer place to be. To be honest, not a whole lot more is mentioned about the war so if you are hoping for gas masks, bombs dropping and horrific carnage, this is perhaps not the book for you.

Carrie’s War is a compelling read in a completely different way. It focuses on how Carrie and Nick settle into their new home with the religious and very strict Mr Evans and his quiet, fearful sister (who they quickly become comfortable with and call Auntie Lou). Carrie and Nick find it very difficult to please Mr Evans who insists on rules and behaving with the utmost decorum and find refuge with their friend Albert’s hosts who live in a magical place called Druid’s Bottom. This is actually the home of Mr Evans sister Mrs Gotobed, whom funnily enough is bed-bound, very ill and expected to die soon. Hepzibah Green, her maid, looks after her, runs the household, looks after the animals on the farm and takes care of Mister Johnny, a young boy who is unlike anyone Carrie and Nick have ever met before and although he frightens them initially, they soon develop a strong bond.

Hepzibah and Auntie Lou are provided as motherly figures that Carrie and Nick lack being evacuees and away from their own family. Almost immediately, it becomes a real treat to visit Druid’s Bottom to help out with the chores, eat amazing home-cooked food and hear Hepzibah’s stories. One in particular involves a skull that has an ancient and terrifying history and is of utmost importance to the story when an adult Carrie returns with her own children and reminisces about her time in the country and a “terrible thing she did.”

There are a lot of things in this novel to love. It was such an interesting reading experience for me as I remembered some things so clearly – like when the children first happen upon Mister Johnny while some things felt entirely new, like the children’s relationship with Mr Evans which goes to a completely different level when his sister, Mrs Gotobed passes away. I think it’s a brilliant story to read as an introduction to the Second World War and the variety and diversity of characters is very commendable and something I think children will enjoy. I especially loved Mister Johnny and his wonderful language all of his own (gobble, gobble) and although I felt a bit frustrated with Carrie at times, she emerged as a great heroine and role model. I’m already a big fan of Nina Bawden after her amazing book for adults The Ice House and I can’t wait to read more of her work, kid-lit or otherwise!

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Image from http://www.radiotimes.com/episode/jrvw9/carries-war

Carrie’s War was turned into a BBC adaptation starring Pauline Quirke as Hepzibah Green in 2004.

Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit – OCTOBER READ – Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Published October 31, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The story is set during the Second World War, when Tom Oakley, an elderly and unsociable widower, finds himself with a young evacuee on his hands. Willie is a sickly, under-nourished and ill-treated London child, but we see him blossom in Tom’s care into a healthy, happy and talented boy. He makes friends for the first time, and is surprised to find that he soon forgets to be homesick, as there is always so much to do in the village. This tale traces the beautiful and profound relationship that develops between the man and the boy.

What did I think?:

Goodnight Mister Tom is one of Chrissi’s all-time favourite books and I know she also used to love the 1998 film adaptation starring John Thaw as Tom Oakley, a disgruntled and solitary old man who is forced to house a young boy, evacuated from London during the war. Actually, I really don’t know why I haven’t ever read this book up until now, I can completely understand why she loves it and it has also made its way onto my all-time favourite books list. Thanks, Chrissi!

When Willie first arrives at Tom’s door, he is petrified of the old, grumpy man who he is certain will beat him with a stick or brand him with a hot poker. The sad thing is that Willie has been abused all his life from someone who was supposed to love him, so he doesn’t know any different. He is quiet, scared of everything, has no friends or interests and, to his embarrassment and horror, wets the bed on a nightly basis when he first arrives at Tom’s house. However, Tom has his own tragedies that he deals with from day to day – losing his young wife and baby son has greatly changed him into the man we meet. It is as if he is scared to let anyone else into his life just in case he loses them too and his snappy exterior is a defence mechanism and protects him from potential pain and loss.

Nevertheless, there is something about Willie that melts something in the old man’s heart and he begins to care a great deal about him, soothing his fears, calming his nerves, encouraging his talents, helping him to learn and letting him know (in a gruff but very kindly manner) that he is loved. Under Tom’s gentle ways, Willie makes his first friends, learns how to play and be happy like a normal child of his age and discovers hidden talents that he never knew he had. In this way, Tom also learns to deal with his own traumatic past and a beautiful relationship starts to develop. There are still hard times to come for poor Willie, but with Mister Tom by his side, he has no need to be afraid.

I have so much love for this book I don’t know where to start gushing about it! The characters are so beautiful, particularly Mister Tom and Willie and it would take a hard-hearted soul to resist falling in love with them. I was certain I had seen the film adaptation but perhaps I haven’t as I was certainly shocked by some of the events in the story that I did not recall. I am quite glad however that I didn’t know particular details as I felt the story made more of an impact on me than if I had been aware of spoilers. So, be careful to avoid these if you haven’t read this before! The author certainly doesn’t hold back from difficult situations and had me both tearful and captivated at the same time. I’m sure this novel first published in 1981 is destined to be a classic for many years to come and I know I’m going to enjoy re-reading it in the future.

For Chrissi’s fab review please check out her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of five):

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Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) – Ransom Riggs

Published October 25, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography,Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

What did I think?:

I remember when I first saw this in the bookshop and I knew immediately that I had to have it. For a book like this I don’t think a digital copy would suffice as it has an amazing collection of vintage photographs of some very odd (and intensely creepy) children. They are photographs that you could look at for hours and it wasn’t until it was pointed out to me by someone else that I realised the girl on the front cover was actually levitating. Scary! It has had a bit of a mixed reception from reviewers and it seems you either love it or hate it, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. I am firmly in the “love it,” category and thought the photographs brought an extra intrigue and strange beauty accompanied by some great and at times chilling writing by Ransom Riggs.

Our main character is Jacob, a sixteen year old boy whom when the story begins has a beautiful relationship with his grandfather. He tells Jacob fantastical stories of when he was a boy and to escape the Holocaust, being Jewish, he was sent to an island off the coast of Wales and was kept safe in a home with many other children, managed by a kindly but firm headmistress, Miss Peregrine. The stories he tells Jacob are magical and other-worldly as there’s something a bit different about all these children in the home – they are gifted in some way and he has many old photographs he shows Jacob to back up his tales. As Jacob grows older, so too does his grandfather (obviously) and his stories become wilder and harder to believe… he appears to be warning Jacob about something but Jacob starts to question whether his grandfather is telling the truth or if he has been listening to make-believe all his life and his grandfather is merely a lonely, senile old man.

Then something terrible happens – Jacobs grandfather is murdered. Jacob is stuck, still not knowing what to believe and it is suggested that if he sees the place where his grandfather spent the years during World War II, it might help him to come to terms with his grief. What Jacob is not expecting as he wanders round the deserted children’s home is for the children to actually exist in the here and now and for there to be a very good reason for them to have been hidden away in the first place. This is something Jacob becomes involved in beyond all belief, something that may endanger his life.

I had an inkling when I first picked up this book that I was going to love it and I was right on that account but I wasn’t prepared for how much the book was going to affect me. Like Jacob, I had a very close relationship with my grandfather who sadly passed away just before I became a teenager but the pain of losing him never really goes away. So, even though Jacob was yes, slightly brattish at the beginning of the novel, I felt an instant connection with his character and he proves himself through the story to be more than he first appears.

One of the best things about this book has to be the beautiful, frightening photographs which fascinated me from the beginning and I felt it brought an extra cherry on the top of a very unique and captivating story. The children are amazing but for anyone who hasn’t read this yet I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll just say, each one of them brought something special to the narrative and I really enjoyed reading about their special gifts. Now, I’m just excited about two things. First, the sequel, Hollow City which I simply have to make time for on the strength of this novel and secondly, the film adaptation which I am really looking forward to, especially as it is directed by Tim Burton, who I know will do an amazing job.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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