The painter of birds by Lidia Jorge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The painter of birds by Lidia Jorge

Portuguese literature

Original title – O Vale da Paixão

Translator – Margaret Jull Costa

Source – personal copy

Well, I managed to return after a busy while, my first lot of nights in my new job and a course and two long days meant the days off I had in between all this I hadn’t much chance to blog. But as I said last month I choose, to add some literature from Portugal, I looked up on Wiki a number of writers from the region and decided to choose those that were available second hand. Lidia Jorge is considered one of the leading voices of the new wave of writers that came after the Salazar regime. She spent time in Africa married to a military man then she lived with a well-known Journalist. This book won a number of prizes when it came out.THis book also covers woman in translation month.

For that reason,  on the night Walter Dias visited her, the bullets and the revolver were out of sight, and he wanted to take the gun away from her on that rainy night , he wanted to take the gun with him, but she realized that if he took it, when walter did disappearm he might disappear entirely. He even said to her “Don’t be silly!”But she couldn’t give him back the weapon. Giving it back would be like handing over the fragile link that bound his existance to hers.

They meet but she doesn’t want to let him go and break that bond that links them .

The painter of birds is the story when a young woman the narrator of the books starts to look back other her absent father’s life. SHe has a strained relationship with him and in the family farmhouse where she is just inland from the Algarve where Jorge grew up is salt worn from the sea. He painted pictures in his letter home from his many travels as she read through these letters and she sees the father she never really knew. There is no strong time line in the book so there is a real sense of the present and past drifting together as she reads and the world and place he went to coming alive.As the bits she knows the pictures family tales bring Walter Dias a man she only twice met in her younger years.A rogue of a man who left the nearest neighbours daughter her mother with child and started to travel the world with the army fighting in the various wars from the 30s onwards.

Francisco Dias used to talk about Walter too.

It was clear to him that black cloud hung over his youngest son. He would say so to anyone who would listen when he had free times on Sundays, before dozing off, though never speaking directly to Walter’s niece, but then he never spoke to her anywayy. He did not, however, conceal from her the difference between Walter and his other sons, should she care to hear, if she could hear.She walked among them as if she were deaf, and didn’t care whether she heard him or not.Francisco Dias put it all down to school, the place where, in his opinion, the life of a man was not only shaped but also summarized and foretold.THis is how he explained it.

Her grandfather had a very different view of his wayward son .

I like the narrative flow of this book it had a crime like pace but with a sense of  piecing  the past together piece by piece but also a sense of not seeing it all as Walter is a rogue but also does these wonderful bird pictures, but then there is the past of Walter from her  family tell her of him a man that ran out on her and her mother and briefly appeared in her she wants to love him, this will appeal to the fans of books like English patient as both share a sense of piecing  the past together from fragments and piece of gossip and side stories.

 

The ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila

The Ultimate Tragedy

 

The ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila

Guinea Bissau fiction

Original title –  A Última Tragédia

Translator – Jethro Soutar

Source – Personal copy

Well I decide to add Portuguese lit to the Spanish lit month I had a look at what was out there and this is one of the first books to catch my eye as it is the first book from Guinea Bissau to be translated into English. Abdulai Sila studied electrical engineering and worked for cisco and other companies in the US before he returned to Guinea Bissau, where he set up Sila Technologies to bring affordable tech to his homeland. He has written three novels this is his second book and the first to be translated into English.

Ndani had prepared for the journey meticulously. Nobody in Biombo knew anythingabout it, nobody other than her friendly stepmother. It was her stepmother who’d taught her ghe phrase she was now repeating, and one of two others besides. Her stepmother had een made Ndani memorise certain rules of behaviour, things white masters demanded of black house helps: particular ways to respond; gestures that showed b=obedience and submission

The young girl needs to learn how to be in the big city for the white folk !!

This is maybe a classic African tale it is the story of one woman’s journey and also shows a time when Africans in the former Portuguese colonies were starting to question the place in the world. Ndani is sent from her rural village to work for a Portuguese family in the capital Bissau. The first thing that happens is the woman of the house starts to try and get her to believe in the church as her children have flown the nest and her husband has his eyes elsewhere she is trying to baptise the young girl, but as Dona Deolinda is doing this. The master of the house has other ideas for the young maid she tries to esca[e him but in doing so is shown the door . Where on she meets the village cheif  Regulo, but he is uneducated but the young girl is settled he has tried to improve his village much to the opposition of the administrator, by building a school and his huge house to try and show the locals are moving up in the world. Ndani also meets the teacher from the school a man she connects with but what will happen.

“Thou shalt not covet”, one of gods comandments . She was Regulo’s wife , the teacher could harbour no ambition to have her. God’s laws were sacred, they had to be upheld. Violating them would be a sin. A good christian and a teacher besides,must not sin. At least not in such a flagrant fashion. This is something he taught his students every day ,how could he ignore it himself ? nor could he ignore the fact that the Regulo had been good to him

The teacher after first meeting Ndani is torn between religion and Lust in a way .

As I said a classic tale of a young woman leaving her home, now she has been told by the local juju man that she is the carrier of a bad spirit and in a a lot of ways her journey is a long one and through her eyes we see the awakening of the locals in the Village chief and the way he wants his village to improve. As I say this is a universal story It reminds me of one of my favourite stories Stones in a landslide which also followed a young girls journey from a village. There are other stories from Africa like the Zimbabwean novel Nervous conditions which show a young girl growing up in the background of that country breaking from colonial rule. May I also say this is one of the most eye catching covers of the year.

Nona’s room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Nona's Room

Nona’s room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Spanish fiction

Original title – de La Habitación de Nona

Translators – Kathryn Phillips-Miles and Simon Deefholts

Source – review copy

My first book for Spanish lit month is the first of the three from the second |Peter Owen World series were they are every year publishing three books from a certain country the first in the series was Slovenia this second series is three books from Spain. The first book is from Cristina Fernandez Cubas she has bee writing since the 1980’s this is her first book to be translated into English, she has written ten books, including one using a male pseudonym, this collection won National Narrative and critics prize when it came out.

My sister is special. That’s what my mother told me at the time she was born in the bright and sunny room in that hospital.She also said, “Special is a lovely word.Never forget that “. I’ve never forgetten, oif course , but it’s more than likely that the scene I’ve described didn’t happen in the hospital but much later in some room and that Nona wasn’t a newborn or even a baby but rather aa little girl of three or four years old .

Nona isn’t what we think this is the start but as the story unflds it takes more turns.

Cubas is well known for putting her female characters in very unsettling situations or out of their comfort zone. The first story is told by an older sister about her young sister Nona of the title of the book. As the story unfolds as told by a child you sense something is very wrong with her younger sister almost unnatural in a way. The next story follows a young woman who is about to meet a friend in a cafe feels sorry for an older woman Ro as she finds out that is sat by herself in the cafe looking lost and lonely.The young woman called Alicia is in need of a place to stay and this older woman offer hers a place in her flat, encourages her to see the flat before her friend arrives. She does but does she return and is all as it seems is this older lady whom she seems. Then a story revolving around a picture that is a girl looking for something under a bed another strange figure leads a writer to she the picture in person. There are three other stories.

Alica thought Ro was charming , a charming old lady.

“I’m on the fifth floor.”

Alicia imagined the fifth floor was like. There would be an enormus flat full of keepsakes. It would be a flat typical of the Ensanche district. There would be the dining room and a glazed veranda at one end and the master bedroom at the other .There would be a long corridor, which Ro would struggle up and down a thousand times a day. Ro, she said to herfself .Now she thought about it , her last chance was actually RO

Ok I’ll come in for a bit, just for a bit

Alicia goes to see a flat but is that All ?

This is a collection of  slightly creepy stories , I was reminded of Roald Dahl  short stories, at times she is almost a female version of his tales of unexpected where everything isn’t what it seems on the surface the perfect example is the second story talking to old ladies that until the last third seems a simple story of an older lady offering a younger a place to stay but no there is a classic twist in the tail, which is what Dahl did so well in his tales of the unexpected stories .I’m surprised it has taken so long for her to be translated into English

Listening for Jupiter by Pierre-Luc Landry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for Jupiter by Pierre-Luc Landry

Quebec fiction

Original title – Les corps extraterrestres

Translators – Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford

Source – review copy

The small Quebec based press QC fiction are translating some wonderful Lit from the french speaking part of Canada. The first book I reviewed Brothers by David Clerson was one of my favourite books from last year so when then latest book looking for Jupiter arrived I was excited .Pierre-Luc landry is a professor of French studies and found the journal La Chachoir de flaubert a spittoon of ideas ! and won the Ottawa book prize for french fiction with this novel .

I sat down in front of the TV to watch a documentary on Jupiter’s red spot , a massive  anti cyclone that was first seen almost two hundreds years ago and still looks the same today. The scientists who were interviewed compared it to a never-ending hurricane with winds raging at over 550 kilometers per hour. The more they study the phenomenon , they said the less they understand it

Man is this just the best summary of the book , a twirling circle , jupiter a recurring Motif and also a TV show.

This is a tale that takes place in the real and dream world and with two characters Xavier a rep working for a pharmaceutical company , sell a drug that he isn’t very sure works . But in his dreams he lives in a different world he joins and connects with Hollywood a man living what seems a dead-end life as a grave-digger  ( a job Dave Vanian of the damned had and also Joe Strummer ) , Hollywood is a student in fact in many ways embodies the classic Slacker role and in a way Xavier is maybe the classic Yuppie but as the novel unfold we see that The Slacker life of Hollywood as Xavier falls ill and lose his position  and starts on a path to becoming each other and live in a world where their lives are numbed by Music TV shows and films.As the weather has freaky nature during the book.

After the sandman

They remain standing for some time before the hole in the window, watching the meteor shower. They say nothing. They both believe that, at this rate, the sky will eventually burn out. Then hollywood shouts:

“It’s cold in here”

“But it isn’t snowing.It’s stopped ”

I loved these short passages this one is so Borges like I felt !

This is a classic piece of what I would call Gen x lit mixed with a work of magic realism .I was reminded so much the films I grew up with where the slacker characters  turned into the anti hero Ethan Hawke in reality bites was similar to  Hollywood. In the way he is like with his friends a the way Hawkes character was über cool  like and  on the other hand Xavier is rather  like Ben stiller characters an up and coming yuppie but unlike stiller Xavier has a soul , but also with a tinge of the Campbell Scott’s character in the film singles who ends up as a slacker when he seems his dream and office career fall apart. Then there is the master of Gen x fiction the man who started the genre Douglas Coupand this is a tale pf young people caught up in their own worlds as they collide. This is a trip into a world that may not be real as it is warm in the cold part of Canada and snowing in Europe you feel as thou the two characters need to meet to change the world back and make it run as normal. There is also a chink Of Borges for me the character circling a labyrinth of the dreams and the reflective nature of the two worlds they live in are all motifs that Borges used in his stories .

The children by Carolina Sanin

The children by Carolina Sanin

Colombian Fiction

Original title – Los niños

Translator – Nick Caistor

Source – review copy

When I started the blog ,I be hard pushed to have name more than one writer from Columbia that wasn’t Marquez but in the years in between we have seen a wave of new writers from Columbia Rosero , Vasquez and Gamboa .Now here is another name to add to that list . This is her first book to appear in English and her second novel she has taught in New york hispanic studies and is considered a rising talent .

Laura Romero heard that the woman  who watched the cars outside the supermarket was offering her a child. She heard her say “I’ll keep a child for you “. But Laura was not sure whether the woman really did watch the cars. She knew that when she finished her shopping , she gave her some coins as if to pay, and that her car had never gone missing . Maybe that was because she only left it there during daylight and when there were lots of people about , but it was also possible that the woman had some influence over the car thieves.That she was their mother , for example

Before Fidel arrives Laura misses what she said at the supermarket.

The children is one of those books that is hard to put in a category. The story Follows Laura after she is going to the supermarket one day and like other days she is met by a beggar woman , but is ask if she wants her a child thinking no more of it she gives her some money .But later that night a boy appears outside her house .The boy fidel know nothing other than his six years old . So she sets off to find out about this boy. Laura herself is a strange character as the story unfold she has money from her families salt mines  , she works as a housekeeper as she like to clean and sort the  houses she works in  a strange OCD, but doesn’t need the money . She is reading Moby Dick maybe the boy is her Moby Dick as he seems to have come from nowhere and maybe at points he has trance like fits you wonder is he real or maybe like the whale in the mind of the crew a ghost that isn’t real just in Laura’s eyes in Moby Dick a metaphor for something else .Then we she Laura battling the bureaucracy in what is a Kafka like nightmare  race to find out about Fidel  as she sees how slow the wheels turn.

Brus became aware of Fidel’s existence before she did it was shortly before midnight on Saturday , and laura had just filled the hot-water bottle she took to bed with her.The dog began to bark and then howl, and in between could be heard sobs that  seemed to have been learned by heart, as if they came  from a child who knows he is too big to still be crying like that . Laura titled her head that way Brus did when se asked him something , and realised that the sound was coming from the street, on the right-hand side of the building as you looked out. She went onto the balcony . A boy was looking up from the pavement, three storeys down. As soon as he saw her appear , he stopped crying

Fidel appeared and was noticed by her dog Brus .

This is one of those novels that leaves you with more questions than answers, much in the vain of a number of latin American novel particular Evelio Rosero .But also a framing of a lost child or ghost child that has frequently appeared in literature . Also a connection between a woman and a child that isn’t her child this is a theme that appeared in Fever Dream. Add to that Laura is reading Moby Dick a book itself that is about obsession and ghosts. This is a clever novella that like Fever dream from this years Man booker shows the strength of latin american fiction.

 

The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

Image result for traitor's niche

The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

Albanian Fiction

Original title – Kamarja e turpit

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Library copy

I near the end of the man boomer journey with last but one longlist book . I was surprised like Ellen Battersbye this  was on the list as the original book came pout in 1978, I do wonder why it took so long to translate , what isn’t such a bad novel. I have reviewed Ismail Kadare four times before on the blog , he has used history in the past to shine a light on his homelands present. I always view him like Pamuk or Llhosa as a future Nobel winner in that he writes good not great books but always good books to read.

It was not hard to imagine why this square had been chosen for the niche where the severed heads of rebels viziers or ill-starred senior officials were placed. Perhaps nowhere else could the eyes of passer-by so easily grasp the interdependency between the imposing solidity of the ancient square and the human heads that dared to show it disrespect. It was clear at once that the head’s lifeless eyes surveilled every corner of the square . In this way , even the feeblest and least imaginative passer-by could visualise, at least for a moment , his own head displayed at this unnatural Height.

The traitors niche is there to show the citizens who is who and keep them in line .

The Traitors niche is a tale about the backlash of the Ottoman Sultan to the area of his land that was Albania , he has sent his courier to this province to make sure that he gets the heads pf those the Sultan has ordered killed for standing up to the ottoman empire , he has also orders the end of the languages and customs of this place , as he is scared that history will repeat as they rebelled 400 years before that so as we follow Abdulla the courier sen to ge the heads as he gets slightly mad carrying the heads back home . The heads are destined to be put up on the Traitors niche which is guarded by Tundj and his two fellow guards. They have to follow a list of orders to make sure the heads are kept as long as possible by caring for them .

Albania had rebelled many times since the death of Scanderberg , may he never rest in peace, but never like this.This was an extended rebellion that came in waves like the shocks of an earthquake, sometimes overtly, sometimes in secret. It had been started long ago by the old Bushatli family in the north and continued by Ali Pasha Tepelena in the South, and was shaking the foundations of the historic empire .

There was always rebellion in Albania , but sometimes it needed stamping on like in the book .

This is classic Kadare his books are so set in the heart of his homeland this like most of historic novel are as much about the time they were set as the present . I was reminded in the way Tundj cared for the heads remind me of the way the soviets took care of the dead leader and I wondered if he imagined that Hoxha would want his body kept. Themn there is the way the Sultan wiped out an opposition to his ruler , much the way Hoxha did using his secret police to wipe pout any opposition . At this time Kadare was still writing and living in Albania and used the historic themes in his novels of the time like this and Three arched bridge and twilight of the eastern gods  both of which I have reviewed and both of which had been written around the same time as this book. KAdare used the past to highlight the violent repressive regime of his homeland .

 

The Shadow Man booker shortlist

We choose this year to announce the shortlist after the actual announcement . This was mainly as we all had a number of books to read this year and a number were 400 plus pages we gave everyone chance to read them , I read them all in the time but haven’t reviewed them all yet this week I hope to be done and will look back at the six below titles as we try to find the actual shadow winner .Well our six books are

Fever dream by Samantha Schweblin

Compass by Mathias Enard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

Judas by Amos Oz

Fish have no feet  by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Image result

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer

So there is our six a great list I feel as it has two books by two of my favourite publisher Fitzcarraldo and Maclehose press. What has been your favourite book

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

 

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

Belgian fiction

Original title – Oorlog en terpentijn

Translator- David Mckay

Source – review copy

Stefan Hertmans is a poet , novelist and short story writer . He has won a number of prizes including the AKO prize for this book. this is the next stop on the man booker list this is the one I felt would be on the liust as it was frequently compared to Sebald when it came out, which in a way made me get to it later in the list in case I was disappointed by it , which I wasn’t that it was very Sebald like (it isn’t really yes it has pictures and place and memories but in another context it isn’t Sebald work mainly dealt with the outfall of world war two ).

Strange as it may seem, there were details of my own world that never offered up their historical secrets until I read his memoirs: a gold pocket watch shattering on the tile floor ; an oval cigarette from a silver case , smoked in secret, which made me nauseous when I was fifteen years old ; a worn reddish-brown scarf on the discard cupboards in the dilapidated greenhouses, covered within droplets of the disoriented blackbirds that would throw themselves against the glass in panic .

Images of his youth come to life in his grandfathers notebooks

 

The story goes Urbain wrote these notebooks and he died in the sixties the son of a painter also called Urbaine were passed to his grand son Stefan the writer but he left them for thirty year what follows is his story of reading them. The first part of the story is pre world war one father and son in a the city og Ghent  just getting by making ends meet painting small fresco in churches around the town , a one point the son takes a job in gelatine factory , remind me of the time we see David Copperfield an artist in the making in the bottle factory another dangerous job .Now unlike Dickens in Urbaine case the war sends his life in another direction the most of the book is the grandfathers notebooks of his war experiences , very much like most war accounts of the tome we have a real feel of Mud , the trenches , rats and death in the air all around them. A break comes when he is sent to Liverpool to recover and paints the sea and places round Wallasey (I found an ironic connection to Hitler , here who many years earlier was in the same city painting ) The last part is post war a love story.

As soon as my health and the weather permitted I went out searching .Maud was right:in St James Street I found the church of St Vincent de Paul. My heart was pounding as I entered its damp , sparsely decorated interior. On the dingy walls to the left, there was no sign of any murals my father might have worked on. On the right , I found the stations of the cross on panels .there happened to be men at work in the church , whitewashing walls. They couldn’t recall any frescos under the whitewash.

Urbain tries to find a fresco his father did in Liverpool was he recovers

Now the book is littered with pictures the start that inspired father and son , the buildings of Ghent . Then in the war years the only picture we see is the one of Urbaine in his uniform at the end of the war a man with that thousand yard stare of someone who has seen death in the eye. This is slightly like Sebald , even in the last part of the book there is a quote from Vertigo .  The nearest english novel would be Siegfried  Sassoon cycle of books The Sherston trilogy , which follows a mans pre war and post war and war-time journey like this novel does . Hertmans manages to capture the madness brutality and darkness of the first world war.  I enjoyed this book it is destined to be a modern classic.

That was the months that was March April 2017

  1. Cheese by Willem Elssch
  2. Compass by Mathias Enard
  3. Octavio’s journey by Miguel Bonnefoy
  4. The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges
  5. The principle by Jerome Ferrari
  6. Judas by Amos Oz
  7. Fever dream by Samanta Schweblin
  8. Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
  9. Mirror , Shoulder , Signal by Dorthe Nors
  10. The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin
  11. Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer
  12. The explosion chronicles by Yan Lianke

 I Missed last month for obvious reasons so this is a round up of the twelve books I managed to review between April and March . One new press Contra Mundun from whom I reviewed The Major Refutation a quirky french novel .Eight countries have been covered by me in the last two months and I have read a number of french novels pushing the blog total to 90 french novels and nearer the goal of 100 for this year . with the twelve here it brings this years total of books reviewed to 38 .

Book of March and April

Compass by Mathias enard

I think this is a masterpiece an ode to a world that has now long gone the syria of many years ago is told over one night and a love story .

None book discovery

Well being Honest this has been a crap couple of months for me . I lost mum in March we had funeral in April and I am now mid way in the process of getting a new job in NHS , so I am rather sad at having to leave a place I have worked for twelve years but with my mum and step mothers passing in the last couple of year I had decided long term I need a job that would see me best in my last twenty odd years of work. But like many folks in time of trouble we seek solace in what we know and for me that has been the last two star wars film which I got on bluray disc the last few months they have given me many an hours break from what has been a hard couple of months.

Looking forward

well we have the shadow shortlist to come out soon . I have a number books I have brought recently and a huge backlog of review books to read. BellaDonna  I hope finish tomorrow is another great book from an old favourite of this blog Dasa Drndic , also the second Peter Owen world series three books from Spain I have read Nona’s room already a stunning collection of short stories .

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French Memoir

Original title – Immortelle Randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi

Translator – Martina Dervis and Malcom Imrie

Source – Review copy

I have reviewed one novel by Rufin before Red collar ,which I loved and him as a person I felt was an interesting character he was an early member of Médecins Sans Frontières and also action against hunger . He has also been an ambassador for France to Senegal and Gambia . He has also won two versions of the Prix Goncourt in his time the one for the first novel with his debut and the main prize for his book Red Brazil .But this non fiction work grabbed me when it dropped through the door earlier this year.

What makes the camino de santiago different is that it is not a punishment but a voluntary ordeal. At least , that is what you think, though this view will be swiftly challenged by experience.Anyone who walks the Camino will sooner or later end up thinking they were condemned to it . The fact that they condemned themselves alters nothing; the punishments we impose on ourselves are often no less rigorous than those society inflicts.

Before he sets out he tries to find out more about the camino

The reason I was grabbed bu this book is because I have a small interest in the way of st james or as it is called Camino de Santiago a group or pilgrimage paths across  France and Spain and earlier ones that go into england as well  . We follow Jean Christophe across the Northern route which is the coastal path  the northern route as he considered it a quieter route and would meet less pilgrims on the way but also the journey he recalls the place this one takes in a number of cities along the way Bilbao and Ovideo both of which Rufin describeds very well and then the few pilgrims he meets he describes in breif pen sketches their reasons and where they are from for the journey .as he recalls his time on the Camino .

The third category , not so much romantic but no less touching, is composed of those who knew love a long time ago , entered into the sacred bonds of matrimony, and then suffered its trials and tribulations until their greatest wish was to be free again but the freedom they seek is of the kind and considerate sort – they don’t want to break up a happy families or hurt anyone, they just want a breather,with a little help from Saint James

The man he met from the saint James association was from this third group that take Pilgrimage.

The book is written after he completed the walk , so he kept no notes so what is kept is the bare bones pf what he remember . He took it as a challenge , a journey of discovery but he wanted a to take a less trodden route the northern one .I first came across the way of Saint James in the series Brian Sewell did in the early 2000 about his journey on the camino back in the 1960 when it wasn’t quite as popular as itis now , with 200,00 plus people a year taking the route from barely a 1000 in the early eighties . Another story about the Camino is the 2010 film which  Martin sheen starred in a film directed by his son called the The way about a father completing his late son journey on the camino . The we also have Cees Nooteboom book . Like Rufin they all reveal how people are effected by the camino. The journey is more followed now maybe the pilgrimage is like the third type of pilgrim is a way to clear your slate in the modern age a trip into a  mythical past of monks churches getting your stamps as you follow the way if st james and it scallop shells and get your pilgrim card stamped

 

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