Analysis of Gabriel García Márquez’s Leaf Storm

Garcıa Márquez’s (1927-2014) first novella, Leaf Storm, was translated into English in 1972, eighteen years after it was published in Spanish and two years after the English-speaking public first read his acclaimed masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. As might be expected, some critics in the United States used  as the model against which to compare this novella. In a novella (which is generally shorter than a novel), as in the short story, a fictional narrative is restricted to a single event, situation, or conflict. As the British author and literary critic John Anthony Cuddon noted, while this often

produces an element of suspense and leads to an unexpected turning point so that the conclusion surprises even while it is a logical outcome, the novella is also characterized by its length, which although indeterminate, nevertheless lies between a short story and a full-length novel. (Cuddon 642)

As examples of novellas, one may think of The Old Man and the Sea (1952) by Ernest Hemingway, as well as two others by Garcıa Márquez: No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) and In Evil Hour (1962).

La hojarasca (as it was published in Spanish in 1955) appeared in English as Leaf Storm and Other Stories. Some critics were initially unable to appreciate Leaf Storm. A reviewer for Time magazine, Martha Duffy, wrote that Leaf Storm was in most ways a disappointment, as she found it filled with “undifferentiated nostalgia for old values, old vitality, and old civility” (Duffy 25). However, Leaf Storm did not disappoint all critics. From a more literary perspective, Kathleen McNerney believed that Leaf Storm anticipated the fiction that was yet to come. She explained: “Leaf Storm contains elements of enough other works by Garcıa Márquez to qualify it as a microcosm of the body of his oeuvre” (McNerney 104). As if it were a seed or an embryo, Leaf Storm’s theme and techniques are developed more fully in later works. The author has offered his own endorsement. Gabriel Garcıa Márquez stated that “of all the books he had written [as of 1973], Leaf Storm was his favorite because he felt it was his most sincere and spontaneous” (McMurray 1977, 3). Leaf Storm also reveals the beginnings of a serious writer, who is attentive to form and technique and responsive to the literary traditions that preceded his work—Latin American, classical, and European. One example of this form is the placement and origin of the epigraph (a quotation placed at the beginning of a work, which alludes to common themes) that opens the novella and links it thematically to the classics of Western literature, and specifically to Sophocles’ Antigone. The relationship between the classical Antigone and Leaf Storm will be examined later in the chapter. Another example is a prominent technique employed, stream of consciousness, which reveals an influence, or perhaps a coincidence (as Mario Vargas Llosa pointed out), with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Gabriel García Márquez/Glamour.es

However, before entering into the thoughts and feelings of Leaf Storm’s main characters, the author prepares the reader with two devices. First, a foreboding of the theme of death and the dispute to the rights and rites of burial is initiated by the epigraph from Sophocles’ Antigone. This is followed by a prologue in the voice of an omniscient narrator writing in the first person plural. The prologue’s writer is located in Macondo, in the year 1909. The reader learns that Macondo is undergoing three historical events: the arrival of a banana company (the United Fruit Company); the coming of the people that the banana company attracted, known as “la hojarasca” (the leaf storm); and the end of a Colombian civil war.

The nature of these three events not only defines the background of the novella, but also establishes the presence and importance of the community, which is partly composed of “la hojarasca.” Macondo, the physical space where the novella takes place, may have been inspired by the name of a plantation near where Gabriel Garcıa Márquez grew up, but the Macondo of Leaf Storm is fictional; there is no town named Macondo in Colombia.

Against this background, the author uses the stream-of-consciousness technique to explore themes such as death, war, the double, the other, and solitude. The stream of consciousness technique “seeks to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind” (Cuddon 919). In Leaf Storm, specifically, this literary device can be seen through the inner thoughts of the colonel, his daughter, Isabel, and Isabel’s son. All tell the story of the burial of a stranger hated by the townspeople, the doctor. The stream of consciousness of the ten-year-old child, the twenty-nine-year-old Isabel, and the respected old colonel engage the reader in the moral, religious, and political struggles of a family within the community of rural Macondo.

PLOT DEVELOPMENT

The events announced in the prologue spark both curiosity and suspense in the reader. The curiosity to know about these newcomers, these outsiders referred to as a whirling leaf storm and identified as “a swirling crowd that smelled of skin secretion and hidden death” (2). The ominous description will intrigue the reader, who is told that this diverse group of people has come to dominate the everyday life of Macondo. The omniscient narrator of the prologue, a member of the founders, laments this fact when he says that “the first of us came to be the last; we were the outsiders, the newcomers” (2).

The plot can be summarized as the efforts of an old colonel to give a Christian burial to an outsider who was hated by the townspeople—a French doctor. No one in the community, other than his own daughter and grandson, supports the old colonel. As a part of the plot, the child’s stream of consciousness allows the reader to pose the question: Why does this happen? This question can be seen as open-ended due to at least four different possibilities. The child, up until now, has never seen a corpse; hence he is unfamiliar with the concept of death. He wonders why he is all dressed up as if it were Sunday; he questions why he has been brought to the doctor’s wake; and indeed, he wonders why no one else comes to the wake other than himself, his mother, his grandfather, and four Guajiro Indians who work for his grandfather. The child’s viewpoint reveals his own concept of social class when he describes his own house as faded and run-down, but as “the perfect” imaginary house. He believes in ghosts and local omens. Although it is much too early for a boy not yet eleven years old, he has become sexually active as a voyeur, getting sexual pleasure by viewing Lucrecia’s nude body (78).

Isabel, the boy’s mother, would have preferred not to come to the wake. Like her son, she also asks herself the rhetorical question, Why is this happening? Despite the fact that she is nearly thirty years old, she finds herself hopeless and lacking free will. Isabel’s continuing blind obedience to her father is her downfall. As an act of obedience, she marries Mart ́ın, whom her father has chosen as a husband. Mart ́ın, she says, “seemed to be linked to my father by a deep and solid friendship, and my father spoke of him as if it were he and not I who was going to marry Mart ́ın” (62). However, after two years, Mart ́ın leaves her and their son.

Isabel’s viewpoint gives the novella a traditionally feminine approach. Through her, the reader penetrates the psychology of the women in the community. Isabel talks about the Indian ways of the woman Meme, who, she says, “was at the same time both open and reserved; a mixed-up combination of innocence and mistrust” (18). Isabel pays attention to dress codes and styles, and she passes judgment on what is cheap, ridiculous, elegant or otherwise. It is through her viewpoint that the reader learns of love affairs and betrayal. Isabel’s friendship with Meme provides the former with the history of her family and that of Macondo. Meme, says Isabel, “Spoke to me about the journey my parents [they were first cousins] had made during the war, about the pilgrimage that would end with settling in Macondo” (24). Meme knows about Isabel’s personal history, literally—she knows where, Isabel and her family come from.

Isabel’s awareness of daily life and the declines of social interactions provide her with a knowledge of law and order, as based on social class and race. Isabel’s awareness of social class comes from living in a country mansion, having Indian servants, and watching her father impose his will on the town’s mayor, who presumably represents the community at large.

Moving from Isabel’s point of view, the narrative perspective shifts to that of the old, lame colonel; this allows the reader to enter the institutional community, particularly the law and the Church. As only he can, the colonel recounts the present and the past of Macondo—its movie house, its whorehouse, its shops, and public life in general. His stream of consciousness brings the story together. What he knows about the doctor forces him to go against the wishes of the whole town, which opposes the Christian burial of the foreign man (who is probably of French origin). He acts out of pride, moral values, and ties of old friendship. The ties are with none other than Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa, son of Jose Arcadio Buendıa, the patriarch and founder of Macondo in Solitude. At least twenty-five years before the novella begins, Colonel Buendıa had given the doctor a letter of recommendation to the old, nameless colonel of Leaf Storm.

Through the stream of consciousness of the colonel, readers witness the rise and fall of a community and its institutions as they pass from the late 1800s to the second decade of the 1900s. Astoundingly, all these events occur within the short time frame of a half-hour and inside the four walls of a room on Wednesday, September 12, 1928, around 2:30 on a hot and sunny afternoon of a leap year, in Macondo.

GENRE AND NARRATIVE STRUCTURE

In Leaf Storm Garcıa Márquez begins with a technique more commonly used in the movies: he begins in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things”). When an author uses this technique, the narration can start in the middle or at any other point in the story. Thereafter, the writer brings interrelated events together without having to follow a linear time line and sometimes, as in Leaf Storm, working in a circular and repetitious way. In the case of Leaf Storm the reader is present, from the very start of the narration, at the doctor’s wake, which happens to occur at the end of the story. Who is this dead man? What did he die from? How old is he? Why is a strange child telling the story? From the start the reader has to pay close attention to events, because any information that the main characters provide is given only in small increments and at unexpected times.

Rich in technique, Leaf Storm seems to be a most experimental work for someone who was publishing for the first time. The reader may have the illusion of listening to the narrative voice of the child, but what is really heard is his inner voice or thoughts. What is heard is, actually, his stream of consciousness. Dressed up in an uncomfortable green corduroy suit, the child wonders why he has to be there, all dressed up “as if it were a Sunday,” knowing that he should be in school because it is actually Wednesday. Although his language reflects his childlike point of view, at times he sounds too precocious and his language is not that of a child. Before the narrative point of view shifts to his mother, the child hears a train whistle in the distance and thinks, “It’s two thirty” (7). He thinks of his friend Abraham, and how, at that time, the boys in school would be lining up for the first class of the afternoon. These imaginative leaps in time and space seem effortless, and they lead the reader to surprises time and time again.

Shifting to the mother’s point of view, the reader learns that she wories about the townspeople’s opinion. She reacts to public opinion: she finds burying the doctor to be ridiculous and shameful because everybody in town wanted him dead. She also hears the train whistling and confirms that it is 2:30 on a hot afternoon in September. In Macondo, this is the time for a siesta, and she thinks of Father Angel dozing, sitting in the sacristy. Isabel’s stream of consciousness seems to be the most disjointed; she thinks of Meme as dead; looks at her father and thinks, “he’s cold-blooded about the burial”; and thinks about what other people may think of them. She worries about time and about her dress; she decides that being at the burial was her destiny. All this was supposed to happen to her in this fateful leap year, after the doctor committed suicide by hanging himself.

In journalistic style, Garcıa Márquez unfolds details, one by one, to construct an atmosphere that can be better seen as the reader moves through the novella. Unlike in journalism, however, the facts are passed on as if in oral form, as if the characters were talking, perhaps telling the reader something he or she already knows. As is the case in oral tradition, the news is passed on by word of mouth in a circular and repetitive way. The point of view shifts back from Isabel to the child and then from the child to the old colonel. At this point, the reader experiences both a dialogue with the mayor, with whom the colonel discusses his right to bury the doctor, and the colonel’s own stream of consciousness. Through the former, the reader learns that the mayor shares the anger of the town against the doctor. The town’s anger has turned to hate because the doctor had refused to take care of some wounded men. Having refused to do what the town considered a charitable act, the townspeople turn their back on the doctor for the next ten years. The doctor had not even drunk the water in his well for ten years for fear that it might be poisoned.

By the end of the first chapter of Leaf Storm the reader has been given most of the facts that sustain the novella. The breakdown of time and the disjointed order of events suggest the random nature of the thought processes of the three main characters: Isabel, the colonel, and the child.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Leaf Storm, like most of Garcıa Márquez’s fictional works, leads the reader to envision a whole town and its people interacting with one another as if they were all fully developed characters. This illusion is due to the fact, on the one hand, that Garcıa Márquez’s fiction is filled with characters that come in and out of the story as a mere enunciation— as a spoken reference or part of the social scene, often with a first name and sometimes even with a last name. The main characters, on the other hand, may appear fully developed yet lack names. This is the case for some of the main characters of Leaf Storm. Of the four main characters who dominate the story, three have no name: the colonel, his grandson, and the doctor; we learn only the name of the colonel’s daughter, which is Isabel. Both the colonel and Isabel tell the story of the doctor, making it the axis around which several other stories are told. Among the most important are the love affair of Meme and the doctor and the arrival of the town’s priest, Father Angel, accompanied by flashbacks of the old town.

Of the old colonel the reader is told that he wears glasses, uses a cane to walk, and has a lame leg that he has to keep stretched out when he sits down. The narrative focuses on a few salient physical characteristics, just enough to enable the reader to visualize the character. The colonel is fully developed, not only by how other characters see him, but also by the way he sees himself. He, as much as Isabel, shows a tremendous self-awareness of what the town thinks of them. The mayor of Macondo, for example, thinks of the colonel as a respectable man, and the colonel in turn seems convinced of the mayor’s respectability, for he fought alongside the colonel’s former commander, Colonel Aureliano Buendıa. He is a member of the town founders and therefore disdains the newcomers brought to town by the banana boom. They are the despicable people whom he calls “the leaf storm,” which gives the name to the novella. Few people escape his disdain other than the doctor, the priest, Meme, and, curiously enough, the total stranger, Mart ́ın.

Although a newcomer, Mart ́ın wins the colonel’s trust to the extent that Mart ́ın ends up marrying his only daughter. The colonel, like the doctor, leads a life apart from the community. The colonel rules his life by his own principles and so defies the Church, the state, and the community.

The doctor behaves in a similar way. However, unlike the colonel, who receives respect, the doctor receives hatred. The townspeople and the Church justify their hatred in different ways. The people of Macondo hate the doctor for refusing to care for some of their men who were wounded in war. For this reason, they do not want the doctor to be given a Christian burial. The omniscient narrator knows that Father Angel “had been a colonel at the age of seventeen and that he was intrepid, hardheaded, and against the government” (32). Father Angel also denies the doctor a Christian burial when he says, “I won’t let them bury in consecrated ground a man who hanged himself after having lived sixty years without God” (15).

The doctor is a well-developed character whose persona, from the moment of his arrival in town, defines him as a social outcast. He can be seen as a man standing against the community, like the colonel, but his decision throughout the story is viewed as egotistical. The colonel’s decision to go against the town is not viewed as egotistical but it is, nevertheless, defiant. His is the decision of a man who views himself as self-righteous, respected, and loved.

Isabel is a character who is identified by her beauty and her passivity, which is also shared by Adelaida, her stepmother. There is nothing about Isabel’s persona that shows independence and free will, even though she is a mother, and nearly thirty years of age. This can be said because Meme, her Indian nanny, is the only woman in the narrative who makes decisions for herself against the will of others: she stands against the paternalistic colonel, against her own lover (the hated doctor), and against the town. Isabel’s life is marked by a series of unfortunate incidents. The most important life events are marked by tragedy, beginning with her birth, which causes her mother’s death. A year later, her father marries again, to Adelaida.

The characterization of Meme seems shortened and left to the towns people’s imagination, as well as to that of the community of readers of the text. For Meme, Isabel feels love but not admiration. Meme, like the four Indians present at the wake, grew up in Isabel’s home as part of the family, but she is considered more a possession than a member of the family.

For Genoveva, a young woman who ran away with her lover—the head of a company of puppeteers—and later returns, Isabel feels sad (83). Either for love or because she simply wants to escape Macondo, Genoveva leaves. Later she returns with six children, and nothing more is said of the puppeteer.

Characters such as the mayor and the four Guajiro Indians, along with the stepmother and Genoveva, among others, appear as character types. They seem to complement the main characters by providing continuity to what they have to say, as opposed to expressing their own point of view.

It is interesting to note the characterization of the child, Isabel’s son. His viewpoint, above all others, is the only one that needs no interaction. His world is totally autonomous. He does not worry about the community, and he looks at death with the same curiosity that he sees life.He never loses track of time and wonders, instead, what his friends at school are doing at that moment.

The careful development of characters in Leaf Storm serves to depict a rural Latin American community where the main character is not the colonel nor the doctor, but the community itself—the town of Macondo. The narrative voice of the omniscient narrator announces that fact from the beginning, in the prologue. The reader, however, gets immersed in the stream of consciousness of the main characters. It is indeed the community that both the omniscient narrator and the colonel call “the leaf storm,” which supplies the story’s title. Unlike single characters developed in a detailed way, the community as character can be better understood if the reader thinks of it as atmosphere. The community as character can be seen through the mood, the feelings, the interpersonal relations between the townspeople, and the relationships between the townspeople and their institutions. Macondo thus becomes a physical place, although imaginary, in the mind of the readers. At the end of Leaf Storm the reader will have the impression of dwelling in a rural Latin American town and its people.

THEMATIC ISSUES

The doctor’s death and his self-imposed solitude, which is shared by others as well as by the town as a whole, comprise the central theme of Leaf Storm. In fact, the two themes combined can be seen as one—as solitude, a theme that has always interested Garcıa Márquez.

The epigraph that precedes the story, a quote from Sophocles’ classical Greek play Antigone, establishes the connections that add meaning to Leaf Storm. In Antigone’s plot, readers come to know about an individual who knows the life-threatening consequences of her actions yet nevertheless, chooses to defy the state’s decrees and obey a higher, moral law. Creon, the reigning king, announces that no one may bury Antigone’s brother, Polyneices. Anyone who attempts to bury him “will die by public stoning in the town.” In Leaf Storm, the colonel does not face certain death but only the town’s veiled menace. He does not defy a written law, although he risks the community’s opprobrium (disapproval). Unlike Antigone daring to bury her brother, the colonel seeks to bury a stranger recommended to him by Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa, once his superior officer from a distant time and place. The act of defiance, by both Antigone and the colonel, is carried out by an individual acting alone and in response to death.

Like the solitude of death, a feeling of solitude haunts all the characters. The town itself suffers the solitude that comes from isolation. However, although the colonel, the main characters, and the town are all isolated, nobody suffers solitude more than the doctor. He comes to Macondo without knowledge of the culture. He chooses to live like a hermit, bound and insulated in his own life, and acts as if there were no need for anyone special in his life. He loves no one and needs no one. He makes no effort to be connected to anyone or anything. Once he has left the colonel’s house, he closes the door of his house and literally never leaves for ten years. The doctor’s solitude ends with the loneliest act of all, his suicide.

The solitude of the characters is emphasized, as critic Kathleen McNerney points out, by the technique of interior monologue: “each narrator is turned inward, and what little dialogue there is is always a quotation within someone else’s monologue” (McNerney 104). All the characters are far removed from one another and also far away from themselves, immersed in their own thoughts. Both the child and his mother wonder to themselves why they have to be at the burial and wish they were elsewhere. The solitude of the colonel is well marked by the fact that a letter of recommendation from far away is enough to open his house to a complete stranger. By this act the colonel shows loyalty to a time and place other than his own at the time of the story.

The theme of solitude permeates nearly all Garcıa Márquez’s works, either overtly or covertly. The solitude of Leaf Storm may seem concealed, as opposed to its use in his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which solitude is mentioned in the title.

Although solitude and death are the two most prominent themes in Leaf Storm, several other themes merit mention and further study for their relevance to Garcıa Márquez’s work: war, the double, and the other. These themes seem to create the atmosphere of Leaf Storm. Regardless of the fact that the narrative itself starts with the doctor’s corpse, by the end of the first chapter the reader has learned that the doctor came to Macondo twenty-five years before. He arrived at the colonel’s home with a reminder of the colonel’s days at war. In fact, the colonel remembers this war as the Great War. The use of the superlative makes the reader assume that there were indeed other wars as well (17).

The theme of war, as most readers of Garcıa Márquez can attest, is recurrent in nearly all his works. In Leaf Storm, there are several other indications that the town has suffered the effects of war. The reader knows, for example, that Macondo has experienced some civil unrest when reading that the doctor has refused to tend some men wounded in war. Nonetheless, the theme of war may pass almost unnoticed for some readers.

The theme of the double appears even less developed than the theme of war; it appears to be almost latent, as if waiting to appear again in a different story. In fact, the theme of the double is front and center in Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Leaf Storm, however, it is there only in embryo. The reader is told that the doctor and the priest of the town, “the Pup,” can almost pass for brothers, due to a strong physical resemblance, but no one is confused as to who is who. This is not the case with the identical twins who do the killing in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

The theme of the other appears inverted. To the colonel, most everybody is the other. The prologue reads that with the arrival of the banana company, waves of people came and settled. All of these outsiders, seen as the other, become the majority, and therefore the colonel is turned into the other, thus inverting the concept. The doctor, as Michael Bell writes, “provides its principal focus” (13). Not even the colonel’s family ever fully accepts him, even though he lived with them for nearly ten years. The doctor was always the other. His status was always that of a stranger, a real outsider. His otherness is even obvious in the strange ways in which he eats and sleeps.

Like the themes of war and the double, the theme of the other recurs in Garcıa Márquez’s writing. Bell notes “the arrival of a stranger [the doctor, for example] is a frequent catalyst in Marquez’s fiction since his theme is often the incapacity to assimilate the outsider” (Bell 13). Often, but not always: Mart ́ın is not only a stranger who is assimilated, but he is given the colonel’s daughter in marriage.

SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Leaf Storm does not reflect the Colombian political turmoil of the 1950s, the decade in which it was published. The novella mentions nothing about the dictatorship or the dictator in power, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. It recreates, instead, life during the first two decades of the twentieth century in an impoverished, sleepy town, where the law is corrupt, social order is rigid, and social mobility does not exist. Even today, for many people, this image describes rural towns in Latin America. Therefore, although the novella is not overtly political, it has an underlying tone of protest, a recognizable trait of Garcıa Márquez’s writing and of Latin American prose in general. This can be observed in the mayor’s refusal to allow the old colonel to bury the foreign doctor, for example. The old colonel defies, not so much the town’s mayor, but rather the institution that the mayor represents.

The narrative portrays the problems suffered in a rigid society where there is a strong division of social classes. The colonel and his family represent the upper class. His military rank and the fact that he is a member of the “old families” of Macondo give him the strength and power to defy the mayor. The priest, who is a friend of the colonel, is also a member of the upper class due to the power and influence he exercises through his position in the church. The townspeople—la hoja- rasca—represent the working-class poor. Except for a projected, vague, and foreboding menace attributed to this group, it is essentially powerless. The Guajiro Indians belong to the lowest class of the region and are portrayed as servants. One of these is Meme, the doctor’s lover. She is considered unworthy of marriage to the doctor because she is an Indian.

The prologue provides the reader with enough information to understand the social and the historical components of the novella, but it does not explain it. The reader has to assemble the story piece by piece, as with a puzzle. This makes the reading difficult because of the constant shift of voice, or viewpoint, from the child to his mother, to the colonel, back to the mother, and so on throughout the narrative. There the child’s point of view closes the novella. If it is valid to say that the reader has to fit the pieces of the story together, it can be added that at the end of the story, the reader will continue to be puzzled by certain inexplicable events. The colonel’s behavior, for example, seems very inconsistent: he acts loyally and morally toward the doctor but inconsiderately toward his own daughter. He defies the whole community and fulfills his promise in insisting on the sacred right to bury the doctor, yet he marries his only daughter to Mart ́ın, a stranger. Mart ́ın is a nobody, perhaps even a swindler, who, in fact, leaves town, his wife, and his two-year-old son, never to return. Leaf Storm is not a nostalgic, complacent look at the past, but a critical and thought-provoking account.

Bibliography
Choice, September 1970: 19.
Christian Science Monitor, February 24, 1972: 8.
Duffy, Martha. “Back to Macondo.” In Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. 25–26.
McMurray, George R., ed. Critical Essays on Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
———. Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977.
McNerney, Kathleen. Understanding Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
New York Review of Books, April 6, 1972: 18. New York Times Book Review, January, 20, 1972: 1.
Time, March 13, 1972: 99.Bell, Michael. Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez: Solitude and Solidarity. Modern Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.

Source: Rubén Pelayo – Gabriel García Márquez A Critical Companion (2001, Greenwood)



Categories: Latin American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Magical Realism, Novel Analysis, Short Story

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1 reply

  1. Wow, great review! Now I’m definitely going to have to read Leaf Storm sometime!

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