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  • Written by Sana Krasikov
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Written by Sana KrasikovAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sana Krasikov

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On Sale: August 12, 2008
Pages: 208 | ISBN: 978-0-385-52690-6
Published by : Spiegel & Grau Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

One More Year is Sana Krasikov’s extraordinary debut collection, illuminating the lives of immigrants from across the terrain of a collapsed Soviet Empire. With novelistic scope, Krasikov captures the fates of people–in search of love and prosperity–making their way in a world whose rules have changed.




From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

COMPANION


Since she'd arrived in America and gotten divorced, Ilona Siegal had been set up three times. The first man was not an ordinary man but a Ph.D. from Moscow, the friend who'd arranged the date said. When Ilona opened her door, she'd found the Ph.D. standing on her front steps in a pair of paper-sheer yellow jogging shorts. He was thin, in the famished way of grazing animals and endurance athletes, with folds of skin around his kneecaps and wiry rabbit muscles braiding into his inner thighs. Under his arm he held what, in a moment of brief confusion, Ilona took for a wine bottle. But when he stepped inside she saw that it was only a liter of water he'd brought along for himself. Their plan had been to take a walk around a nearby park and then go out to lunch. But the Ph.D. had already been to the park. It wasn't anything special, he said. He'd just gone jogging there. He didn't like to miss his jogs, and since he'd driven an hour and a half out of his way to meet her he'd gotten in a run first. Ilona poured him a glass of grapefruit juice and listened to him talk about his work at Bell Labs. He reclined in his chair, his knees apart, unaware that one of his testicles was inching out of the inner lining of his shorts. Ilona stared at his face, trying not to look down.

The second man was American, somebody's co-worker, brought along to a party to meet her. He had graying red hair and his light lashes were coated with dandruff-like flakes. He took Ilona to an outdoor concert at the local community college. Afterward, she waited while he searched the cabinets of his kitchen, finally producing a tray of crackers and a dry triangle of Brie. All she remembered now of the man's small apartment was the blinding light of his empty refrigerator.

The last man was too young for her and obviously gay. He'd agreed to meet Ilona because he had the impression that she was an illegal who needed to marry to stay in the country. As soon as they sat down at an outdoor table at a cafe, the man told her that he wouldn't normally consider such an offer but his mother had fallen ill and he needed to pay for her treatment. Ilona nodded in sympathy and asked the young man to repeat himself more slowly. She understood that her case had been shoved so far into the recesses of her acquaintanceships that the people who now gave out her phone number no longer knew who she was or what she wanted.

It had not always been this way. There had been happier times, when she'd had both a husband and a lover; when she and her husband had thrown parties in their Tbilisi apartment that went late into the night, with longer and longer rounds of toasts and the smell of sweat and sharp cologne overpowering even the odor of cigarettes. Nothing fed Ilona's spirits more than the company of men. She loved the sound of their hoarse voices, the amateur authority with which they spoke about world affairs and other matters they had absolutely no effect on. But most of all she loved the flattering light of their attention. After the last female guest had said good night, and she had found herself in the thrilling half-susceptible state of being the only woman at the party, was when modesty came most easily to her. It lent coherence to her whole character, so that she could finally be her most humorous and disarming self. But all that had been a world ago and she tried to think about it as little as possible, now that she came home to an apartment that was not hers, and to a man who was neither a spouse nor a lover but who seemed to demand more of her than either possibly could.



"Have you met Thomaz?" Taia said. "He's outside."

"The Georgian?" Ilona went to the sink to rinse off her hands. "I hope you didn't invite him here for me." Her fingers were grainy with the watermelon she'd been slicing. She ran them under the tap and felt around on the counter for her rings.

"I didn't invite him at all. He came with the Gureviches."

"He's a bit young, no?" Ilona slipped on the bigger of the three rings first, a teardrop diamond in a five-prong setting.

"If you're comparing him with your roommate," said Taia, who almost never referred to Earl by name. "Don't lose those." She glanced down at the rings. "One day you'll take one off and it'll fall down a drain. Some women don't even wear the jewelry they own. They have copies made."

"So maybe I should tear off a piece of tinfoil and wrap that around my finger instead?"

"Do what you want," Taia said.

There was no point, Ilona decided, in reminding Taia that before Felix started making money, Taia had been so cheap she'd gutted empty tubes of Crest, scraping the toothpaste from the creases. No matter how tough her life got, Ilona thought, she'd never lower herself to something so miserly. At least she made use of the nice things she owned. Unlike Taia, whose kitchen had floor-to-ceiling pantries, brushed stainless-steel everything, and polished granite counters that she touched only when she was throwing a party.

"Did you put new low lights in the ceiling?" Ilona asked.

"It was Felix's idea." Taia tipped her head back. "He thought we'd get more for the house if the kitchen was brighter."

"You're selling it?"

"Not right away. It usually takes a year."

"You didn't tell me."

"We haven't really told anyone. Except the Kogans, and the Weinbergs, in case anyone knew of anyone who was looking. It isn't a secret."

There were plenty of things that Taia forgot to tell her--but selling a house? Was that just another bit of information exchanged between people with money, like a stock tip?

"Oh, don't be upset. A year's a long time. You can still come here whenever you need to get away from that man. Come this weekend. We're going to Providence for Parents' Day. You could drop in and water the plants, feed the cat." Taia laid down her paring knife and stood up. "Let me find you a key."

"I still have the key from last time," Ilona said. She couldn't tell if Taia was offering her a favor or asking for one, just as she couldn't judge if her friends kept things to themselves to protect her feelings or because they found her irrelevant. She knew they gossiped. A year ago she used to bring up Earl in conversation all the time--told her friends stories about his two favorite activities, researching his genealogy and organizing his video collection, and mimicked him mercilessly even if he was in the next room, or precisely because he was in the next room and didn't understand a word of Russian. She was staying with him so she could save up for her own apartment. But lately she'd started to realize that unless she wanted to move north into Putnam County or south into the Bronx, and either way end up an hour's drive from her job, her sojourn would have to drag on for at least another year.

She stepped outside and into the sun. The clouds were coasting slowly in the sky, forming metallic reflections in the second-story windows. The air was smoky from the grill. On the patio two men were lamenting the loss of jobs to Bangalore. Ilona walked past the Kogans and the Ulitskys, past the women reclining in white lounge chairs. It was mid-September, but already she felt a kick of cold in the air. She wore a silk blouse, while the others had come in cotton sweaters. She set her cup on the refreshments table and bent down to refill it with seltzer. A few dead leaves had fallen on the grass. They were the weakest leaves, the lemon-lime color of early fall.

When she turned around, she found Felix standing behind her. "Where is your friend today?" he said, and surveyed the people scattered around the lawn.

"When I left, he was still sleeping in front of his sixty-inch television."

"So Earl fell asleep and you snuck out?"

"Do I need Earl's permission to see my friends?"

"No. But I thought you'd extend the invitation to him."

"And what makes you think I didn't?"

"I don't think he would have missed an opportunity to be seen with you."
She was too tired to play this game today. Every time Felix tried to make her feel better he only made her feel worse. It was his diplomacy that was the worst of it, his awareness that every comment could be taken as a potential insult. The old contrite song, not for their affair of eleven years ago--which, thankfully, no one had learned about--but for all the other disappointments in her life.

"Earl couldn't come because he isn't feeling well. He's still weak from his bypass." It was a lie, an obvious one, because five months had passed since Earl's surgery. But who was going to argue? She picked up a plate. "I'm going to get something to eat."

"Please do." Felix stepped back a pace and returned her evasiveness with a delicate smile.

It was her fault for allowing Earl to meet her friends in the first place. She'd brought him along to the Fourth of July party a year ago and introduced him to everyone as her "roommate." As though this would explain anything. He was seventy, she was forty-five. She may as well have called him her chef or her architect--it would have sounded more plausible. The minute she left him alone, he'd drifted off into an empty hallway. She'd discovered him an hour later in the foyer, talking to Felix about Hiroshima. Laughter from the party floated in from the yard while Earl went on about the Japanese who had jumped into the Motoyasu River only to be scalded alive by boiling water.

She felt her heels sinking into the lawn as she walked. Most of the other guests were wearing loafers or sneakers. A few had gathered around the grill to listen to the Georgian, the man Taia had mentioned. It was hard to tell if he was handsome or not; Ilona had seen him on the way into the party and had noted the light-gray eyes and crooked lower teeth, a combination that stirred an almost queasy sympathy in her. He looked younger than the men around him, possibly as young as thirty-five, yet he appeared to be on the brink of a decline that might be rapid, so that, when he finally did age, he would do so overnight.

"They told me they were guarding a base," the Georgian said, as the men parted to make room for Ilona. "They said that their friend had been shot in the hand and needed drugs to relieve the pain. I offered antibiotics, but they wanted morphine." She had no idea which war he was speaking of. It could have been Abkhazia or South Ossetia. She'd left Georgia three years before the republic had split from Russia, and its new problems--which autonomous province wanted independence next--had little impact on her. She'd heard of addicts in Tbilisi raiding hospitals even in peacetime. Perhaps it was the snobbery of distance: nothing would ever change there.

"I wanted to get out," he went on. "But when I stood up, one of them was pointing a rifle in my face."

"But you had a gun!" one of the men interrupted. "You should have shot him in the mouth!"

"Which mouth?" another said. "There were two of them!"

"I did something more dangerous than that," the Georgian continued. "I began to curse. I called them every name I could think of, hoping to alert someone who might overhear me. But I was running out of profanities."

He paused, glancing at Ilona. He looked surprised by the silent attention he had drawn.

"Aren't you going to tell us if you survived?" Ilona asked.

"Thank you," he said, nodding. "I did survive." He had a long jaw with a dimpled chin; it was the only feature that lent any merriment to his face. "I heard a vehicle drive into the hospital yard. The addicts thought it was a carload of soldiers. But it was only a man with an attack of pancreatitis."

"Pancreatitis? He must have been an alcoholic," Ilona said.

The Georgian acknowledged her mutely with his brows. He waited for the people around him to disperse into smaller groups. "He was. You work in an alcohol clinic?"

"No, a urologist's office. But I was a nurse in Tbilisi," she said.

"And what do you do now?"

"Catheters, rectal exams. Technically I am only a receptionist, so I also pick up the phone. But that's the only legal thing I do."

"Then your work is closer to medicine than mine," he said. "During the day I lay carpet."

"And at night?"

"At night I clean supermarkets."

"Then I wish you luck finding something more suited to your skills."

The man's eyes flitted across her face, as if they couldn't decide which part to examine first. "That may be hard for me to do without a work permit. My visa expires in a month."

"And after that?"

He shrugged. "We'll see. I am Thomaz," he said, offering his hand. She squeezed it lightly. "Ilona."
He held on to her fingers. "In my life I have met only two Ilonas, and both of you are very beautiful."
She felt heat rising in her face. So he is this kind of man, she thought. He was standing close, and she had to look up to speak to him. "You live in the city?" she said. Thomaz aimed his dimpled chin at a heavyset man with a short, square beard.

"Yosif is a cousin of my friend in Chiatura. He and his wife are letting me stay in their apartment in Brooklyn. Their son is at college and I'm taking his bed. It is awkward sometimes. I help buy food. If I have to use the bathroom at night, I tiptoe. But I'm not complaining." He touched his hand to his heart. "I am grateful. I feel as though I need to lose three limbs and an eye before I can be sorry for myself."

An illegal who cleaned supermarkets . . . She smiled to herself. This was all they could find for her? And yet she suspected he knew his appeal to women, and that in the worst of times he could still rely on it.

"It is a nice place here," he continued, looking around the property. Ilona followed his gaze down to the small rectangular pond. A dog was barking in a distant yard. "All this space," he said, shaking his head. "I am inside all the time now. It has been too long since I've seen woods, nature. The spirit starts to forget."

"This is hardly nature," she said. "But if you want to see nature, you should come back and walk the trails. I could pick you up at the station. The trains run every hour."


From the Hardcover edition.
Sana Krasikov|Author Q&A

About Sana Krasikov

Sana Krasikov - One More Year

Photo © Tatiana Krasikov

Sana Krasikov was born in the Ukraine and grew up in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and in the United States. Her debut collection was named a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. It received a National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" Award and won the 2009 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, a Fulbright Scholarship, and a National Magazine Award nomination. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Virginia Quarterly, Epoch, Zoetrope, A Public Space, and elsewhere.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Sana Krasikov


Random House Readers Circle: What are the greatest challenges in writing fiction?

 Sana Krasikov: Deciding where to begin. There are so many ways to tell a great story–especially a story with different perspectives. You spend months building a house in your mind and then have to make a practical decision about where to put the door so that the reader can enter and not feel completely bewildered. 

RHRC: What or who has been your greatest inspiration for writing fiction? 

SK: I’m always relying on new sources of inspiration, and they’ve changed over the years. Just talking with people has been a big part of it–conversation for me is one of the great pleasures of life. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, talking to a woman who was selling lentil soup, and she said, “I hate Saddam Hussein, but I like him for one thing: invading Kuwait.” It turned out that she had been able to escape an arranged marriage, and take her kids, because she was on a plane heading to Egypt when Saddam entered Kuwait. In the chaos that followed, her husband was stuck in Kuwait while she fled to the States. An event that meant disaster for thousands turned out to be the agent of her deliverance. I heard somewhere once that Isaac Bashevis Singer would eat his meals at cafeterias on Broadway just so he could chat people up and listen to their stories. It’s such a shame we don’t have cafeterias anymore. 

RHRC: Who is your intended audience? 

SK: I try not to think about audience. The task of piecing together a story is all-encompassing enough without having to worry about that. While I write, my commitment is to the char - acters. This may be because as a reader I was always hypnotized by stories that contained the shape of an entire life. I remem - ber reading a John Updike story, “The Other,” about a man married to an identical twin. He watches her change physically over the course of their marriage. At the end, we meet the second twin–the West Coast version–whose skin has been tanned and weathered by decades of California sun. It’s the moment we feel how much time has really passed. That commitment to a character over a lifetime makes a story feel almost like an ode. 

RHRC: What are you reading now? 

SK: I’m going through a Murakami phase. When I spent a year in Moscow, I’d go into the English-language section of the book- store on the main strip and see books by exactly three authors: Candace Bushnell, a single copy of Woody Allen’s Without Feathers, and about a dozen Haruki Murakami novels. I thought, wow, they really like Murakami here. Now that I’m reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I can see why. He’s willing to push the mystical boundary of realism the way an author like Dostoyevsky did. Underneath a lot of my own writing, there is a bedrock of realism–a classical, sometimes dark realism that’s very much rooted in a Russian tradition. I wouldn’t exactly call Murakami’s writing “magical,” but I love the way he tries to get at a reality beyond the senses. 

RHRC: When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you? 

SK: It came in bits and spurts. My second job out of college was at a law firm in downtown Manhattan, on Battery Park. About two months after I started, I lost my sublet–and for about a month, while I looked for a place to live, I moved into one of the “war rooms,” where they kept boxes of documents for the legal cases. I kept an inflatable mattress there and showered at a gym across the street. In that month, the biggest challenge was not getting found out by the lawyers–I’d be there at eleven getting ready for bed, and people were still in the offices working. I think those few weeks shifted my frame of mind somewhat, being in the middle of that environment and also existing in an alternate reality from it. I ended up doing a lot of writing in the evenings and mornings–there was an odd seamlessness to the days. I couldn’t go on living like that, but I ended up writing a story that helped me get a fellowship a year later, and the experience gave me a taste for a kind of iconoclasm that’s served me well. After all, writing is all about finding a place for personal freedom in the public sphere. 

RHRC: What is the mountaintop for you–how do you define success? 

SK: I think with any art, it always takes a while for your skills to catch up to your vision. I want to become someone who is capable of executing her vision. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to be given the gift of growth without paying your dues through some form of failure. You almost have to embrace it. 

RHRC: Your title, One More Year, seems to be a theme of the story collection. Did the stories come first, or did you set out to thread this theme throughout each one? 

SK: The title was actually the last piece that fell into place with this collection. I wanted to find a thread that ran through all the stories and elevated them to a larger whole. I ended up recalling a line in “Maia in Yonkers,” in a scene where mother and son are arguing: 

“I don’t need your rags, Maia! You’re here. You can keep your crap here.” 

“You know why I’m here!” 

“I don’t know anymore. Every year you say ‘It’s one more year, one more year’!” 

It occurred to me that this was the predicament of so many of my characters–they were living in temporary arrangements that had somehow become permanent. Many of them weren’t “immigrants” in the traditional sense that they’d arrived in a new country to start a new life. More often they had a foot in one world and a foot in the other. In “Asal,” Gulia was still very much embroiled in a relationship with her husband. In “The Repatriates,” Grisha regretted his decision to come to the States the way some- one who marries for money regrets not marrying for enough; every year he planned on returning. Ilona kept telling herself that her arrangement with her elderly “companion” would last only another year. “One more year” seemed to be their unspoken motto. 

RHRC: Can you discuss the way that your characters’ lives are affected by the political and historical changes around them? 

SK: I’ve always loved the way fiction can be a window into the changes happening all around us. I think reading about the post- Soviet reality is always a bit like reading Gone With the Wind–a whole civilization was pulled out from under people’s feet and they had to scramble and hustle to get a foothold again. I think my characters are fundamentally good people who don’t always have the luxury of being virtuous. Because of various social and political forces, they’ve found themselves in situations they never thought they’d be in. But such is life.  

Praise

Praise

“Sana Krasikov’s memorable characters emerge, fully formed and breathing on their own, from a deep, clear pool of seemingly effortless language, a knowing and incisive but empathetic sensibility. These stories are original, resplendent, and brilliant.”—Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man

“Sana Krasikov is the real thing. Her stories take shape inside the specific world of émigrés wrestling with language and loss and the stubborn details of survival, but they open into the largest of worlds and speak a universal language of heartbreak and desire.”—Jonathan Rosen, author of The Life of the Skies

“In her stunning short-story debut, Krasikov hones in on the subtleties of hope and despair that writhe in the hearts of her protagonists, largely Russian and Georgian immigrants who have settled on the East Coast … Krasikov’s prose is precise, and her stories are intelligent, complex, and passionate.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Sana Krasikov’s observations of the world her characters inhabit—full of big and small tragedies, laughable and lamentable incidents—are as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, yet her understanding of her characters—most often of their follies and imperfections—are tender and sympathetic. She treats every story as a novel, and the readers of these stories will, in the end, live with the characters beyond the space of a short story. These stories are the debut of a major literary voice shaped by the literary traditions both American and Russian.”—Yiyun Li, author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

“Shrewdly humane and formally exquisite . . . Krasikov is as good as Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri were at this stage in their careers.”—Miami Herald

“Stunning.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Immediate, urgent, and gratifyingly real.”—Entertainment Weekly
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In “The Repatriates,” a successful Wall Street professional returns to Russia, whereas in “Maia in Yonkers,” Maia leaves her son in Georgia to earn a living and help support her family. In “Asal,” Gulia abandons a more than comfortable material life to work as a nanny in Manhattan, and in “Better Half” Anya interrupts her education in Russia to work in a diner in Upstate New York. Discuss the role that financial decisions play in these stories. How are the characters’ motivations different from those of other immigrant characters you’ve read about? What motivations aside from financial ones drive them? Do the stories address a larger theme or message about the role money plays in our life decisions? 

2. Most of the stories in One More Year are about women in relationships that are unresolved in some way or that require certain sacrifices and compromises. Do you see a similar vein through all of the stories? Discuss a common thread with respect to the theme of compromise in relationships. 

“Companion” 


1. When Ilona thinks about the waiter at Delmonico’s referring to her and Earl as Mr. Brauer and Mrs. Brauer, she thinks: “Did she really look old enough to pass for his wife? Or were they playing the game, too? Well, it didn’t matter to her what those people believed, whether they thought she was his wife or his girlfriend or his mistress. She was happy to cooperate with whatever public fantasy he had planned.” 

How does the idea of “public fantasies” operate in this story? Do you believe Ilona when she says it doesn’t matter to her what “those people” believe? What are some other “public fantasies” that people you know perpetuate, passively or actively, in their relationships with others? 

2. What roles do gossip and innuendo play in the story? In what sense is Ilona’s situation less scandalous than the rumors? In what ways more desperate? How does Ilona compare to nineteenth- century heroines such as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary? In what ways is she similar to or different from these women? 

“Maia in Yonkers” 


1. After speaking with her sister, Maia wonders, “Must every simple decency now be counted?” How is this a telling statement about the link between money and familial obligation in the story? What are the ways in which these “obligations” get outsourced in both families? 

2. Gogi is very particular about the brand-name clothes and electronics he wants his mother to send him. He’s infatuated with a hip-hop style, but when he overhears two black teenagers talking on the ferry, he surprises Maia with a racist comment. Do you see Gogi as prejudiced, or does his statement reveal more complex feelings about visiting the United States? In what other ways is his behavior surprising to Maia? In what ways does he seem younger than the image he projects? 

3. The word deda means mother in Georgian. Gogi calls Maia deda at the end of the story but otherwise uses her first name. Discuss their relationship. Do you think Gogi has learned anything by the end of the story? 

“The Alternate” 


1. What does Victor expect from his meeting with his old lover’s daughter? Why is he determined to meet her? 

2. What roles do ambition and envy play in this story? In what ways have Victor’s aspirations been frustrated by life? Do you think it’s possible for a person like Victor to be happy? Do you think he has any regrets? 

“Asal” 


1. Gulia feels “invisible” in New York. Walking down the street, she realizes that people are not looking at her and “seeing a servant,” but that they also don’t care about her at all. How does Gulia’s new anonymity influence her thinking and behavior? How is a metropolis like New York liberating for her? How is it disorienting? 

2. Gulia tells Vlad that the Soviets would have punished open polygamy, but “now it is like time is moving backward.” What does she mean by this? In what ways are Gulia and Nasrin, though only five years apart in age, representative of two different eras? 

3. Do you see Rashid as manipulative or do you find him sympathetic? Does he feel as trapped as Gulia and Nasrin or is he alone responsible for his actions? 

“Better Half” 


1. Do you see Anya as a victim, as somebody taking control of her life, or as both? How would you characterize her romance with Ryan? Who has more power in the relationship, in your opinion? 

2. Various characters, including Nick, Alexis, and Anya’s lawyer, Erin, address Anya in ways she considers patronizing. How does she tolerate their attitudes in order to benefit from them? Can you think of times in your life that you’ve done the same? Discuss the role of class in this story. 

“Debt” 


1. What are some ways the story’s title applies to the different characters? What are the different types of “debt” at play? 

2. Why does Lev’s wife, Dina, distrust Sonya’s precociousness? Is her assessment fair? 

“The Repatriates” 

1. The theme of “cons” looms throughout “The Repatriates.” What are the large and small ways people con one another in this story? What do you think about the attitude, expressed in the story, that those who get conned have it coming? 

2. How does Grisha’s frustrated ambition compare with Victor’s in “The Alternate”? The exploration of religion and spirituality plays a role in both these men’s reevaluation of their lives. Do you think there is any connection between their spiritual searchings and their respective success or failure in business? Discuss. 

3. Do you think there are ways in which Grisha is justified in what he is doing? Do you believe that Lera’s forgiveness of him is genuine? How do you read the last paragraph? 

“There Will Be No Fourth Rome” 

1. Like Gulia in “Asal,” Larisa feels herself at odds with the social changes taking place around her. In what ways are she and Nona mirror opposites of each other? How does Larisa represent a romantic dimension of Russia that is the opposite of the cynical dimension depicted in “The Repatriates”? Do you find Larisa to be a naive or a romantic character? 

2. What do you think of Regina’s use of Dr. Spock as a manual for human behavior? Do you believe that “you can’t change another person’s character, though you can change their behavior”? 


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