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A journalist's quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world's most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet. A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers thro A journalist's quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world's most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet. A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. Delving into an outlandish world of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana, or “dragon fish,” is a dramatic example of a modern paradox: the mass-produced endangered species. While hundreds of thousands are bred in captivity, the wild fish has become a near-mythical creature. From the South Bronx to Borneo and beyond, journalist Emily Voigt follows the trail of the arowana to learn its fate in nature. With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, Voigt traces our fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new species around the globe. In an age when freshwater fish now comprise one of the most rapidly vanishing groups of animals, she unearths a surprising truth behind the arowana’s rise to fame—one that calls into question how we protect the world’s rarest species. An elegant examination of the human conquest of nature, The Dragon Behind the Glass revels in the sheer wonder of life’s diversity and lays bare our deepest desire—to hold on to what is wild.


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A journalist's quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world's most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet. A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers thro A journalist's quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world's most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet. A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. Delving into an outlandish world of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana, or “dragon fish,” is a dramatic example of a modern paradox: the mass-produced endangered species. While hundreds of thousands are bred in captivity, the wild fish has become a near-mythical creature. From the South Bronx to Borneo and beyond, journalist Emily Voigt follows the trail of the arowana to learn its fate in nature. With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, Voigt traces our fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new species around the globe. In an age when freshwater fish now comprise one of the most rapidly vanishing groups of animals, she unearths a surprising truth behind the arowana’s rise to fame—one that calls into question how we protect the world’s rarest species. An elegant examination of the human conquest of nature, The Dragon Behind the Glass revels in the sheer wonder of life’s diversity and lays bare our deepest desire—to hold on to what is wild.

30 review for The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish

  1. 4 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    The Dragon Behind the Glass documents journalist Emily Voigt's descent down the rabbit hole of fish collecting, money, power, and scientific exploration in some of the most remote locations in the world. "A pair of whiskers juts from its lower lip, and two gauzy pectoral fins extend from its sides, suggesting a dragon in flight. This resemblance has led to the belief that the fish brings prosperity and good fortune, acting as a protective talisman to ward off evil and harm." Though it starts off w The Dragon Behind the Glass documents journalist Emily Voigt's descent down the rabbit hole of fish collecting, money, power, and scientific exploration in some of the most remote locations in the world. "A pair of whiskers juts from its lower lip, and two gauzy pectoral fins extend from its sides, suggesting a dragon in flight. This resemblance has led to the belief that the fish brings prosperity and good fortune, acting as a protective talisman to ward off evil and harm." Though it starts off with a major hook, Voigt takes the reader to a crime scene where a pet store owner appears to have been killed for his shelf of rare fish, the book begins to meander after that and never gets back to the compelling pace of the opening. That is not to say there aren't some fascinating history and fish-related trivia tidbits. In fact, the majority of the book consists of that. "... the keeping of pets reflects our hunger for status symbols, for what the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called the 'carnal, clinging, humble, organic, milky taste of the creature,' which underlies all luxury goods. The modern pet shop first appeared in American cities in the 1890s; and with it began the mass importation of exotic animals from Asia and South America." pg 21, ebook. Voigt explores the history of aquariums, pet-crazes throughout history, and the ascendance of the arowana as the pet fish of choice in the East. Complicating matters, the arowana has become incredibly rare in the wild, partially due to its desirability among collectors, but also because of the destruction of its native habitat. "The most highly coveted - or at least the traditional favorite - is the legendary Super Red, native to a single remote lake system in the heart of Borneo. ... As late as 2008, researchers with Conservation International reported that rural Cambodians were still eating greens, even as wild populations plummeted due to over-harvesting for the aquarium trade." pg 30, ebook Like other rare and precious commodities, the interest and money surrounding the arowana has led to some shady dealings. I wasn't too surprised by the alleged criminal activity Voigt describes among collectors. But I was flabbergasted by the fierce competition among some scientists in the rush to catalog and name the increasingly rare fish. Perhaps that's naive of me. Scholars jockey for prestige as much as anyone else. I suppose I've never stopped to think about it. I was also surprised by how many species are out there that science has not studied yet. "When I first set out to report on the Asian arowana, I figured I would start by finding the researcher studying the species in the wild- only to realize no such person exists. The popular illusion that modern science has the entire living world covered, that there is an expert analyzing every crevice, is far from true." pg 205, ebook Recommended for readers who are interested in a detailed study of fish, travel and history. It's a slow-paced adventure, and not for everyone, but there are some treasures to be found if you stick with it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Frances

    Sometimes, when you can't sleep and are awake at 3am you make terrible decisions. Decisions to worry about unimportant things; decisions to start businesses based on educating frogs; decisions that usually shouldn't be trusted. Other times you make great choices. I couldn't sleep the other night and was trawling (fish puns so soon!) Audible for some non fiction to drift off to (I do like non fiction, it doesn't bore me to sleep) and this book was suggested to me as something other people were en Sometimes, when you can't sleep and are awake at 3am you make terrible decisions. Decisions to worry about unimportant things; decisions to start businesses based on educating frogs; decisions that usually shouldn't be trusted. Other times you make great choices. I couldn't sleep the other night and was trawling (fish puns so soon!) Audible for some non fiction to drift off to (I do like non fiction, it doesn't bore me to sleep) and this book was suggested to me as something other people were enjoying so 3am me bought it. I then spent the next 4 hours not going back to sleep and instead listening to this amazing book. I am not uninterested in fish. I studied Marine and Natural History Photography (I was terrestrial) at University, I have a goldfish (Mikey) who is about 8 years old (along with a cat and two tortoises) - I'm not going to pretend this is a bolt from the blue but I never thought a book mostly about one type of aquarium fish would be so enthralling. This book is interesting, it's funny, there's intrigue and mystery. There's emotion and yet it doesn't really deviate from being about Asian Arowana, one of the world's most expensive kinds of fish. I don't think I had ever heard of the Arowana and if I had, the information didn't stick but Emily Voigt has shown me that they are fascinating and I should be paying attention. Voigt takes her story down many avenues but they all orbit around the lengths people will go to to obtain what may not be the prettiest fish. I won't spoil the whole thing because this book takes you all around the world but people will travel to the last few unexplored areas of the earth, spend their life savings, destroy their marriage or even kill to get their hands on these fish. The Gentlewoman Naturalist in me did start wondering if I should look into it then I remembered I don't have room for an enormous fish or hundreds of thousands of pounds lying around. There was definitely a hint of Baader-Meinhof with this book. I had never heard of the Arowana and then, the day after I started reading this, I'm at the Garden Centre where I bought my fish and lo and behold a small silver Arowana available for £100. I restrained myself and stuck with amassing carnivorous plants, cacti and orchids. I've started seeing them in people's tattoos and I don't know if I've just not been paying attention or if suddenly they're everywhere. Even if you don't think you like reading about fish or nature or adventure, I would recommend giving it a chance because it is really good.I enjoyed this so much I preordered the hardback (I'm hoping there are pictures). I'm annoying people I know by not shutting up with my fish facts and you can too!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    Thoroughly underwhelming.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Trudie

    I picked this book up at the airport on a whim although I had been dimly aware of it. A trip to Rarotonga seemed like as good a time as any to read a book about fish and adventures in jungles. I am always on the look out for new engaging non-fiction writers that can weave a good story from often dry facts - Jon Krakauer and Erik Larson being my benchmarks. In the case of this book I wasn't at all sure I was interested in the aquarium fish industry but Emily Voigt changed my mind with her opening I picked this book up at the airport on a whim although I had been dimly aware of it. A trip to Rarotonga seemed like as good a time as any to read a book about fish and adventures in jungles. I am always on the look out for new engaging non-fiction writers that can weave a good story from often dry facts - Jon Krakauer and Erik Larson being my benchmarks. In the case of this book I wasn't at all sure I was interested in the aquarium fish industry but Emily Voigt changed my mind with her opening chapter. Murder! Aggressive rare fish and Shadowy Fish mafia ! - I was hooked... It also helped the author was as initially dubious about fish as a hobby as I was. She writes about this world as a curious outsider helpfully taking the reader along on her investigative sojourns to Singaporean fish farms, the inaccessible swampy heart of Borneo and off-limit rivers in Burma. In some ways this book was more an adventure travelogue, chasing the wild Arowana fish as a kind of talismanic end point. For me I think this is one of the rare books that almost incidentally demonstrates the global effects of habitat loss without being a kind of evangelical ecological treatise. I was as disheartened as the author at each fresh realisation of the impacts of palm oil production and deforestation on increasingly rare fish species. This book is absolutely engrossing - filled with morsels of knowledge about natural history, pet keeping, Ichthyology, rare species protection and of course more than you need to know about the Arowana. I found I was fondly recalling David Grann's The Lost City of Z often while reading this. I hope there are more books to come from Emily Voigt.

  5. 5 out of 5

    The Captain

    Ahoy there me mateys! For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. Occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. So today I bring ye a memoir with cool fish facts! Okay I now kinda have a thing for books that combine memoirs with science and fun animal facts. So far, I have read about ravens, hawk Ahoy there me mateys! For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. Occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. So today I bring ye a memoir with cool fish facts! Okay I now kinda have a thing for books that combine memoirs with science and fun animal facts. So far, I have read about ravens, hawks, owls, octopuses, and snails (seriously snails are AMAZING). I like fish and think they are cool denizens of the deep. With a name like dragon fish, I had to know more. Like this: The Asian arowana is the world’s most expensive aquarium fish. It is a tropical freshwater fish from Southeast Asia that grows three feet long in the wild. That’s roughly the size of a snowshoe. It is a fierce predator dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. It has large, metallic scales, like coins; whiskers that jut from its chin; and it undulates like the paper dragons you see in a Chinese New Year’s parade. That resemblance has spawned the belief that the fish brings good luck and prosperity, which is why it has become a highly sought-after aquarium fish.source I absolutely loved the beginning of the book and the introduction to the weird world of high priced aquarium fish. When I had guppies and tetras as a kid, I never questioned where the pet store got them. Now I know. I also know that there is a fish beauty pageant called the Aquarama International Fish Competition. I learned that a man named Kenny the Fish is one of the biggest fish sellers in the world . . . Emily Voigt @ Emily_Voigt - "Kenny the Fish posing nude with fish. Tried this for author photo but fish bags too slippery." View image on Twitter So while the fish facts were excellent, I did have problems with the memoir part of the story. The author went on a search for wild dragon fish. This took up the majority of the book and seemed rather bland. Part of the problem is that it felt mostly like a listing of the people she met and the places that she went. It seemed more about the lengths the author went to try and set up trips. I never really got a feel for the scenery of the countries or people she met. The descriptions were so vague at times that some of the people and places could have been swapped and it wouldn’t have mattered. I did think her brief insight into wildlife protection laws were very interesting. The most tantalizing bits: the murder of the fish store owner, the illegal animals of New York City, and fish surgery were glossed over. The minutiae of the author’s personal travel struggles were not. I wanted more fish and less author story. This is never a good sign for a memoir. I am glad I learned about the fish but ye could read the National Geographic article that I found and basically get a very nice overview of the good parts of the book. Arrr!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Shocked me! Much more than some numbers of true memoir non-fiction zingers I've read this year, 2016. Some of which were supposed to be more startling by their trailers. Having some idea about biological forms in fish, their biodiversity and the world's ichthyologists past and present, because in the 1970's and 1980's we had 6 or 7 aquarium and numerous books upon their possible occupants? Well, I still had absolutely no idea about how far these obsessions can go. Not upon any of 20 fish related Shocked me! Much more than some numbers of true memoir non-fiction zingers I've read this year, 2016. Some of which were supposed to be more startling by their trailers. Having some idea about biological forms in fish, their biodiversity and the world's ichthyologists past and present, because in the 1970's and 1980's we had 6 or 7 aquarium and numerous books upon their possible occupants? Well, I still had absolutely no idea about how far these obsessions can go. Not upon any of 20 fish related subjects or within the history of their human questioners. I was shocked that even Linnaeus played others repeatedly. As if the system of classification is just an ever changing game. As it is in naming as well as in "credit" for the find. And now they are altering classification by using the DNA groupings instead of physical description classifications. With thousands of voices from the past and the present shouting "foul". STILL, coming up with a new species, even if it only lives in a closet sized well hole is a heralded accomplishment? I guess. Even if you then raise it in ponds (SE Asia) that will wash into your own natural rivers when it floods. And it will. The obsession with these fish, the Discus, other bird species which have become status symbols or cherished over all else! Regardless that is only one aspect and I could easily do a review that is a tenth as long as the book. That's how much incredible information Emily Voigt gathered in her 4 year quest to find the arowana in its natural habitat. ANY AROWANA! Not just the Red in Borneo, the Gold in Myramar or the Silver in Brazil- but the more common green. Oh, they are there, but the characters and the places in this one! Seriously, I almost gave it 4 stars because I could definitely have used a chart of the movers and shakers and one for the organizations alone. CITES, WWF and all of their tributaries, for instance. But then, she probably could not list and group or she would be on some hit list herself shortly. She might be now; despite their governmental elitist dictations and the levels of truth for actual numbers of these species which are presently alive, she might need to protect sources too. It wasn't just the various Arowana Cartel that shocked. It was the information which is much more associative to the fish and the pet business sides. And the humans involved in the "pet" process. Like the Dayak, the Iban, or the Brazil Arrow People, just to name a few of those interesting human groups. Some of which are being literally roped off by steel rod and line barricades presently. No diversity of humans desired or possible as a good thing (Brazil has decided). For numbers of reasons these people must remain separate and in a non-mixing opportunity. One of the strongest being that they are not immune to first world "other" human bacteria. But less about the people and more about the fish? Hard to do in reviewing this book. There is Kenny the Fish, Amanda Bleher (her life story has got to be more fully written by some brave, brave author/publisher), Heiko Bleher, Alfred Russel Wallace, and a cast of one hundred others. The owners of no name to the smallest level of smuggler with plastic bags of water under their skirts. This book makes studying the drug cartels and the balance of trade factors in legal manufacture just easy peasy in comparison. Because you can't select and breed heroin or cocaine to become something it is not. (How about 10 albino arowana, each in their own separate tanks at $150,000 each- because you succeeded at breeding from one albino trapped in the wild!) And the disappearing mated pair that Emily saw once and then which were vanished and deemed non-existing "impossible" the next day? No one is telling the truth at any searching level, and yet all the stories, especially when you exam the biologic leftover (dead or pet fish in opulence) or human corpse result? Surprise, surprise, they are true. If you have no interest in fish at all, this book may still be a 4 or 5 star for you. There is a slack and slow spot to the histories of the 1800's and beyond Roosevelt's River of Doubt trip. BUT, even in those sections there is serendipity information that might chill or knock your socks off. How about that 1830's and 1840's when 16 or 20 scientists set off together in Borneo or Burma (now Myramar) and at the most 3 or 4 returned. Those why and hows. Plus the phenomenal descriptions of our pouty devils of 2 or 6 feet length. Or of 150 different fish of tiny miniature gotten in a single scoop. And all the levels in between. Or of duplicity. Both in the fish and in the owners. Emily Voigt took chances that were so outlier, that if I were her mother or her husband! Well, she seems not apt to continue in this thread, Pulitzer Grant or no. But the most shocking reality of all, for me anyway, is that anytime CITES puts a fish or a bird on the endangered species list, that almost universally levels their existence IN THE WILD to a 10 or 20% level to what that measurement was before the citing for the list. Because by all counts and in animal species (plants too at times) a specimen in a tank or in captivity is NOT COUNTED AT ALL. It is considered dead to the species. So their work (CITES, WWF, other world groups for Conservation or category "facts" per species) actually does the exact opposite for which is supposedly trying to be accomplished. As soon as it is put on the list the buyers and suppliers pounce. So that some species, the birds parrots and macaws cited, but many multiples of fish fall to 10% of their former levels in the wild almost immediately. A certain small blue macaw might be gone. And CHINA!! China is scooping species up. Helped and within multiple Japanese buyers. And having a market within the Mideast (Iran especially as dogs and cats are NOT considered Muslim appropriate pets). Read this. Learn about the rivers of the Amazon, the real politico in Myramar and visas (you're almost sure to get in legally, but then you can't get out), travelogues to places that you might need to look up, and be gifted with an average of 2 or 3 details a page that you would never have believed if not told from witness eyes. If you have an obsession with pets, animals, and PETA sensibilities this book will be a hard read. Other continents may and do hold completely different worldviews of animals and/or their place and purposes than Europe or North America. This also is about humans cognition for pets in general. How we see waving patterns as calming, for instance. Fish swimming, leaves waving, grain fields sweeping, flowers bending up and back, birds gliding in circles, all those cognitive motions that are opposite of a quick strike (snake, pouncing predator etc.). That was fascinating too. Finally, this book seems to make much of the fact that NOT all human tribes or placements or histories or belief systems or definition of lie is anything alike. Nor is good will or intent for your safety, be you visitor or native, or stated purpose in any way a universal reciprocal trait to be considered. And that 1000's of other inputs may matter more. Even down to the way people name themselves or their animals at any one locale or in this particular political or cultural system. Also a warning to the fainthearted. This holds some dire, dire outcomes for humans and their practices as well. Some who cook their guests or their enemies, but only if they have the time. Some will feast on the raw, especially the liver.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley Personally, I think the arowana is an ugly fish. Sorry. I also think that Voight would agree with me. Thankfully, this book is highly enjoyable. Voight’s interest in the fish starts with a trip to a housing project in NYC. Voight is accompanying Lt John Fitzpatrick of the State Environmental Police to talk to a man about an alligator. Her ride along is done as part of a story that she is doing for NPR, and it is though Fitzpatrick that she hears about the arowana be Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley Personally, I think the arowana is an ugly fish. Sorry. I also think that Voight would agree with me. Thankfully, this book is highly enjoyable. Voight’s interest in the fish starts with a trip to a housing project in NYC. Voight is accompanying Lt John Fitzpatrick of the State Environmental Police to talk to a man about an alligator. Her ride along is done as part of a story that she is doing for NPR, and it is though Fitzpatrick that she hears about the arowana because there is a huge market in the illegal fish trade (at least when it comes to fish pets). For whatever, Voight finds herself obsessing about the fish, so much so that she travels to far corners of the world to track it down. And it is really an ugly fish. Voight herself wonders at her obsession, and in part, it is that self questioning, that makes the book enjoyable. Voight’s travels take her to the Amazon, to Singapore, and to Burma (Myanmar) when the borders to that country were more tightly controlled. It is on that last trip that she really wonders why she is so committed to an ugly fish. It is Voight’s honesty and her acknowledgement that her “quest” might really be an unhealthy obsession that really does draw the reader in. You want her to really see a wild arowana even as both Voight and you are wondering about why it is so necessary to see one. And in part, her wonderment about the fish comes across so strongly and so well that it is hard not to want to see the fish. Part of this has to do with the colorful characters that she meets, such as Kenny the Fish, who deals in arowana and who is the playboy of the fish trading world. There is a stories of smuggling, a murder or two, and visits to fish farms that seem to be locked down tighter than Fort Knox. Eventually, she works alongside an ichthyologist or two. What is interesting is how Voight seem to be the sole women in a largely male world. In fact, all of the fish producers, collectors, and scientists that she interacts with are male. There is detail about the mother of the one of the scientists, and she does sound like an interesting woman, but Voight seems to be the only woman. It makes one wonder why. Is it that the arowana appears most to men because of the status symbol aspect (Voight hints a bit at this) or is it that women want a prettier fish? Or do women just want furry? Additionally, the book is about more than just a fish. It is about humankind’s relationship to animals, in particular to those animals we decide to domestic or “own”. Voight looks at the difference between what was once wild and what is becoming pet. She also examines what lies behind the laws that protect endangered species. The arowana, for instance, is forbidden in the United States but is legal to own in several other countries. This look at the issues surrounding the fish also includes a look at the scientific community, showing the reader that a pet is simply more than pet. Voight’s book not only conveys her love for the animal, but a respect, if not understanding, of the people who obsess over the fish. And hey, it may be an ugly fish, but I want to see one jumping out of a lake.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Zhao

    After much contemplating, I have decided to give up reading The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish. The main character, a female journalist searching for the traditional asian arowana, travels around talking to different people. It eventually gets extremely boring, having only a bit of climax and adventure, while more than 80 percent of the book is background information about the fish's history. Guess this book isn't suited for me much. After much contemplating, I have decided to give up reading The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish. The main character, a female journalist searching for the traditional asian arowana, travels around talking to different people. It eventually gets extremely boring, having only a bit of climax and adventure, while more than 80 percent of the book is background information about the fish's history. Guess this book isn't suited for me much. The book initially starts off with a BANG, and describes a tragic scene of a salesman getting brutally murdered and stabbed. This obviously hooks my attention, but as the book moves on, the action decelerates jurastically and from time to time just becomes a non-fiction book about the asian arowana and its history. I started interacting with too many names, and I felt overwhelmed by the information without much plot or story. This book was a small disappointment for me. I am going to finally stop reading it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Once upon a time I had wanted to find out why a pet fish was so irresistible that people smuggled it into the United States, risking their very liberty. Three and a half years and fifteen countries later, I was now in Brazil (possibly illegally) pursuing the fish myself. At some point, things had gotten out of hand. After being intrigued by stories of high stakes fish smuggling from a real life Pet Detective – Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick of New York's State Environmental Police – and in rece Once upon a time I had wanted to find out why a pet fish was so irresistible that people smuggled it into the United States, risking their very liberty. Three and a half years and fifteen countries later, I was now in Brazil (possibly illegally) pursuing the fish myself. At some point, things had gotten out of hand. After being intrigued by stories of high stakes fish smuggling from a real life Pet Detective – Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick of New York's State Environmental Police – and in receipt of a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship in need of a research topic, investigative journalist Emily Voight decided to enter the shadowy world that surrounds the sale and collecting of the world's most expensive aquarium fish: the arowana or dragon fish. No more interested in guppies and goldfish than the average person, Voight eventually found herself becoming as obsessed with the arowana as any “Arofanatic” and The Dragon Behind the Glass is as much about her own obsessive quest to find a wild population as it is about the fish itself. With an organic blend of travelogue and science/history writing – all in a perfectly journalistic yet playful tone – I couldn't help but getting swept up in the quest myself. Plain fun and intriguing reading. As Voight says in this National Geographic article, “The history of this one single fish encapsulates the history of modern conservation.” As she discovered, for no good reason (and in a move that was perhaps supposed to have been “deleted” before its implementation), an international conservation group in the '70s decided to put the arowana (which was a plentiful and not particularly tasty food fish, with sustainable habitats in several countries) on a restricted trade list. This had the effect of making it seem rare, and that sparked an explosion in collecting them from the wild for exotic specimen aficionados. This caused them to actually become rare, and as they are difficult (but not impossible) to breed in captivity, their scarcity has made millionaires of successful aquaculturists; and has also led to murder, burglary, and the poisoning of rival stocks. In her travels, Voight met those who sell the arowana and those who collect them, and also those naturalists who still scour the globe in search of new species. Falling deeper into the rabbit hole with every new contact, Voight followed every lead that might allow her to witness just one arowana in the wild, and as she pushed the legal limits in countries like Myanmar – travelling well beyond the areas designated for tourists, even as she knew she was being followed by government agents – I couldn't help but marvel at her nerves: a woman, travelling alone and off the map? In that moment, as I recalled what I'd read about the Asiatic reticulated python (the longest snake in the world at more than twenty feet), as well as lightning strikes, crocodiles, and the well-documented case of an orangutan raping a woman, I began to have second thoughts about what I was doing back in Borneo. My doctor had warned me not to immerse myself in the water, where a snail-borne parasite could cause permanent paralysis. How much was I willing to risk to go after a fish I didn't even think was good looking? In addition to the travel writing about the exotic locales Voight visited and the colourful people she met there, she also seamlessly adds information about the history of specimen collecting, the work of those who are still in the field, and the evolution of Biology from the study of whole organisms to that of genetics (she and the field workers she meet all agree that there's something of its magnificence lost when a live organism is reduced to bits of code). In the few negative reviews I've read for The Dragon Behind the Glass, readers complain that Voight put too much of herself in this book – that it's more “accidental memoir” than scientific treatise – but I would argue that it was Voight's own experience that makes the whole story about the arowana relatable: it's her own obsession to find a wild specimen and the way that that mirrors the larger story about obsessive collectors that gives the reader perspective. And without being a preachy environmentalist book, the fact that Voight kept failing in her visits to areas formerly teeming with arowanas is its own science lesson. When I first set out to write about the arowana, I had been attracted to the humor and the high drama of the fish world, to the eccentricities and obsessions of the people who were part of it. But there was no way to think about the arowana – about any fish, really – without confronting loss on a scale too large for the human mind to comprehend. I had come so far to find one wild thing, to experience the wild itself, and all I had to show for my quest was a cult, a cockroach, and a starving dog. Despite myself, tears welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. I liked everything about this book – it was intriguing, informative, and incredibly relatable – and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This book is non-fiction, science, biology, nature, environment, etc. This is one of those books that if it wasn't needed for a book challenge, it would probably never have made it into my TBR pile. And what a pleasant surprise this was. I really enjoyed this one. It was about aquarium fish, which TBH, doesn't sound particularly thrilling to me, but I loved the way the author presented this. It was highly readable and not once did I feel like she was talking over my head and not once was I bored This book is non-fiction, science, biology, nature, environment, etc. This is one of those books that if it wasn't needed for a book challenge, it would probably never have made it into my TBR pile. And what a pleasant surprise this was. I really enjoyed this one. It was about aquarium fish, which TBH, doesn't sound particularly thrilling to me, but I loved the way the author presented this. It was highly readable and not once did I feel like she was talking over my head and not once was I bored. The subtitle mentions power and obsession and this book shows how insanely obsessed people can get over aquarium fish. Some even murdered to get what they wanted. That was a nice and successful spin on fish.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    The Dragon Behind the Glass, by Emily Voigt in my opinion is a phenomenal non-fiction story. It is about the mysterious and ferocious fish, the Asian arowana that is so popular and coveted in the aquarium trade. In the book, Voigt travels across the world to gain knowledge about this fish and why it is so demanding. I think, first of all, the title does a great job of summarizing this story and giving insight about the Asian arowana. “Dragon” is a great representation of this fish, not only beca The Dragon Behind the Glass, by Emily Voigt in my opinion is a phenomenal non-fiction story. It is about the mysterious and ferocious fish, the Asian arowana that is so popular and coveted in the aquarium trade. In the book, Voigt travels across the world to gain knowledge about this fish and why it is so demanding. I think, first of all, the title does a great job of summarizing this story and giving insight about the Asian arowana. “Dragon” is a great representation of this fish, not only because the arowana is known as the “dragon fish” in Chinese, but also because of the fish’s resemblance to the Chinese dragon because of their similar metallic scales. I thought that the mention of China was also very nice because that the arowana is also a very large demand in China. The Super Red arowana is loved there because of its color. “Behind the glass”, I realized, was a phrase to express how the Asian arowana basically only exists inside the small and restrained aquariums around the world and that the wild arowana is very rare, which is exactly what the story talks about. The journey of how Voigt tried to find the rare fish in the wild and a dragon that was “outside the glass”. This meaning of the titles accurately portrays the reputation and state of the fish which is something great that the author did. Another thing that enhanced the book was the huge amount of background information that Voigt provided. It allows anyone reading the book, with no matter what level of knowledge with fish, to easily understand what the author is illuminating. She gives background information to all the countries she travels to which is an enricher to my understanding of the country and its fishes. This book is not just a journal by Voigt, but a historical, enlightening and enjoyable story about the economics of the fish trade and how much people are impacted by it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mary & Tom

    A combination of travelogue, quest, and scientific adventure, Emily Voigt’s book on the arowana-a highly prized fish found in the Amazon, China, and Asia, is excellent reading. She discusses shrinking arowana populations in the wild and the destruction of habitats in favor of land to farm, palm oil plantations, and mining. Readers travel with Voigt on her quests to see a live arowana in the wild. Her travels take her to locations filled with all the natural dangers one would expect like disease A combination of travelogue, quest, and scientific adventure, Emily Voigt’s book on the arowana-a highly prized fish found in the Amazon, China, and Asia, is excellent reading. She discusses shrinking arowana populations in the wild and the destruction of habitats in favor of land to farm, palm oil plantations, and mining. Readers travel with Voigt on her quests to see a live arowana in the wild. Her travels take her to locations filled with all the natural dangers one would expect like disease carrying insects, snakes, and alligators. There are man made dangers too in the form of rebel insurgents, isolated tribes, and corrupt officials. The arowana is a fish that is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. The Super Red is the most expensive. During her travels, a new type of arowana is discovered. The Batek. This fish looks like it has some form of inscription on its scales. Voigt meets with many of the top researchers in the field of ichthyology. Several of these experts regret that researchers today no longer study just one species or related species but focus on the genetic aspects in the field of evolutionary biology. Voigt meets some fascinating people in following her quest. A really enjoyable book. Have more pictures would have been a plus.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Now, THAT's a title which grab's one attention and there was no way I was leaving the library without this nonfiction book.. Why, legend has it that one of these dragon fish sold for $150,000: an albino one with red eyes. If you love fish, you're going to enjoy this book. But for me this book served better as a travel book than as a book about the Asian arowana, or "dragon fish" as the inner jacket cover tells us. It seems we visit every ocean, sea, river, stream, lake, etc., in search of this " Now, THAT's a title which grab's one attention and there was no way I was leaving the library without this nonfiction book.. Why, legend has it that one of these dragon fish sold for $150,000: an albino one with red eyes. If you love fish, you're going to enjoy this book. But for me this book served better as a travel book than as a book about the Asian arowana, or "dragon fish" as the inner jacket cover tells us. It seems we visit every ocean, sea, river, stream, lake, etc., in search of this "dragon fish". Voigt covers the waters of the world, fresh and saltwater, and we meet (the best part) great people, everyday type people, telling their wonderful cultural legends. As I said, a very enjoyable travel read. And I kept feeling I was going to run into Clive Cussler and his NUMA team at any moment.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allisonlcarter

    I love books about obsessive hobbies. The Map Thief, The Orchid Thief, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, even the crazy Japanese miniatures in Empty Mansions. This book takes it one step further by making the object of obsession an animal: A fish. Google this fish. It is not an especially pretty fish! But because of its resemblance to Eastern-style dragons (snakier than Western ones, live in water instead of breathing fire) and an array of lucky colors like red and gold, it can go for hundreds of I love books about obsessive hobbies. The Map Thief, The Orchid Thief, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, even the crazy Japanese miniatures in Empty Mansions. This book takes it one step further by making the object of obsession an animal: A fish. Google this fish. It is not an especially pretty fish! But because of its resemblance to Eastern-style dragons (snakier than Western ones, live in water instead of breathing fire) and an array of lucky colors like red and gold, it can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars. People steal the fish and have even killed for the fish. Nuts. Voigt takes a thorough look through the world of the arowana, including some neat digressions into taxonomy, fish identification and 19th century naturalism (this sounds boring. It's not. It's very accessible and readable). Just append the word "eccentric" to each of the cast of characters: The globetrotting fish catcher with stories bigger than any "it was thiiiis big" tale, the reclusive fish identifier, the somewhat shifty British fish identifier, the Singaporean fish king...yeah, it's nuts. It also bounces all over the globe, with the most time spent in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia (Borneo, specifically), Burma and the Amazon. My only quibble with the book is the neverending search for a wild arowana. It takes her a while to find the fish (spoiler?) and after a few failed missions, I just wanted her to find the dang thing already or give up. I understand it's nonfiction and this is what happened, but perhaps the exploration bit would have been best done together as one section, rather than spaced throughout the book. Well worth a read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben Goldfarb

    "Dragon" was an enthralling journey into a fascinating corner of the exotic pet underworld. Greatly admire Voight's seamless melding of adventure narrative with ichthyology and conservation policy. Highly rec'ed for fellow fish lovers in particular. (Am I doing Goodreads right?) "Dragon" was an enthralling journey into a fascinating corner of the exotic pet underworld. Greatly admire Voight's seamless melding of adventure narrative with ichthyology and conservation policy. Highly rec'ed for fellow fish lovers in particular. (Am I doing Goodreads right?)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    I Applaud this book for making a literal non-fiction book about a single fish sointeresting and Easy to read?? I was invested in the author's Successes and every time I wished she would Win. I liked all the people she met along the way and appreciated when they popped up again, also I can't believe everyone wanted to help her so bad likeverygood. The most Devastating story was Stephen the fish like how tRAGIC mygoodneSS. Anyways I'm glad I picked this up and read it,,, now I'm enlightened on ill I Applaud this book for making a literal non-fiction book about a single fish sointeresting and Easy to read?? I was invested in the author's Successes and every time I wished she would Win. I liked all the people she met along the way and appreciated when they popped up again, also I can't believe everyone wanted to help her so bad likeverygood. The most Devastating story was Stephen the fish like how tRAGIC mygoodneSS. Anyways I'm glad I picked this up and read it,,, now I'm enlightened on illegal international fish trade, pet fish trends in Malaysia, various explorers, and various other information (also Crazy fish to Google)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jared Ure

    The author is good with words, but the story sometimes felt thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. The thing I enjoyed about the book most was being exposed to a facet of the world that I'd never seen before and probably will never seen again. The author is good with words, but the story sometimes felt thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. The thing I enjoyed about the book most was being exposed to a facet of the world that I'd never seen before and probably will never seen again.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    When I first set out to write about the arowana, I had been attracted to the humor and high drama of the fish world, to the eccentricities and obsessions of the people who were part of it. But there was no way to think about this arowana -- about any fish, really -- without confronting loss on a scale that seemed to large for the human mind to comprehend. Part travelogue, part natural history, part commodity history, part philosophical musing, and part quixotic quest, The Dragon Behind the Glass When I first set out to write about the arowana, I had been attracted to the humor and high drama of the fish world, to the eccentricities and obsessions of the people who were part of it. But there was no way to think about this arowana -- about any fish, really -- without confronting loss on a scale that seemed to large for the human mind to comprehend. Part travelogue, part natural history, part commodity history, part philosophical musing, and part quixotic quest, The Dragon Behind the Glass is, if you'll pardon the pun, neither fish nor fowl. But I found it beguiling perhaps for that very reason. I've read a handful of other books involving the trade -- often illicit -- in rare creatures or plants, so I had certain expectations, but what emerged for me as most distinct was Voigt's likable voice. She tells the story of her all-consuming search, and initially it seems odd that she is investigating a fish she doesn't even particularly like. While the dragonfish and the colorful people she meets are interesting, she is as well. Her motivations are murky and elusive, but surprisingly, I didn't lose patience. As Voigt travels the world, she knows her quest borders on the obsessive and is at times dangerous, yet in coming to grips with the why of it all she finds some unexpected answers and confronts some important issues. I quite enjoyed tagging along for the journey.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    This was WILDLY entertaining, on a subject that I really didn't think I cared that much about (and um, I still don't care that much about fish on the whole). Like, did you know there are 30 species of fish named after penises? And that in Singapore being a fish plastic surgeon is legit a job?? Or that some single Asian arowana fish sell for $150,000+, and are regularly stolen from fisheries and pet shops, and smuggled various places, but that if you make this investment, you should ensure your f This was WILDLY entertaining, on a subject that I really didn't think I cared that much about (and um, I still don't care that much about fish on the whole). Like, did you know there are 30 species of fish named after penises? And that in Singapore being a fish plastic surgeon is legit a job?? Or that some single Asian arowana fish sell for $150,000+, and are regularly stolen from fisheries and pet shops, and smuggled various places, but that if you make this investment, you should ensure your fish tank has a lid because otherwise your investment (GIANT PREDATOR FISH) might accidentally dive out of the water and meet an untimely death on the floor of your home, and then where would you be??? The writing wasn't the best thing ever, but it's entertaining enough that every person I've told about this book gets like, wide-eyed and can't believe this is a real thing (I guess since it's illegal to import Asian arowanas into the U.S.). There also is some good insight into conservation and exploration, particularly in regards to endangered species and fish farming (and it just barely touches on colonization). 3.5 stars. I'd recommend! I learned a lot, and have lots of good Fun Fish Facts now, though I suspect I will basically never have a conversation with anyone on this subject.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maya Gutierrez

    I found this book in a roundabout way after reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy - one of the characters has plastic surgery performed on her favorite arowana fish. After a quick internet search I discovered that people do in fact pay tens of thousands for these fish and sometimes alter their appearances with surgery. That led me to this highly entertaining book. The characters populating the book are very eccentric (turns out obsessing over fish can make you weird) and the author travels world I found this book in a roundabout way after reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy - one of the characters has plastic surgery performed on her favorite arowana fish. After a quick internet search I discovered that people do in fact pay tens of thousands for these fish and sometimes alter their appearances with surgery. That led me to this highly entertaining book. The characters populating the book are very eccentric (turns out obsessing over fish can make you weird) and the author travels worldwide to visit breeding facilities, aquarium expos, and the jungles of both South America and Southeast Asia to track down a glimpse of the coveted arowana in the wild. Anyone looking for a non-fiction read that doubles as an adventure book should read this!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Noah

    I am very active in the aquaculture and aquarium hobby this was a waste of time. I'm currently pursuing a masters in environmental conservation, have a double bachelors degree in marine science as well as ecology and worked in the aquarium industry for two years. The best part of the book was the epilogue. The book was entirely self-involved. I expected this book to be a scientific and cultural exploration and it ended up just becoming a story about the author's adventure with some simplistic sc I am very active in the aquaculture and aquarium hobby this was a waste of time. I'm currently pursuing a masters in environmental conservation, have a double bachelors degree in marine science as well as ecology and worked in the aquarium industry for two years. The best part of the book was the epilogue. The book was entirely self-involved. I expected this book to be a scientific and cultural exploration and it ended up just becoming a story about the author's adventure with some simplistic science and history mixed in. Don't read if you have a similar background as mine, you will be disappointed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    Absolutely phenomenal! Expertly written, "Dragon Behind the Glass" isn't just a book about the Asian arowana, but about how we as people understand the concept of species, endangered animals, and different parts of the world. So many different, amazing locations you rarely read about are covered in detail in these pages. If you care about nature, or are fascinated by it - lovers of Planet Earth need apply - you'll love this, and learn more than you thought possible about yes, fish. Absolutely phenomenal! Expertly written, "Dragon Behind the Glass" isn't just a book about the Asian arowana, but about how we as people understand the concept of species, endangered animals, and different parts of the world. So many different, amazing locations you rarely read about are covered in detail in these pages. If you care about nature, or are fascinated by it - lovers of Planet Earth need apply - you'll love this, and learn more than you thought possible about yes, fish.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ebirdy

    I so enjoyed this book, which I learned of via the Amazon Omnivoracious newsletter. It has a little bit of everything: science, history, natural science, a quest, humor, biology, ichthyology...and a heck of a fish story.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Narrative Muse

    – An adventure into the dark underbelly of the pet fish culture – I don't like fish. When I was young, my parents had to tell me that there were “fishing lakes” and “swimming lakes”. I've overcome that now, but I still don't like them. I don't even like eating fish. If I’m out getting fish and chips with friends, I just get the chips. But something surprising happens when I get a little distance from them. If you place a sheet of glass between me and a fish, well it's a whole different story. I fi – An adventure into the dark underbelly of the pet fish culture – I don't like fish. When I was young, my parents had to tell me that there were “fishing lakes” and “swimming lakes”. I've overcome that now, but I still don't like them. I don't even like eating fish. If I’m out getting fish and chips with friends, I just get the chips. But something surprising happens when I get a little distance from them. If you place a sheet of glass between me and a fish, well it's a whole different story. I find them fascinating. I could watch them swim all day. Maybe this is why I loved The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt (NPR). I had a front row seat to one of the most exciting adventures about fish and I didn't even have to get wet. The book traverses in an unusual story arch for most non-fiction books. Instead of going from A to B to C like most history texts or biographies, it goes from A to Z to G. Dragon Behind the Glass begins with Voight tagging along with the New York State Environmental Police. They’re on a bust for illegal pet animals in New York City. It's here that she’s first introduced to the Asian arowana, or dragonfish as it is commonly known. There are seven different species of arowana, but only the Asian arowana is illegal in the USA. It's a multimillion dollar international industry. One filled with farmers, CEOs, and even gangsters. A mysterious culture surrounds the fish. People refuse to talk about it and some have even killed for the fish. What begins as a mild interest on Voigt's part becomes an obsession. By the end of the book, she has traveled all over Asia, Europe, and into the heart of the Amazon. While reading, some of Voigt's obsession rubbed off. I found myself bringing up strange fish facts to anyone who would listen. And there are a lot of amazing fish facts in this book. *Ahem* Did you know that due to the Asian arowana, there is a whole sub-industry of fish plastic surgeons? Since the fish are considered more valuable when they look a particular way, fish breeders adjust physical aspects of the fish that are distasteful. If their fish wins at Aquarama (a large fish expo in Asia) then their fish could sell for anywhere between $15,000 and $150,000. That's right! One fish for $150,000. It’s gotten so extreme, that fish owners have been known to threaten judges with guns for not awarding their fish with the highest honor. Another fish fact: Did you know that the Romans kept eels as pets? They even adorned them with jewelry! It's said the Emperor Claudius' mother gave her's earrings. Let’s be clear, eels don't have ears. I could just go on and on. I'm going to be such a hit at parties. As Voigt delves deeper in her hunt for the arowana, the book begins to shift its focus. Rather than a story of fish and smugglers, it becomes one of environmentalism. Although there are millions of arowana raised in fish farms, they’re dwindling in the wild. An animal that was once a local culinary standard for people all over the world, is now on the brink of extinction. When she ventures into the Amazon, Voigt witnesses the encroaching settlements into the rainforest. It is a dark lining to the book. No matter how outlandish and incredible her adventures, the harsh reality looms. We’re losing species and habitats at an accelerating rate. I’m going to finish with the most fascinating thing that I learned from this book. There is a fish that lives three thousand feet under a lake in Siberia. It is so deep that the pressure stops it from giving birth. So in order to reproduce, the mother must swim toward the surface to give birth. Because the pressure difference is so extreme, she explodes as she rises. While dying, she releases all her offspring. The little babes then swim down to the bottom of the lake to continue the lifecycle. Ok, that fun fact was gory. But it exemplifies the book. Deep in the underground of our world, there are strange and magnificent things. But the moment that you bring them to the surface, you discover that they contain so many other leads to fascinating subjects. With each lead, you’re drawn back down into the discovery pool. It’s the perfect kind of non-fiction. It’s a never ending fact-finding discovery. The best kind. ---------- This review was first published on Narrative Muse, http://narrativemuse.co/books/dragon-..., and was written by Ian Brown. Narrative Muse curates the best books and movies by and about women and non-binary folk on our website http://narrativemuse.co and our social media channels.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cindy H.

    The Feather Thief meets the aquatic set. This book was beyond fascinating. The narrator did a fantastic job of keeping the story absorbing and all the scientific details and jargon easy to understand. Traveling from Asia to South America and back again, journalist Emily Voight joins a cast of real life Indiana Jones types on a quest to capture the rare arawana fish. Such a wild ride...great on audio Round up to 3.5 stars almost 4 but it was a bit too long

  26. 4 out of 5

    Benton Laufeysdottir

    The writing was wonderful, I just really don't care about arowana and the illegal fish trade (no matter how well it's written about). Easy writing style, reads like she's talking to you and telling her story. If you like fish, the ins and outs of trade, or the secrets behind endangered species, you'll really enjoy this book... That being said, none of the characters are completely morally sound, so it's sort of hard to root for any of them and their success. The writing was wonderful, I just really don't care about arowana and the illegal fish trade (no matter how well it's written about). Easy writing style, reads like she's talking to you and telling her story. If you like fish, the ins and outs of trade, or the secrets behind endangered species, you'll really enjoy this book... That being said, none of the characters are completely morally sound, so it's sort of hard to root for any of them and their success.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Interesting enough, but when reading these types of books, I often ask myself: Would this have made a better long-form Internet article? The answer here is definitely yes, even though I learned a great deal (minus half star for some “fishy” factual claims made by the author)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mac Daly

    Unless you love fish, or are interested in obsessive behavior, this may not hold your interest. The story of a rare tropical fish and what people will do to own one would have made a very engrossing article. As a full length book, it tends to drag.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sugarpuss O'Shea

    I found this book via the 'Readers also enjoyed' section here at Goodreads. And I must say, I throughly enjoyed it. It has a little something for everyone: Natural history, biology, expeditions, adventures, foreign intrigue, and a cast of characters you won't soon forget. The book starts out with Ms Voigt on a 'ride along' with a wildlife officer on a call in the South Bronx. From there, she embarks on a wild ride that takes her to the outermost reaches of the globe. All in pursuit to find the ki I found this book via the 'Readers also enjoyed' section here at Goodreads. And I must say, I throughly enjoyed it. It has a little something for everyone: Natural history, biology, expeditions, adventures, foreign intrigue, and a cast of characters you won't soon forget. The book starts out with Ms Voigt on a 'ride along' with a wildlife officer on a call in the South Bronx. From there, she embarks on a wild ride that takes her to the outermost reaches of the globe. All in pursuit to find the king of aquarium dwellers -- the arowana -- out in the wild. The task isn't as easy as it sounds, and there are perils & pitfalls along the way. And while this is a story about obsession & adventure, you will also learn a thing or two along the way. What more can one ask for in a book?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Would love to see more from this author in the same vein.

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