Excerpt from The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Fox Was Ever the Hunter

by Herta Muller

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller X
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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The beating of rugs cannot hoist the dull heartbeat into the ear.

*   *   *

Clara is tired after her curse, and the sky is so empty she closes her eyes, which are blinded by the light, while Adina opens her eyes wide and gazes far too long into the emptiness. From high overhead, beyond the reach even of the green knives, a taut thread of hot air stretches straight down to her eyes. And from this thread hangs the weight of the city.

*   *   *

That morning at school a child said to Adina, the sky looks so different today. A boy who's always very still when he's with the others. His eyes are set far apart, which makes his temples look narrow. My mother woke me up at four o'clock this morning, he said, and she gave me the key because she had to go to the train station. I walked out to the gate with her. When we were going through the courtyard the sky was so close I could feel it on my shoulder. I could have leaned back against it, but I didn't want to scare my mother. When I went back by myself I could see right through all the stones. So I hurried as fast as I could. The door to our building looked different, the wood was empty. I could have slept another three hours, the child said, but I never fell back asleep. And even though I wasn't sleeping I still woke up scared. Only maybe I really did sleep, because my eyes felt all pinched up. I had this dream that I was lying in the sun next to the water and I had this blister on my stomach. I pulled the skin off the blister but it didn't hurt. Because under my skin was stone. Then the wind blew and lifted the water into the air, but it wasn't water at all, just a wrinkled cloth. And there weren't any stones underneath either, only flesh.

*   *   *

The boy laughed into that last sentence, and into the silence that followed. His teeth were like gravel, the blackened half teeth and the smooth white ones. The age in his face couldn't stand his childish voice. The boy's face smelled like stale fruit.

It was the smell of old women who put on so much powder it starts to wilt just like their skin. Women whose hands quiver in front of the mirror, who smudge lipstick on their teeth and then a little while later inspect their fingers against the mirror. Whose nails are buffed and ringed with white.

When the boy stood in the school yard together with the other children, the blotch on his cheek was the clamp of loneliness. And the spot grew, because slanting light was falling over the poplars.

*   *   *

Clara has dozed off in the sun, her sleep carries her far away and leaves Adina alone. The beating of rugs shatters the summer into shells of green. And the whoosh of the poplars contains the green shells of all the summers left behind. All the years when you're still a child and growing and nevertheless sense that each single day goes tumbling off some cliff whenever evening comes. Days of childhood, with square-cut hair and dried mud in the outskirts of town, dust behind the streetcar, and on the sidewalk the footsteps of tall, emaciated men earning money to buy bread.

*   *   *

The outskirts were attached to the town with wires and pipes and a bridge that had no river. The outskirts were open at both ends, just like the walls, the roads and the lines of trees. The city streetcars went whooshing into the town at one of the ends, where the factories blew smoke into the sky above the bridge that had no river. At times the whooshing and the smoke were all the same thing. At the other end, farmland gnawed away at the outskirts, and the fields of leafy beets stretched far into the countryside. Farther away still was a village, the white walls gleaming in the distance looked no bigger than a hand. Suspended between the village and the bridge that had no river were sheep. The sheep didn't eat the beet leaves, only the grass that grew along the way, before the summer was out they had devoured the entire lane. Then they gathered at the edge of town and licked the walls of the factory.

Copyright © 2009 by Carl Hanser Verlag

Translation copyright © 2016 by Philip Boehm

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