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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About this Book

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The factory was large, with buildings on both sides of the bridge without water. From behind the walls came the screaming of cows and pigs. At night their horns and hooves were burned, the acrid stench wafted into the outskirts. The factory was a slaughterhouse.

In the morning, while it was still dark, roosters crowed. They walked through the gray inner courtyards the same way the emaciated men walked on the street. And they had the same look.

The men rode the streetcar to the last stop and then crossed the bridge. On the bridge the sky hung low, and when it was red, the men had red cockscombs in their hair. The local barber told Adina's father that there was nothing more beautiful than a cockscomb for the heroes of labor.

Adina had asked the barber about the red combs because he knew every scalp and every whorl. He said whorls are for hair what wings are for roosters. So even though no one could say exactly when, Adina knew that each of the emaciated men would at some point go flying over the bridge.

Because sometimes the roosters did go flying over the fences. Before taking off they would drink water out of empty food cans in the courtyards. At night the roosters slept in shoe boxes. When the trees turned cold at night, cats crawled into the boxes as well.

It was exactly seventy steps from the last stop to the bridge that had no river—Adina had counted them. The last stop on one side of the street was the first on the other. At the last stop the men climbed out slowly, and at the first the women climbed in quickly. Early in the morning they ran to catch the streetcar with matted hair and flying purses and sweat stains under their arms. The stains were often dried out and rimmed with white. Their nail polish was eaten away by machine oil and rust. And even as they rushed to catch the streetcar their faces already carried the weariness from the wire factory.

At the sound of the first streetcars Adina woke up. She felt cold in her summer dress. The dress had a pattern of trees, but the tops were upside down. The seamstress had stitched the material the wrong way.

The seamstress lived in two small rooms, the floor was full of angles and the walls had bellied out from the damp. The windows opened onto the courtyard. One window had a sign propped up that said COOPERATIVE OF PROGRESS.

The seamstress called the rooms the WORKSHOP. Every surface—table, bed, chairs, chest and even the floor—was covered with snippets and scraps. And each piece of fabric had a piece of paper with a name. A wooden crate behind the bed held a sack full of scraps. On the crate was a label NO LONGER OF USE.

The seamstress kept her clients' measurements in a small notebook. Anyone who'd been coming for years was considered a longtimer. Whoever came rarely, by chance, or only once was a short-termer. If a longtimer brought some material, the seamstress didn't need to take more measurements, except for one woman who went into the slaughterhouse every day and was as emaciated as the men—for her the seamstress had to take new measurements every time. She held the tape in her mouth and said, really, you'd be better off going to the vet and having him outfit you with a dress instead of me. Every summer you get thinner and thinner. Pretty soon my notebook will get filled up with just your bones.

Several times a year the woman brought the seamstress a new notebook. On the cover it said BRIGADE NOTEBOOK and above the columns on each page it said LIVE WEIGHT and SLAUGHTER WEIGHT.

Adina was never allowed to go barefoot in the workshop, the scraps and snippets littering the floor were full of pins. Only the seamstress knew how to move without getting pricked. Once a week she crawled through the rooms with a magnet and all the pins and needles jumped into her hand.

When Adina tried on the dress, her mother said to the seamstress, can't you see that the trees are growing the wrong way, you turned the fabric upside down. The seamstress could still have turned it right side up, the fabric was only basted with white thread. But with two pins in her mouth she said, what's important is front and back, and that the zipper's on the left. Besides, when I look from here, the bottom is the top. She lowered her face to the floor. That's how the chickens see it, she said. And the dwarves, said Adina. Her mother looked out the window at the courtyard.

Copyright © 2009 by Carl Hanser Verlag

Translation copyright © 2016 by Philip Boehm

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