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

Print Excerpt


On the side of the courtyard that faced the street was a display window with crosses, stovepipes and watering cans made of tin. They were propped up with old newspapers, and in front of the display was an embroidered blanket with a tin sign on top that said COOPERATIVE OF PROGRESS.

The crosses, stovepipes and watering cans shuddered whenever the streetcar passed by. But they didn't tip over.

Behind the display window was a table with scissors, pliers and screws, behind the table sat a man. He was a tinsmith. He wore a leather apron. His wedding ring hung on a string around his neck, because both hands were missing the ring finger.

Some people said that his first wife had been dead a long time, and that he never found a second because he kept his wedding ring around his neck. The barber claimed that the tinsmith had never had a wife at all, that he'd used the same ring four times to get engaged but never married. If there were enough crosses, stovepipes and watering cans to fill the display window, he could turn to repairing old pots and pans.

When the streetcar passed, the faces in the tram hovered in the display window between the stovepipes and crosses. On the watering cans the faces were wavy from the movement and from the sheen of the tin. Once the streetcar moved on, the only thing left on the watering cans was the gleam of trampled snow.

For several summers Adina wore her dress with the falling trees. Every summer Adina grew taller, and the dress got shorter. And every summer the trees hung upside down and they felt as heavy as ever. Underneath the rising trees that lined the sidewalk, the girl from the outskirts of town had a shy face. The shade never covered it entirely. Her shaded cheek stayed cool, and Adina had the feeling she could zip it open or shut, like her dress. Her cheek in the sunlight turned hot and soft.

After a summer rain that failed to cool off the paving stones, black chains of ants crawled inside the cracks in the courtyard. Adina took a tube from a circular knitting needle and poured sugar water into the transparent plastic and set the tube in one of the cracks. The ants crawled inside and lined up: head, abdomen, head, abdomen. Adina lit a match, sealed the ends of the tube and hung it around her neck. Stepping to the mirror she saw that the necklace was alive, even though the ants were dead, stuck to the sugar, each in the place where it had suffocated.

Only when the ants were in the tube did the human eye consider them animals.

Adina went to the barber every week, because her hair grew quickly and she wasn't allowed to let it cover her ears. On the way she passed the display window with the crosses, stovepipes and watering cans. The tinsmith waved and she went inside. He handed her a cone rolled from newspaper. The cone had cherries in May, apricots as early as June, and grapes just a little later, even though no ripe ones could be found in any of the gardens. At the time Adina was convinced that the newspaper caused the change of fruit.

When he handed her the cone the tinsmith said eat the fruit now or else it'll go bad. And she started to eat very quickly, fearing it might go bad even while he was talking. Then the tinsmith said, eat slowly so you can savor every bite for a long time.

She chewed and swallowed and watched as the flame flickered from the soldering iron, covering and filling the pits in the bottom of the pot. The filled holes gleamed like the stovepipes, watering cans and crosses in the window. When fire stops chewing your pot, death will bite you in the ass, said the tinsmith.

One afternoon Adina went to get her haircut wearing her necklace of ants. She sat in front of the big mirror and let her legs dangle off the chair. The barber combed down her hair and when he reached her neck he stopped, shielded his eyes with the comb, and said, that's it, either the ants go this minute or else you do.

Copyright © 2009 by Carl Hanser Verlag

Translation copyright © 2016 by Philip Boehm

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