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
    May 2017, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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A man was sleeping in the corner. The barber's cat was sprawled across his thighs, also sleeping. The man was emaciated and had a cockscomb every morning when he crossed the bridge on his way to the slaughterhouse. He woke with a start and flung the cat out the door. I've got enough dead animals in the slaughterhouse, he shouted, then spat on the floor.

The floor was matted with hair clippings from emaciated men who all knew one another. The hair was brittle, dark gray, light gray and white and made the floor seem like a giant scalp. Cockroaches crawled among the strands. The hair moved up and down. The hair was alive because it was being carried by the cockroaches. But it was not alive on the heads of the men.

The barber dropped his scissors into the open drawer, I can't cut your hair like this, he said, I can feel the ants crawling inside my clothes. He jerked his shirt out of his pants and scratched himself. His fingers left red marks on his stomach. Mother of ants, he cursed. Mother of corpses, said the man from the slaughterhouse. Suddenly the mirror moved and Adina saw herself cut off by the drawer, her feet looked like they were hanging from a roof. She ran out the door and past the cat, who gazed after her with more than its own two eyes.

A week later the barber gave Adina some sweets. The candy had hair sticking to it that scratched her tongue. Adina tried to spit out the hair, but the barber told her it was good for cleaning the throat.

The candy scratched inside her mouth and Adina asked when the man who had flung the cat outside was going to die. The barber crammed a handful of candy into his mouth and said, when a man's had enough hair cut to fill a stamped-down sack, and the sack weighs the same as the man, the man dies. I put all the men's hair into a sack and stamp it down and wait until it's full, said the barber. I don't weigh the hair on the scale, I weigh it with my eyes. I know how much hair I've cut off every one of my customers over the years. My eyes can feel the weight. And I'm never mistaken. He blew on the back of Adina's neck.

The client who threw out the cat will come here seven or eight more times, he said. That's why I didn't say anything, even though the cat hasn't eaten a thing since. I don't want to send a longtime client into the unknown with some other barber for his last haircuts. A wrinkle curled up from his mouth and sliced into his cheek.

*   *   *

Clara sits up on the blanket to put on her summer blouse. The thimble on her forefinger burns in the sun. Her legs are bony, in one motion she pulls them close to her chest and rocks forward as she puts on the blouse. It's the movement of a bony bird who doesn't need to do anything except gaze into the summer and be beautiful. The nearby poplar knife watches. The stubble growing back inside her shaved armpits has already turned into the chin of the man she's talking about. A man with style, she says, is someone I've never met. But I wish.

Clara laughs and straightens out her legs. Her wish is stoked by the sun and dizzied by the roof. Her head knows nothing of the green knives of the poplars, the edge of the roof, the clouds, the city. And that this roof in the sun is full of ants carrying dead flies. And that this roof in the sun is nothing more than a cliff in the sky.

*   *   *

The summer dress with the falling trees and the zipper made Adina forever wary of clothes. She often went to the seamstress's workshop, where she would measure the lives of the women by the weight of the fabric scraps. She would sit and watch, determined to size up each client. She knew which woman's scraps would soon fill a stamped-down sack that weighed as much as the woman. And she knew that after four more dresses, the woman from the slaughterhouse would die.

Copyright © 2009 by Carl Hanser Verlag

Translation copyright © 2016 by Philip Boehm

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