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The Fox Was Ever the Hunter Paperback – 5 May 2016
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'Poetic [and] haunting... deftly rendered by Philip Boehm... In her writing, Muller inches closer to narrowing the gap between people and things, between life and language' -- Washington Post
'Her prose - as poetic as it is blunt - works like a prism, shattering and illuminating a world that is always watching, waiting. [A] dark collage, which glints with fear - and with beauty.' -- Atlantic
'When the collage is completed, the reader understands that each and every one of Muller's stories, every flight of luscious language and every brutal fact, has been necessary in depicting a society torn to pieces and tasked, with the curtains finally open and the light streaming in, with putting those pieces back together to make sense of it all' -- New York Times
'Herta Muller fled Romania for Germany, and the lingering memories of her ex-state's oppressiveness saturate this novel. Set in the final months of Ceausescu's rule... [it's] effective at evoking a monotonous, joyless existence defined by hunters preying on hunted.' -- Lesley McDonald, Sunday Herald
'[An] extraordinary novel... Now a Nobel Laureate [...] Muller lays bare the totalitarian attack on the individual and the everyday horror of life under a repressive regime. There is a cinematic intensity to the narrative [... and] Muller's oblique, often microscopic, viewpoint and her inclination towards the grotesque transform the [opening] scene into one full of disgust and foreboding... This ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere gradually gives way to the horrors of a more defined reality... The mounting tension made tangible by such scenes is felt most intensely in Muller's language. Short, clipped sentences accumulate, overlapping and building into a noisy, symphonic whole... Muller herself does not dictate to us and often lets the truth emerge from what remains unsaid. The result is a profoundly unsettling novel, which renders palpable the cruelty of life under the regime, as well as the brittle exhilarations of its overthrow.' --Charlotte Ryland, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
HERTA MULLER was born as part of a German-speaking minority in Romania in 1953. She attended school and university in Timisoara. After refusing to work for the Romanian Secret Service, the Securitate, she lost her job as a translator in a machine factory. In 1987, she emigrated to Germany and has lived in Berlin ever since. She writes in German and has a string of literary prizes to her name, including the Aspekte Literature Prize (1984), the Kleist Prize (1994), the Prix Aristeion (1995), the Konrad Adenauer prize for literature (2004), the Nobel Prize in Literature (2009) and the Heinrich Boll Prize from the city of Cologne (2015).
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The Hunger Angel is notable for how thoroughly it describes life in a prison camp, and yes, the feeling of being hungry all the time, for weeks and months.
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter has an interesting cast of characters set at a difficult time and in a place rarely described--Romania before the fall of Ceausescu. The book is much more than an ensemble portrayal: I encourage readers to read all the way through the end.
Then you will want to look up a bit of history.
Curses are cold. They have no need of dahlias or bread or apples
or summer. Curses are not for smelling and not for eating. Only
for churning up and laying down flat, for an instant of rage and
a long time keeping still. Curses lower the throbbing of the
temples into the wrist and hoist the dull heartbeat into the ear.
Curses swell and choke on themselves. [tr. Philip Boehm]
And what is the cause of this curse? Simply that a young woman, Clara, sunbathing with her friend Adina, has pricked a finger while sewing. The language seems far in excess of the immediate cause. The novel proceeds in vignettes described in language much like this, often less surreal but occasionally more so. There is a powerful sense that Müller is describing more than she is ostensibly talking about, that the curses are caused less by the prick of a needle than the accumulated pressure of living under a totalitarian regime. (Though published in 2009, the novel is set under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was deposed in 1989.)
But I had forgotten why I had been put off by that first Müller novel. That too had surreal, even poetic, writing, but I found it hard to sustain my interest to cover an entire novel. And so it is here. Adina is a teacher and Clara works in a factory; they are two of the maybe half-dozen recurrent characters in the book. But to speak of characters is to imagine significant interaction between them and a more or less normal plot. The plot, such as it is, is encroaching rather than linear. There are a few acts of violence—a foreman who impregnates his workers, a police raid on a concert—and an increasing sense of paranoia. It begins to seem that one of the group is informing on the others. But the first signs that any of the characters are being targeted is symbolic rather than actual: Adina keeps returning home to find that pieces are being severed from her fox-fur rug. Somewhat creepy, yes, but also a little absurd—but then I have heard life in Soviet Europe described that way too.
While I loved the writing in small doses, I had a real problem opening myself to the book as a novel, so would recommend it only for sampling, not reading complete.
An outsider begins dating Clara, a member of the core group, and she rather quickly realizes that her new lover is a member of the secret police, charged with the interrogation and torture of Romanian citizens who find themselves on the wrong side of an ever blurry line of conformity. Clara justifies her association with this man by assuming her friends will be protected by her relationship, but the opposite is true, and his presence means they are all being watched. As the last weeks of Ceausescu’s reign approach, everyone in the group finds themselves in grave danger, and each takes their own precautions with varying results.
Muller’s poetic prose is beautiful. There is so much meaning in everything she writes, metaphor after metaphor sketching the constant level of fear and oppression. This is definitely a novel that lends itself to multiple readings and much contemplation. Perhaps the most used metaphor was that of seemingly ubiquitous poplars and the knife-like shade they cast. Having grown up near a poplar wind screen, this created in my mind a perfect image of an ever present force above, always able to look down and cast a shadow on the people, the knife like shadows indicative of watchers with the power to inflict pain. Time and again, Muller uses seemingly banal daily occurrences to subtly but deftly demonstrate the difficulties of Romanian life under the regime.
While The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is mostly very serious, there was an occasional bit of humor and some of these moments may well be what I remember most about the novel as time passes. A very funny test a wife administers to her husband each night he comes home from drinking, and a quite unorthodox method the women had of “binding themselves” to their men are two of the anecdotes I’m unlikely to forget.
I’m certainly not qualified to say whether or not a translation is a good one, but Boehm’s is so readable that I sense he must have delivered Muller’s message. Muller makes tangible the 1989 Romanian Revolution and does so at the level of the common man, one of the novel’s many strengths. While it may well be true that nobody who did not live through it can completely understand it, Muller has ensured that the reader will feel some of the essence of those tumultuous times.
Note: ARC received free via NetGalley
A brief except "The ant has the head of a pin, the sun can't find any place to burn. The sun stings. The ant loses its way."
If pages like this appeal to you, read on. I found it boring.