Saturday, June 11, 2016

Capturing the Fear

The Fox was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller


Every so often, you come across a reviewer who pans a novel by saying, "nothing happens" in the book. This is exactly one of those types of novels, and I'm sure we'll see many reviews to this effect. The problem is, this is deeply unfortunate because fewer people will be encouraged read it. In advance of these disparaging opinions, I would like to put forward my opposing side of this argument.

The first reason why people should read this book is the particularly stunning prose that Müller uses here. Müller shifts smoothly between simple language and lyrical imagery that brings to mind Ondaatje, when he was just beginning to combine poetry with writing fiction. I should admit that some of the credit due here is to the translator (Phillip Boehm) who did a fantastic job of conveying what I'm sure was the atmosphere that Müller infused into the original Romanian text.

Another reason to read this book is that Müller's use of language is not only beautiful, but also perfectly atmospheric. Life under the dictator Ceausescu was unbelievably difficult. On the one hand, he and his wife built a world famous palace; a building so large (second only to the Pentagon), they say you can see it from space. This monument to their "greatness" was diametrically opposed to the hardships they imposed on their nation. The amount of money they put into that structure could have fed every citizen, but instead people stood in line at shops that had nothing on their shelves to sell.

Furthermore, Müller also adds touches of fantasy, that border on magical realism to her story. These include the things her protagonists see in reality, but which take on qualities that we normally do not witness in real life. In this way, she helps the reader understand just surreal it felt to live in Romania at this time, especially when it came to not knowing who your friends were, and who his undercover informants, known as the Securitate, were. Together this makes gives this novel a softly dreamlike, yet sinister quality that makes for an ultimately compelling read.

However, Müller's unique style does have its drawbacks. For example, the ethereal feeling throughout the book also makes it somewhat difficult to distinguish between her characters. This is partially because there are no real conversations, since the dialogue is unpunctuated, and allowed to flow along with the rest of the narrative. This confused me in several parts of the book, which I found to be frustrating because I was enjoying the writing so much. For those readers who don't care for books where "nothing happens," I'm thinking that the combination of these two things will probably keep this book from ever appearing on their reading lists. For me, however, I'm still glad I read this book, even when it confused me. For anyone who remembers watching the country-by-country overthrow of communism during the late 80s and early 90s, this is a stunning rendition of the on-the-street feelings prevalent in Romania at the time. For this, I can warmly recommend it with a solid four out of five stars.


The English translation of "The Fox was Ever the Hunter" by Herta Müller, published by Granta Books, released May 5, 2016, is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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