Reviewed: Tender Is The Flesh

If a virus infected all animals and made them inedible to humans what would we do? In Agustina Bazterrica’s novel (translated by Sarah Moses), we adapted and legitimised cannibalism. Except “no one can call them humans because that would mean giving them an identity. They call them product, or meat, or food.”

The main character, Marcos, runs a meat processing plant which supplies tanneries, butchers, even game reserves, and we’re along for the ride, experiencing day-to-day industrialised farming through eyes uncomfortable with what they see. This nightmarish world is balanced by the humanity of Marcos whose wife is staying with her mother since the death of their child. He lives alone at the house, a “place of broken words and silences encapsulated between walls, of accumulated sadnesses that splintered the air, scraped away at it, split open the particles of oxygen. A house where madness was brewing, where it lurked, imminent.” His father, “a person of integrity, that’s why he went crazy”, is in a nursing home suffering from dementia. And Marcos has a troubled relationship with his city-dwelling sister. “He thinks that she was never much interested in maternity, that she had her kids because it’s one of the things you’re supposed to do in life, like throwing a party on your fifteenth birthday, getting married, renovating your home and eating meat.”

Bazterrica’s prose is simple and unencumbered but laced with enough emotion to gut the reader. It is a story about Capitalism, and about words because “there are words that cover up the world.” Ultimately, though, this novel is an exquisite exploration of what it is to be human.

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