Tender Is the Flesh: Agustina Bazterrica
I saw the title making the rounds on Twitter with some of my favorite reviewers, so I decided to request and was thrilled to be approved.
When the government insists that animals have been infected with a deadly virus, humans become the livestock. Marketed as "special meat," cannibalism soon becomes the norm, and Marcos is one of the most knowledgeable in the business. Grappling with his own grief and moral fortitude, Tender Is the Flesh follows Marcos down a rabbit hole of tragedy and gives us a glaring view into a world where people are on the menu.
I had no idea what I was in for when I started this book. I read A Modest Proposal in college, and that doesn't even scratch the surface. Bazterrica took this metaphor to a whole new level. This is not a book for weak stomachs, so if you're averse to graphic gore, bloody imagery, and stark violence, consider this a warning. Marcos tours the slaughterhouse, describing in minute detail the process the "head" endures from start to finish. I've seen documentaries about meat processing plants before. I have some prior knowledge of what conditions can be like and the definition of "humane," but reading this as people being bred for slaughter really hit me on a visceral level, kind of the same reaction I had to watching Human Centipede the one time I made that horrible mistake.
The writing is superb, and the symbolic, metaphorical nature is important and difficult to miss. Bazterrica's commentary on socioeconomic status and class differences speaks volumes. I found it particularly interesting the lengths characters would go to in order to distance themselves from stigma. For me, this is a clear reflection of the numbness that happens when we get used to atrocities, changing terminology and sugar-coating descriptions in order to normalize the horrors. Bazterrica highlights the danger of blind acceptance, of losing our ability to question authority.
I won't comment on the ending, other than to say that it knocked my core.
While I can't say that I enjoyed this book (I'm not sure it's a book that's meant to be enjoyed; similar to Marcos' interview of the tall and short man) I certainly took a lot from it, and I sure as hell won't be forgetting it any time soon.
Big thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.