Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
“No one can call them humans because that would mean giving them an identity. They call them product, or meat, or food. Except for him; he would prefer not to have to call them by any name.”
I finished this book three days ago, and it won’t stop eating at me. It takes a nibble here, a nibble there. Like a favorite album, I didn’t know if I liked it at first, but by the time I had thoroughly discussed it with my reading group, HOWLS, I knew it would be one of my favorites.
The concepts in this book are many and they come at you chapter after chapter like a barrage of horror. At first, all the terrible facets of this new world overwhelm and become white noise, but that lends itself to the horror of realizing that you’re getting used to this world of cannibalism! It doesn’t take long for each fresh horror to rekindle the uncomfortable feelings.
Style-wise, this was a huge departure from the North American stories I’m used to. It threw me off at first, but once I accepted that this was a) a translation and b) written from the perspective of someone of a different culture, I was on board. This could be an aspect that throws some readers, but I encourage you to read it from an open point of view. Bazterrica’s voice is unique, and while that can be challenging, it is ultimately extremely rewarding.
Characterization in Tender is the Flesh follows a theme: everyone sucks. Those that have some redeemable factors are never fully redeemed. But that’s the nature of living in a world that’s complicit with the act of harvesting humans for meat. While I couldn’t love anyone in this book, I found them endlessly interesting.
Every aspect of this book is a gut punch. So far, I’ve read two books out of Argentina this year—Tender is the Flesh and Comemadre—but the pattern that’s starting to form is one bleakly aware of class disparity and the lengths we’ll go to to justify the world’s injustices. While there are many comparisons you can make to factory farming, this book doesn’t come off as a condemnation of the industry. It’s an examination of humanity as a whole. It’s a funhouse mirror that distorts our image in a way that is more true than what we see in the bathroom.
It’s an amazing book with a unique voice, and even if you don’t enjoy it, it is guaranteed to provoke a reaction from you.