Review: Agustina Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

Tender is the Flesh
Agustina Bazterrica

The flesh of animals has become poisonous to humans. Unbelievably, the only source of protein left is ‘special meat’. Otherwise known as meat from ‘heads’, there are specially bred humans that are used only for meat and hides. Marco’s job is to check and maintain their quality. And yet, gifted with a beautiful head, Marco isn’t sure if humans are still valid meat.

This is a rich novel that is intended to be confronting and powerful, but is instead I found it off putting. It seemed like a train wreck from the start, and yet I kept hoping for a satisfactory conclusion. Instead what I read made me feel irritated and grossed out. Also there were parts (such as Marco’s ?affair? with the butcher) that I didn’t understand the importance of. This is literature, not light reading. It demands attention and thinking that I just didn’t have the space to give.

Some of the imagery in this novel was very disturbing. For me, it was reading how the pregnant humans had their limbs removed so that they couldn’t kill their own fetuses. See, now, doesn’t that say to a ‘head’ farmer that you shouldn’t do that? To my knowledge, no animal currently harvested for meat does this.

Maybe I missed the point of this novel? Should it have humanised the (non-human) meat industry for me? Unfortunately growing up as a beef cattle farmer’s daughter, I’m pretty pragmatic about meat, and where it comes from. I knew all those beef burgers and lamb chops by name before they were meat, and it never bothered me.

I didn’t realise that this was originally translated from Spanish (the author is Argentinian). That’s not something to hold against it – I’m honestly pretty sure that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it regardless of the language. It’s supposed to be a critique on meat eating, but I interpreted it as an actual hypothetical situation. It turned me off reading in a way similar to the way that The Biggerers did (again, maybe I missed the point?).

A high flaunting novel that missed the mark for me. I finished reading it, but was left disgusted and dismayed. I think the answer from me is ‘yes’ I would do cannibalism if you told me that I had to, in order to survive. But I wouldn’t accept human meat that’s been bred for the purpose.

Faber Factory Plus Ffp | 31st March 2020 | AU$27.99 | paperback

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