by MATTHEW SIMMONS
Imagine waking up to the news that while you were sleeping, an infectious virus had been discovered within all animals, poisonous enough to kill humans upon consumption. As a response, everyone transitions into a life of vegetarianism. However, tensions begin to arise when not everyone can conform to a non-meat lifestyle. As a response, the government then allows citizens to consume a “special” meat: humans.
This is the storyline of the fiction title “Tender is The Flesh,” written by Spanish author Augustina Bazterrica and translated to English by Sarah Moses. After completing this novel, I would recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try.
The novel follows a man named Marcos who works at one of the human meat processing plants, where humans are labeled as “heads” to lighten the load. Treated terribly, they work their way through the plant until they are approved to be consumed as food by the rest of society.
A friend of mine recommended this book to me a couple of months back and I had to put it off for a small amount of time to make sure I could give it my full attention. She had warned me that it was a lot to take in, but I am always up for a challenge. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the premise above, it was a journey, to say the least. Although it is a bite-size story, I found myself taking multiple breaks throughout. This was not due to poor translation, as that was spot on in my opinion, but rather the gruesomeness of what I was reading.
As someone who has done their fair share of research on factory farming, I respected the author’s choice to create a dystopian world that places humans in the position of animals. I am a huge fan of literary worlds that are just slightly off from reality, and I was pleasantly surprised that “Tender is The Flesh” gave me exactly that. Aside from the virus and human meat, there wasn’t anything that was all that different from the reality we live in every day. The characters deal with real-life problems surrounding love and friendship that we would expect to see in contemporary fiction. I thought this was a smart move, as it allowed the reader to focus more closely on the things that were not exactly right, what that meant and how it all played into the overall plot.
The main character, Marcos, grew on me throughout the novel. I found myself feeling bad for him and wanting to see some sort of character development as pages continued. However, I could not stop thinking about how much of a hypocrite he really was, being that he was one of the owners of a nearby meat factory. The narration style places the reader in his viewpoint, forcing the audience to see themselves through him and question their own motives and morality.
Quickly, I found myself wanting to share everything I was reading with anyone who was willing to listen. Again, this was an intense read, and it was difficult to only conceptualize on my own. Soon, I was forcing everyone within arms reach of me to read this fiction title, not because it was the best book I’ve ever read, but because I needed someone to help me make sense of what I was consuming. Everything the author was writing, despite its blunt violence and everything in between, served a purpose by the time the ending rolled around.
“Tender is The Flesh” is one of those novels that really makes a person think in ways they had not before. It made me ponder what does and does not qualify as unconditional love. Its honesty made me rethink how impactful literary works can really be. This title is not for the faint of heart, and there is a good reason for it. However, nothing proves this more than the horrifying ending that left me with no air in my chest, having to face the harsh realization of what desire and exploitation can lead people to do.