Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.Goodreads Synopsis
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica is a grotesque dystopia that at once disgusts the reader yet forces them to think about humanity and how we treat one another. Not for the faint of heart, this novel is a horrific glimpse into one possible future that will haunt readers for days to come.
Tell Me More
“There are times when one has to bear the weight of the world.”
So, I finally checked this one off of my TBR! And it has probably made the top 5 list of best books I’ve read in 2022. While the concept of harvesting humans for meat is horrific, the book isn’t just led by horror. It is wholly dystopian – set in a world where animal meat is no longer safe to eat. The scariest thing about the story is that this could easily become a possible future for our planet. The descriptions of how the “head” are treated in meat processing plants scarred me, but at the same time I have never thought this deeply about a novel, and I am moved. Agustina Bazterrica is a gorgeous writer, and it was easy to just breeze through her beautiful language.
“Because hatred gives one strength to go on; it maintains the fragile structure, it weaves the threads together so that emptiness doesn’t take over everything.”
Marcos as a main character was deep and immensely relatable. I mourned for him and empathized with his contrasting feels about working in a meat processing plant, and yet feeling disgusted by it. However, it was hard to get a full read on him, which ultimately led me to feel like I never knew him at all by the time the book ended. His character was layered and so human that I found myself feeling betrayed by him at the end, yet understanding his actions were due to his circumstances and the environment he is living in.
Even though Marcos led the story, the novel portrayed several different settings and circumstances to reveal to the reader how this new “head” is treated in various situations. The reader learns how some people buy “head” to hunt them down, while some celebrities down on their financial luck sometimes choose to be “prey” in these hunts. They have a certain amount of time to survive the hunt, and if they do, all of their debts will be forgiven. Unless, of course, they are hunted down.
Then their bodies are used as meat. The scene where a celebrity was hunted down, and the hunters had a feast using his body as meat, was nauseating and made me completely disgusted. Each body part was described with how it was prepared, and the comments of the hunters as they ate was atrocious.
We also learn that some “head” are used in experiments meant to supposedly advance medical science, but they are tortured in the process. Other “head” are kept alive even while they are being used as meat. Their body parts are cut off to be eaten while they are still living because this practice is seen as getting the “freshest cuts” of meat.
Learning about all of these different practices added to the horror of Marcos becoming close with a female “head” he has impregnated and is keeping in his house. The reader gets the impression that Marcos is falling in love with this female he has named Jasmine, which humanizes her, and makes it that much harder for readers to try and view the “head” as simply meat products. However, it is clear by the end that Marcos’ view of Jasmine never completely humanizes her. Marcos is a by-product of his culture, and unfortunately, he too can’t see the “head” as humans for his own sake.
💖What I Loved
- It was easy to empathize with Marcos, and yet the ending turned everything I knew about him on its head. Just wow 😳
- The descriptions were grotesque but in a necessary way to educate the reader about the reality of this dystopian world
- Each sentence was necessary to the story, and no filler whatsoever entered the book
☠️What Could’ve Been Better
- The length of the story – certain scenes and characters could’ve been more fleshed out
- Learning more about the scavengers and their motives/existence would’ve added depth to the story
- Describing more fully the virus that infected animals and made them dangerous, and how the government was involved, would’ve add a necessary layer to help me better understand this new dystopia
⚠️TW: Animal abuse was present, which I normally have issue with, but it was necessary to the story in this case. Just be careful if this is triggering for you. Also be aware that cannibalism is a central element to the plot, and many scenes are nightmare inducing.