I’m not going to lie: I copped a few surprised looks when I told people that I was reading (and captivated by) a book about cannibalism.
I mean, in my defense, it’s a prizewinning Argentinian dystopia about the power of language, the bounds of humanity, and a searing critique of our exploitation of the earth… but still, they got all hung up on the cannibalism part. Weird, eh?
Anyway, it’s Tender Is The Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica, translated into English by Sarah Moses and published by the wonderful team at Pushkin Press.
It has an eerily pertinent premise: a virus has ripped through the entire animal population, wild and domestic, making all meat entirely poisonous to humans. Companies and governments conspire to legalise and legitimise the breeding and consumption of humans for food – or, in the post-Transition parlance, “heads” for “special meat”. The protagonist is Marcos, a bigwig at a factory that raises and slaughters humans for butchers, tanneries, laboratories, and (hold onto your hat) a game reserve.
Bazterrica never goes easy on the reader, not for one second – every aspect of her imagined world is described in stomach-churning detail, and every parallel to the current practices of factory farming and sanctioned animal abuses is well and truly hammered home. In fact, it could be read as something like a vegan rallying cry – and it’s up to the reader whether that resonates or rankles.
Naturally, a trigger warning, but an extra-special one for folks like me who can handle all the human flesh consumption just fine but are absolutely destroyed when bad things happen to dogs in books (so many bad things, so many tears!).
Tender Is The Flesh is a brilliant book, with much to say… just maybe don’t read it right before dinner.