{Audiobook} Review: Tender is the Flesh By Agustina Bazterrica

Tender is the Flesh

Agustina Bazterrica

Narrator: Joseph Balderrama

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.

Publisher: Scribner

Published: August 4th 2020 (first published November 29th 2017)

Animal Cruelty/Death, Rape, Mutilation, Blood Depiction, Death, Murder, Cannibalism, Gore, Mention of Human Trafficking, Death of a Child, Mentions of Miscarriages

I had listened to a sample of this because I was in a creepy sort of mood and in less than ten seconds, purchased it. The narrator just… pulled me in. Remember that I primarily listen to audiobooks at work, so his voice in my ear as I go about my duties was calming, especially with such a disturbing tale as this.

“Today I’m the butcher, tomorrow I might be the cattle.” 

Hello. This is the tale on how a book has managed to enrage me… and then do a complete one-eighty. Let me get the superlatives out of the way: this was a really engrossing tale. Greatly disturbing. Highly entertaining… but you’ve probably heard that from many other reviews, yes?

In a world in which animals have contracted a virus that is deadly to humans, cannibalism is legalized I know, we just skipped veganism RIGHT??. Coined special meat, we follow our main character Marcos who is second in command at a processing plant and is dealing with his own world of problems.

This book had my mouth agape at many moments and descriptions– again it is very disturbing and triggering in its content. However, something was holding me back from being fully encapsulated into the story. Sure, we can have detailed instructions on how to flay a human, on how to breed the perfect person to get the best pieces of meat, yet I feel like this story aims for displaying disturbing acts over unpacking said disturbing acts.

With a book about cannibalism and farming humans, it left me with some questions. There’s no delving into who determines who gets farmed, how they get chosen— it was mentioned how in the early days immigrants and impoverished people began disappearing. People who were against the “transition” as the world is calling it, but the overall farming of humans… race, sexuality, religion…. Does that factor in? We don’t know. Honestly. It’s pushed to the side in favor of discomforting, in depth accounts of… farming people. Which, does its job making this an entertaining story, but I wanted more philosophy here.

“After all, since the world began, we’ve been eating each other. If not symbolically, then we’ve been literally gorging on each other. The Transition has enabled us to be less hypocritical.” 

And I can’t say this book doesn’t go into what makes a human, but like most things in this story, it’s brushed over or rushed past or not expanded on. There’s little things here and there– a brief mention of a government conspiracy, the disgust/prohibition of slavery yet not cannibalism and overpopulation. Nonetheless, that’s my main issue: things are brushed over just to focus on our main character. Marcos. Who I have a WORLD of complicated feelings over. Is that a good thing? Maybe? I don’t exactly know?

I feel like the tired side plot of his struggling marriage was used to give him character, to sympathize with his grief over the loss of his child, but he was so apathetic and lifeless about things. And after a certain point, a certain scene… he wasn’t likable. At all. He’s just going through the motions basically being a narrator to how the world ended up the way it is and that in and of itself is great… if that was the purpose of his character. However, we’re supposed to feel for him. For the loss of his son and his estranged wife and the fact that his father is basically in hospice and that he has to do a job he doesn’t care for because of his need for the life insurance it provides and I can’t because he is just so stiff in the way he tells you these hardships he’s going through. Which had nothing to do with the narrator but just the CHARACTER himself.

And as for him being immensely dislikable…{ CLICK FOR SPOILERS } For context: Marcos has a person meant for breeding better meat for consumption kind of just thrown upon his care and instead of following protocol… listen, him raping her is absolutely unacceptable. Considering they have a separate conglomerate of humans meant for eating… the things they do to them… there was no consent at all. And then to IMPREGNATE HER??? It’s even more disturbing with how he treats her. He not only gives her a pot to piss in (not… you know… teach her how to use the working toilet ), he ties her up to his bed when he’s gone? He’s basically treating her like a domesticated animal… that he just RAPED and IMPREGNATED. AND NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT.

“He tried to hate all of humanity for being so fragile and ephemeral but he couldn’t keep it up because hating everyone is the same as hating no one.” 

And yet… I’d never believed one singular line could change my entire well most of my viewpoint on a book and change my perception of things but. Yup. instant two star bump. That last line completely warped my insight on Marcos as a whole. This entire book had me under the (hopeful) impression that Marcos was a good guy. He didn’t want this life— sure he was indifferent about his circumstances and did what he needed to do for insurance purposes— but as the book goes along…. You find he is not a good person. At all. I don’t know if this is a man who has just accepted that this is life, but in a way that’s refreshing. I didn’t need another “fight against the government” story. Give me a man who isn’t special, is good at his job and does what he needs to do for his family.

I know I complained a lot in this review, but I really did enjoy my time listening to this. For me, it wasn’t as effective of a punch that I wanted, however it still gave me much to think about.

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