Book Review: Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica 


Fiona Cohen, Managing News Editor

I picked up Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica over the October break at Kramers, an indie bookstore in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. I found the novel on a special Halloween table display. The devil on the cover made it fit in amongst the zombies and ghosts on the neighboring books. Needless to say, I knew what I was getting myself into — something spooky. Still, I was not at all prepared for Tender is the Flesh

This dystopian novel centers around Marcos, a manager at a meat processing plant. In this post-pandemic world, animal products are no longer safe to eat, and humans have turned to legal cannibalism. The heads, as they’re called, are raised without education or rights — not unlike cattle. Those who disobey or speak against the government are sold on the meat market. 

Marcos’s life changes when he is gifted a high-quality female head. He is forced to reconcile his humanity with his understanding of the law. He begins to break laws and is forced to fight to maintain his freedom and safety.

This novel is a thinly veiled critique of human greed and capitalism. Bazterrica also drops political hints about women’s rights, immigrant’s rights and religious influence. Still, with all of this, it does not feel trite. In honesty, I think I might’ve been too disturbed by the content of the novel to focus on the political messaging. 

This is not a novel for the weak of stomach. Bazterrica does not shy away from gory descriptions of human slaughter. There are also some graphic descriptions of abuse and sexual assault. 

I was very happy to be finished with this book. This is not because I think it was bad, but because it was such an uncomfortable read. It was not difficult to find parallels between the fictional world that Marcos navigates and our own post-pandemic world. Tender is the Flesh leaves readers wondering how far they could go under desperate circumstances. Could greed force us to abandon our humanity? What are we willing to sacrifice for our own comfort? In short, read at your own risk.