Book Recommendation: ‘Tender Is the Flesh’ by Agustina Bazterrica

Recommended by MARY SAWYER, Ephraim Library Branch Manager

Spooky season is upon us, and here at the library, people are asking for creepy reading recommendations. Some patrons want a Goosebumps scare that won’t keep them up at night; some want a vintage, Stephen King–style epic to get the blood pressure racing; and some scoff when you offer them Bird Box, Shirley Jackson or The Shining. So, what do you recommend for the person who isn’t scared by even the scariest of stories? 

Bazterrica’s 2017 dystopian novel, Tender Is the Flesh, was translated into English in 2020, but despite mostly positive reviews, the book went under the radar. This is likely due to two deeply disturbing aspects of the novel.

First: The infection of all meat-producing livestock (as well as domestic and wild animals) with a virus that’s deadly to humans, which leads to a worldwide slaughter of animals. 

Second: Legalized cannibalism.

Compounding the gruesome nature of the novel, the hero, Marcos Tejo, works in the newly formed human-meat–packing industry. Distance and euphemisms, so common in dystopian worldbuilding, are not Bazterrica’s style. 

From page one, Marcos takes readers through each step of the slaughterhouse process, from herding human beings (referred to in the novel as “head”) to the stunning, slaughtering, skinning, butchering, packing, shipping and ultimately selling of “special meat.”

The author leaves the reader with nowhere to hide from the gnarly subject matter, leaving us to wonder why: Why would someone write such a grisly story, and why would this fictional world allow something so inhuman to happen?

The answer: You gotta read the book. Preferably in broad daylight with your favorite furry friend nearby to remind you that it’s only a story – a really scary story.