This novel by Argentine author Agustina Bazterrica and translated by Sarah Moses is set in a future where all non-human animals have been infected with a virus that infects anyone exposed to them (or so they’ve been told). So to satisfy people’s supposed need for meat, a massive industry in human flesh has developed. Humans are bred specifically for factory slaughter, their entire lives set up to make them something other than human.
This is a brutal, dark book. Bazterrica describes the system in great detail — the main character, Marcos, works in management at a slaughterhouse, so he’s close to the system, and we see what he sees. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. For me, it was rough reading, but it didn’t feel purposeless. It wasn’t disgust for the sake of disgust.
The obvious parallel here is to factory farming of animals, which is built on treating animals not as living beings but as objects to be processed in as great a number and with as little inconvenience as possible. But I think it also has something to say about our treatment of humans in our world as it is and how we treat people who are poor or less powerful as less human so that we can exploit them for their labor or fail to provide for their needs. Living within such a system can require us to accept certain false narratives about people’s worth and value, and other false narratives about the necessity of having the system that we have. In this novel, people accept that meat is necessary, that animals are deadly (something conspiracy theorists suspect was a lie all along), and that the people (always referred to as “head”) raised to become “special meat” don’t really have a will or feelings.
The book also shows what living within such a system can do to people. Marcos sometimes shows glimmers of a conscience, a willingness to see the lies and cruelty within the system, but he remains part of it. And, at the end, the book takes a turn that shows just how difficult it is to escape a system built on the human capacity to elide our own cruelty.
I appreciated the clarity of the vision within this book. Some of the recent dystopian novels I’ve read (The Down Days and The Resistors in particular) tried to cover too much, which muddied up the message. We only see the parts of this world that Marcos knows. That means we don’t see, for example, any serious consideration of vegetarianism or an organized resistance, both of which would surely exist in such a world. I imagine some readers will be frustrated by this exclusion, but to me, sticking with one perspective added to the book’s power.
But, again, I’m not sure I recommend it.