Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Taste of a Man - Slavenka Drakulic

"I shall eat his body so that Jose may continue to live inside me. We shall be one. In spirit and in body. Amen."

Not sure if there had been any literary works based on Cannibalism as a theme. Interestingly, this had been appearing in various reading of mine of late. The new Malayalam book "Francis Ittykkora" details about an clandestine group practicing cannibalism. I was reading about Ukrainian mothers eating their kids during the famine years of 30s. Cannibalism was in discussion, with the Europeans travelling around the world discovering and conquering continents. There are numerous reports of them either surviving or witnessing cannibals. Some like the paragraph below, with some gruesome detailing.

"the head was impaled on a palisade of the village and not eaten, although the lips and eyeball ganglions went to the executioner. The brain was eaten by women and children, and the entrails, intestines and stomach were boiled into a stew. Men got the arms and legs, while women got to drink the victim's warm blood at the execution itself. The male organs were either given to women ? presumably as a special treat ? or served up to the men by the women. Teeth and bones were used as necklaces or to make war-flutes or arrow points."

However, with the improvement of travel and spread of information in the 20th century, these stories dwindled out and remained in a short circles of discussion. Slavenka Drakulic ( known for her post-communist era essays of Europe such as Cafe Europa etc) in her first novel, takes this in a different light and intellect.

Tereza, a Polish girl doing her masters in English Poetry, get to meet and fall in love with Jose, a Brazilian doing his research for a book he is writing on Cannibalism. While she had numerous relationships and has a boyfriend back in Poland, her attraction towards this married man was instant. It did not take long for them to move in together to her apartment. The days that followed were one that was meant only for them. The world stopped, time did not move, isolated from all. The love for each other became and obsession beyond sexual and physical, into the abyss of being one,inseparable from each other. As in any story, there is twist here to the tale. Jose's wife lands up at San francisco, and Jose had to leave NY to be with his wife and son. The separation, albeit for a couple of days, make her realise what is lost from her life. The obsession to get him for herself, to be in union with him, to be single in body and soul. Slowly and determined she take control over him. The meticulous planning continued for few days, with Jose himself succumbing to the fact, as if he understood the plan. The rest is the execution of the plan.

Jose's work on cannibalism, his research on the victims of the Andean plane crash , survived on their dead comrades body parts were the first to influence her. The subsequent knowledge of the tribes in pacific island, where the ladies eat the bodies of their deceased husbands, not to pollute the earth and to give their life a continuity through their own life, and similar twentieth century case studies, could have been her inspiration to get it done by herself.

"Something else had to be done, something that would definitively unite us. There was only one way that Jose could continue to live inside me. Of course, I had thought about getting pregnant - that was the first thing that would have occurred to any woman in my position. But that would not create the kind of perfect, total unity, the union of the body and spirit, that I was seeking. A child, even if it was his, would be an utterly new separate being."
Written in first person narrative ( by Teresa), it does not give out a feeling of detachment or numbness to the reader. Was it right for the Plne wreck victims to eat hman flesh to survive ?Was it write for the pacifi island woman to eat their husbands ? Was it right for the unfortunate Ukrainian mothers to eat their children ? There are no answers. The Andean survivors thought "eating the flesh of their dead comrades was an act of communion".

She does not look at these event with any analytical way. There are no Sexual, spiritual or religious angle to the theme, whatsoever, in here. Not overtly intellectual. Thus, even after reading, one is left with the same numbness as Teresa, as if nothing extraordinary had happened. However, Teresa wanted to get her house cleaned for which she takes almost 3 days, in company of the dissected corpse. Now that they are one, she has to erase the earlier memories of him. The tub has to be scratched and cleaned, the floor mopped, the kitchen table and sink wiped clean. "My idea of cleanliness had tuned into an obsessive, self punishing activity. I was perfectly aware that something else was involved here, subconscious desire to atone for sin"

 The scenes of dissection and eating are gory and gruesome and not really convey her real feeling towards him. I thought at this point the narrative and control is slightly lost. Also, this is not an easily convincing subject and hence the effort has to be so much more from the author, which might not be the case here. Hence, it did not create an experience that is sensual , religious or spiritual in a deeper sense.
The Taste of a Man ( 1997 )

Slavenka Drakulic ( translated by Christina Pribichevich Zoric 1997 )

Penguin Books

212 Pages
Other reviews : Publishers Weekly,

No comments: