The first section of Tanja Mravak’s Meat (trans. Antonija Primorac), which takes up perhaps a third of the entire story, is something of a love song to the varieties of food available, methods of cooking and types of diet. It’s a paragraph of lists, it’s food, food, food, unctuous and fresh and cooked and clean, and deliciously detailed. Scattered within are short descriptions of Magda, she of the ‘massive tits’, who, according to women would be ‘pretty if she wasn’t fat’, and according to the men, a rather jolly good time as she laughs, laughs, laughs.
She’d cook stews, Bolognese sauces, carbonaras. She’d fry potato chips, make crepes; twice a week she’d roast veal. She was beautiful, our Magda was; green eyes, olive complexion, full, brownish lips, thick hair, and button nose.
She diets, but it seems it’s more to try different foods and odd combinations. It’s less about losing weight or health issues and more about celebrating the different ways in which food can be enjoyed. And – I can get behind this. I love food and spend much of my weekend time exploring new recipes and trying out interesting techniques. For me, then, this was a very appealing opening.
People loved Magda, even men liked her, you know, really liked her. They’d take a fancy to those green eyes, those juicy lips, the button nose, but most of all they liked her laughter. She’d laugh and her belly wobbled, she’d laugh even on a diet morning while squeezing a grapefruit at the crack of dawn.
I was reminded somewhat of Günter Grass’ The Flounder – less the historical journey and more the physical pleasure of food and how it can help an individual connect to their body and provide a sensual outlet.
Enter the second section.
In this, Mravak more explicitly marries food with sensuality by way of the relationship between Vatro, a butcher, and Magda:
“There you go, miss, it’s as tender as your soul,” Vatro offered, growing bolder, too.
“Let me feel it,” laughed Magda. “Dear me, my mouth is watering, just from thinking about nibbling on it, imagining how much I’ll enjoy it.”
Vatro’s mouth started watering, too, and his own flesh stiffened a bit.
By this stage Magda, who has always been overweight, has become sufficiently so that when Vatro has sex with her he is in fact thrusting against her thighs and, upon completion, Magda is left to take care of herself or lie awake unfulfilled. She’s happy, though, because the food is good and Vatro is himself a good man.
But it can’t last, and after a while they separate. Here, Mravak escalates the speed of the story, whizzing through a bacterial infection, staying with her mother, losing close to 30 kilograms, marrying (!) someone. The constant is food, and it’s no accident, I think, that as Magda’s weight goes down, the amount of words devoted to her decreases. She’s less important as she loses her obsession with food, and by comparison the food itself takes centre stage. It’s a story about food, and as soon as Magda loses her jolly belly, the story loses interest in her.
Meat is a short story by Croatian writer Tanja Mravak and was translated by Antonija Primorac. You can read the story at Asymptote.
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