The Weight of Temptation

The Weight of Temptation

4.5 6
by Ana María Shua
     
 

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Dystopian fantasy, political parable, morality tale—however one reads it, this novel is first and foremost pure Ana María Shua, a work of fiction like no other and a dark pleasure to read. Shua, an Argentinian writer widely celebrated throughout Latin America, frames her complex drama in deceptively simple, straightforward prose. The story takes place at

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Overview

Dystopian fantasy, political parable, morality tale—however one reads it, this novel is first and foremost pure Ana María Shua, a work of fiction like no other and a dark pleasure to read. Shua, an Argentinian writer widely celebrated throughout Latin America, frames her complex drama in deceptively simple, straightforward prose. The story takes place at a fat farm called The Reeds, a nightmare world that might not exist but certainly could. The last resort of the overweight wealthy (or sponsored), The Reeds subjects its “campers” to extreme measures—particularly the regimented system of public humiliation imposed by its director, a glib and sharp-minded sadist called the Professor.

Into the midst of this methodical madness comes Marina Rubin, who experiences all the excesses of The Reeds. The pervasive cruelty of this refined novel distances it from facile conclusions. Amid the mordant social satire, The Reeds’ obese campers are far more than merely victims of the system, subjected to impossible social demands for physical perfection. Out of control, fierce, rebellious, or subjugated, they are recognizable human beings, contending with an unjust but efficient authority in their unique and solitary ways.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Three Percent

"[The Weight of Temptation] offers an incredible new look into the cyclic addiction to food and fans of dystopian literature, political parables, and food aficionados will find this to be a newly relevant twist on an old tale."—Three Percent
Radar
“Shua ridicules the idea of thinness as . . . an aristocratic model, as well as the institutions that promote that ideal. [The Weight of Temptation] is a sharp, funny, acid, and entertaining novel.”—Patricio Lennard, Radar: Página/12


— Patricio Lennard

Perfil

“Who’s not afraid of those extra pounds? Who doesn’t need the mirror’s daily reassurance? Who doesn’t fear ugliness and isolation as even more unbearable than death? In her latest novel, Ana María Shua tracks the unhappy path of the obese to those murky institutions that claim omnipotence.”—Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazu, Perfil

 

— Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu

La Capital

“Written in a rich, colloquial language stripped of euphemism, alternately raw and seductive.”—Marta Ortiz, La Capital

— Martz Ortiz

University Book Store, Seattle - Nick DiMartino

"Are thinness, youth and beauty really the ultimate values of the human race? Science fiction, allegory or parody, this tasty little novel serves up a witty parody of today's calorie-obsessed culture to sweeten its merciless, well-aimed bite."—Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle
Radar - Patricio Lennard
“Shua ridicules the idea of thinness as . . . an aristocratic model, as well as the institutions that promote that ideal. [The Weight of Temptation] is a sharp, funny, acid, and entertaining novel.”—Patricio Lennard, Radar: Página/12

Perfil - Magdalena Ruiz Guinazu

“Who’s not afraid of those extra pounds? Who doesn’t need the mirror’s daily reassurance? Who doesn’t fear ugliness and isolation as even more unbearable than death? In her latest novel, Ana María Shua tracks the unhappy path of the obese to those murky institutions that claim omnipotence.”—Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazu, Perfil

 

La Capital - Martz Ortiz

“Written in a rich, colloquial language stripped of euphemism, alternately raw and seductive.”—Marta Ortiz, La Capital

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803239777
Publisher:
University of Nebraska Press
Publication date:
10/01/2012
Series:
Latin American Women Writers Series
Pages:
200
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.46(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

The Weight of Temptation

(El peso de la tentación)
By Ana María Shua

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2007 Ana María Shua
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3977-7


Chapter One

Weighing In

"How long did you sign up for?" whispered a strange, hissing voice behind her.

She didn't dare turn around to reply. She moved hesitantly, one step at a time, extending her arms to avoid tripping over the woman in front of her, as the voice informed her how the line was advancing. Her eyes were bandaged with an efficient black cloth that kept light from penetrating. As in a nightmare, she was naked among other people. But she knew that the other women, whom she couldn't see, were naked too. And in nightmares, the others are usually fully clothed.

"All right, fatties," said an affectionate voice. "Let's see if you can move a little faster so we can all get some breakfast."

The room wasn't air conditioned, and the accumulated body heat steamed up the atmosphere. Marina felt the sweat oozing in slow rivulets, drops collecting in the folds of her flesh, only to cascade down her entire torso.

"I signed up for six months. How long do you have to go?" insisted the woman behind her with her strange diction, as though she were speaking through clenched teeth.

"Quiet!" This voice was less friendly, shriller. "What do you cows think—that you can burn calories by wagging your tongues?"

Marina knew quite well what awaited her at The Reeds. She knew that her confinement there was her punishment for being fat; she knew that many other forms of punishment lay before her and that she had paid for them. A lot. She bowed her head. She was approaching the scale.

Even those situations that seemed like pure sadistic entertainment had their purpose at The Reeds. Fat people have a tendency to reward themselves (with food) every time they lose a little weight. And they feel disappointed (and overeat) when they haven't lost as much as they'd expected. The establishment maintained a daily weight log of its residents, who were informed once a week how much they'd lost. Every morning before breakfast, they were weighed naked and blindfolded.

But how can we possibly overeat, locked up in here? Aren't they going to feed us the correct portions? Marina had wondered a few days before being admitted, when they explained the system to her. To their credit, they hadn't lied once.

The Tutor, a slender, bespectacled woman, shot her a disdainful look, ignoring her question. The entire staff of The Reeds was slender. Maintaining a certain body mass index must have been one of the requirements of their contracts. We don't use the word "patients," she said. We prefer to call them "Campers."

She had reached the scale.

"C'mon, fatty, step up—lift your little hoof. Very good, that's it."

With the exception of the weigh-in ceremony, all other activities were shared by men and women together. However, at the breakfast table, there was no mixing. The women (or was it the men?) preferred to sit separately, especially at six in the morning. Under the supervision of the Tutors, they began by drinking a glass of water accompanied by vitamins, plus potassium and magnesium pills designed to compensate for the lack of minerals in the starvation diet to which they were subjected.

Marina drank tea with artificial sweetener (at least they let her drink as many cups of tea as she liked). As she stared despairingly at her fat-free yogurt—colorless, tiny, and destined to disappear in a single gulp—she once more heard that unmistakable diction, that hissing voice, forcing its way through clenched teeth. It came from the woman seated at her left, a young girl who breathed laboriously through the pounds of fat weighing on her chest, forming her words carefully with her lips so that she could be understood through her dentition. She sipped her yogurt through a straw.

"You're new, aren't you? Did you sign up for three months? I'm a repeat offender. A 'Cager.' My name's Alelí. There are worse things."

Alelí flashed her a broad smile. Her front teeth gleamed nervously, as if trying to escape through the wire cage that held them and their companions prisoner.

"Does that shock you? In the old days, they used to plaster your jaw shut in a cast. That was way more uncomfortable, because you couldn't talk. Now they sew up our jaws with wire. Great idea, huh? You're the new one who was ahead of me in the weigh-in line, right?"

"How did you recognize me? Weren't you blindfolded?"

"Well, after a while you learn to peek a little. After a while you learn everything."

"You've learned too much," said a woman sitting across from them, in a half-joking, half-reproachful tone. Turning toward Marina, she added, "She's exaggerating: they don't sew up your jaws with wire. They put clamps on your teeth, like at the orthodontist's, and they connect them with wire."

"But how do you brush your teeth?" Marina asked, fascinated.

"Mouthwash. But don't worry—I can't breathe on anybody, either," Alelí laughed.

Men and women dressed alike, in The Reeds' general-issue summer uniform: baggy pants with elastic waistband; lightweight cotton, buttonless V-neck, short-sleeved shirt, which slipped over the head; comfortable, cool, canvas sneakers. Like monks entering a monastery, they were allowed to bring practically nothing with them from the outside world, the realm of sin. There was a wide variety of colors to choose from, and each person could select whichever he or she preferred, except black. No more black clothing, the Professor would say in Group sessions. No more fat people wearing "slimming black." It was pleasant to be in a place where all sizes were really available. Marina chose a green uniform and noticed immediately that it had no pockets.

"That's so inconvenient," she protested.

"You have no idea yet how inconvenient it is," said a very tall, much older woman with a scar on her chin, who must have weighed over 250 pounds.

People never give up. No matter what their age, Marina thought, joylessly. She had harbored the illusion that one day she'd be old enough to stop caring, to eat without restriction. But when aesthetic concerns ended, the demands of the arteries, the cry of the joints, began.

The dining room looked cheery, with all those bright colors distributed randomly around the circular tables for eight. There were some super-obese people, many fat folks like Marina, and a small but notable number of individuals who were just slightly overweight or even thin. This last group wore white uniforms.

"I didn't know they admitted anorexics here," she remarked, with a certain amount of indignation.

The other women at the table burst out laughing.

"You'll have a chance to hear those anorexics tonight," Alelí said.

Breakfast lasted barely twenty busy minutes. There was very little conversation: everyone was trying to gulp down as much tea as possible. Through the dining room window, a broad swath of green, like a golf course, was visible, dotted with little hills and interrupted here and there by drinking troughs, their drums filled with purified water, and white cubicles that housed the chemical toilets. The diet at The Reeds required a minimum of four liters of liquid daily. The neatly mowed lawn invited hands to stroke it. A double thickness of wire fencing around the perimeter cordoned off a corridor where the rottweilers (part of the security system) ran around, barking. In addition to the guard post at the entrance, there were watchtowers at fifty-meter intervals, although they were occupied only at night. To the left were the barracks, and toward the back stood the Clockwork Orange Pavilion. A group of people advanced in formation, marching and singing in chorus, like in a U.S. Marine training film. As the tables were being cleared, Alelí, with a swift, unexpected movement, swiped an empty yogurt container and hid it under her shirt, shoving it inside the elastic waistband of her pants. Marina wondered how many others had noticed, but their indifferent expressions revealed nothing.

The management of The Reeds knew how to optimize the Campers' tuition: part of their required physical activity was simply labor. Only in the kitchen did The Reeds employ their own staff, and none of the residents could enter there, not even to wash dishes. (But it was possible to peek inside from the hallway connecting to the dining room: the cleanliness was absolute, pristine; there were enormous refrigerators and freezers secured with chains and padlocks.) All the other chores were handled by the Campers. Everyone was responsible for making their own beds and for keeping their few possessions clean and tidy. The Tutors carried out periodic inspections. Disorder—a sloppily made bed, any minuscule infraction of the rules—was severely punished by a reduction in rations or an increase in physical exercise. For other routine tasks they were organized into teams. They had to clean the quarters, mow and water the lawns, sew and wash clothing. Men and women performed all the chores equally. When they first arrived, the Campers were clumsy, inefficient peons who frustrated and amused the old-timers. Most of all, they were a source of ridicule for the electricians and the few custodians who supervised their labors. By the time they left, they were experts in the area they had been designated. After breakfast, Marina was assigned to the laundry team.

As they walked along, they passed the group of people who were marching on command, raising their legs high in a pitiful imitation of the goose step. Now she could distinguish the words of the refrain they repeated over and over, rhythmically, like a rap number, like an entreaty, like a prayer:

I'm-a-fat-piece-of-shit, And-I'm-way-way-too-big, It-is-n't-my-hor-mones, I-just-eat-like-a-pig.

One of the Tutors escorting them to the laundry noticed her uncomfortable expression.

"Every marching squad chooses its own rhyme," she explained. "By vote."

Why was she here? Marina asked herself. Was all this ridicule, this humiliation, really necessary?

It was. To confirm this, she had only to recall her last day of fasting.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Weight of Temptation by Ana María Shua Copyright © 2007 by Ana María Shua . Excerpted by permission of University of Nebraska Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

University Book Store, Seattle - Nick DiMartino
"Are thinness, youth and beauty really the ultimate values of the human race? Science fiction, allegory or parody, this tasty little novel serves up a witty parody of today's calorie-obsessed culture to sweeten its merciless, well-aimed bite."—Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

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