From Library JournalThe pastures of Hans Knuchel's Swiss farm blossom with happily grazing cows. At the herd's lead walks Blosch, the biggest cow Ambrosio has seen since leaving Spain to become a guest worker in "the prosperous land." While he had expected large cows, he had not expected the hostility of the Swiss toward foreigners, their harsh looks and harsher treatment.From Library JournalThe pastures of Hans Knuchel's Swiss farm blossom with happily grazing cows. At the herd's lead walks Blosch, the biggest cow Ambrosio has seen since leaving Spain to become a guest worker in "the prosperous land." While he had expected large cows, he had not expected the hostility of the Swiss toward foreigners, their harsh looks and harsher treatment. Yet he endures first the old-fashioned ways of the Knuchel farm and then the creeping modernization he finds at his later job in the slaughterhouse. Sterchi's first novel is an imaginatively structured narrative on the topic of bovines, one that will excite few readers. This is not The Jungle, and Sterchi seems painfully aware that he falls short by comparison: references to Sinclair's masterpiece abound. Topic aside, however, the three-part focus glued together with the character of Blosch shows real skill. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to make Cow a prime choice.- Paul E. Hutchison, Fishermans Paradise, Bellefonte, Pa.Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc....
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The Cow Reviews
Cow by Beat Sterchi is something more than a story of a Spanish worker and a cow. Sterchi apprenticed as a butcher after secondary school. In 1970 he emigrated to Canada, where he carried out various activities and incidentally completed an evening school. He completed his studies in English at the University of British Columbia near Vancouver with a bachelor's degree. In 1975 he went to Honduras, where he worked in the capital Tegucigalpa until 1977 as an English teacher and first poems published in English and German. From 1977 to 1982 he studied at McGill University in Montréal and worked as a teacher at the local Goethe-Institut. Cow is his first novel.What starts as a simple story of a Spanish guest worker arriving to work in a small Swiss dairy village. He works on the farm earning the respect of the farmer, Knuchel. The Knuchel treats him, Ambrosio, well and even buys new clothes for his worker. Ambrosio arrived in shorts and sandals and the clothes of the warmer Spanish climate. He earns the farmer's respect. Bolsch is the farmer's prize cow and has the run of the farm she is the queen in the matriarchy of cows. Ambrosia next finds himself in the slaughterhouse after seven years of hard work. Bolsch also finds herself in the same slaughterhouse.Sterchi gives the reader a very detailed look into milk cows from milking to calving. The new textbook descriptions blending well with the story. Also, the reader will be introduced to the workings of the slaughterhouse as well as the men who wind up working there. The reader follows the animals from stunning, to draining the blood:I open your throat, following the strands of neck muscle, cut you open as far as the gristly white of your windpipe I sever muscle from muscle, vessel from vessel.Even the blood is saved by and adding a declotting agent. (It will be used in feed). A man removes the offal careful not to cut into the intestines and organs. A slip will ruin the meat. The reader will learn which vertebrae is separated on steers and cows when quartering the carcass. It is all part of the disassembly line. The slaughterhouse has no redeeming qualities to it. It is where the unuseful animals are sent and less desirable men work. It is a darkness that exists outside of the dairy village.The farm represents a lighter place. Knuchel cares for his cows. He treats their wounds, fusses over their diet, and follows the politics of his heard. There is a positive connection between man and animal, even if the animal is clearly a servant of man and will one day wind up in the slaughterhouse. One day; but not today. The farm is life to the slaughterhouse's death.The Cow is deeper than it appears. Ambrosio is clearly an outsider and treated rather poorly by everyone in the village except Knuchel. To drive the xenophobia home, the town itself is called Innerwald strictly translated it means a paused woodland. On the surface, it sounds like an inside place, introverted. There is a battle between Knuchel and the rest of the village over milking machines and artificial insemination. Knuchel opposes both. Ambrosio is hired as a milker instead of giving the job to machines. Knuchel tells the mayor when getting Bolsch inseminated by a bull that he couldn't drink the milk of an inseminated cow. There is something unclean and unnatural about the process. Cow is also a story of flaws. Ambrosio is flawed because he is an outsider and does not speak any German. He is essentially run out of town. Even in the slaughterhouse, we are reminded that he is flawed by his losing a finger. Bolsch is also flawed despite her greatness and standing; she does not produce a useful cow. In seven attempts it is always a useless male calf. She, for all her greatness, will not produce a prize milk cow.More than simply a novel Cow is literature. It contains far more than entertainment. It teaches and instructs the reader. The violence of the slaughterhouse is used to reinforce the other messages in the book. This is not an easy book to put down or to forget.The forward is written by the translator Michael Hoffmann and the introduction is by Eileen Battersby. Available February 8, 2018.
I don't want any more stiff animal carcasses under my blankets. Is that too much to ask?I just want a couple of hours of sleep to drown my gnawing thoughts.A little refuge in darkness, a refuge I don't have to explain or account for to anyone. A couple of paces into the Beyond of sleep.His hands are scarred, used up. His body small, knees burned and knobbly from a life worked on them. Crawled on them, but proud. Helplessly proud. Seven years hard labor. Ambrosio arrives in the Swiss village of Innerwald. The highlands where they know man's place to beast to land. Off the short bus in short pants. He doesn't speak a word of German. Their laughter could go down minus the malice. Time stops for a moment and he feels he's a stranger in a strange land. Everyone looks. Everyone seems to look. There are whispers of the lazy Spaniard before he is stooped again. I gazed into the cud chewing eyes and the bottom was emptier than cruelty. I felt tired for his days before they have started again. He watches past the bus and imagines going home again. The clock strikes for more is it life and the Spaniard gets to work for the Farmer Knuchel and his flat headed children. Knuchel the farmer sows seeds of expectation. The owner of the cooperative will argue against buying the small man good working clothes. I felt depressed when they good clothes didn't fit. Is it too late to catch the next bus out of there. I knew that Spaniard guy wasn't going to show. He showed. I knew he was going to take off in the middle of the night. I knew he was going to take to milking like a lovely lass in a hot chocolate advertisement. In Knuchel's eyes dance dreams of the future for his new employee, for his eldest son, for the pride of the dairy farm of the highlands. We don't need no new fangled milking machines on my farm. The dark eyes glaze over in Babe or Charlotte's Web nightmares. If Babe doesn't dance for his dinner good enough tonight he's dinner. There's a new dance every night. Don't pay any more attention than you have to towards the red cow and her stupid bull calf. Stupid fat Blösch. The pig. She's on hunger strike. She never delivered anything but bull calves. Farmer Knuchel is a mean horny bastard who takes it out on the objection of his affection when his wet dream doesn't come to fruition. He'd take it out on her if he got his balls off. Where else would the once proud queen of the brood go than the abattoir? I wonder if it isn't too late to catch another bus. I want to take her out of there. I kept thinking about that cow that escaped in Germany not too many years ago. The Germans decided to let her live free. At least that one got away. They caught the escaped zoo monkey when I was vacationing in St. Pete, Florida last year. I kept thinking about that too. Go to work in the slaughterhouse. The animals don't scream. Slice and dice and all sterile blade clean to eat off of and catch your own blank expression in. But they do scream. It isn't that tree falling in the woods thing. Some of the guys shoot them. There are guys to do that sort of thing. You know, guys. Men with jobs and clock out machines and growing short like Ambrosio under the weight of red lights beckoning to the clock out machine. Day in and out and death. Their minds grind out like meat factory machines of just a little peace. Just a little sleep. Just like the dark eyes of the proud red calf that the Spaniard felt his human connection to. Animal connection to. I have a hard time saying human about anything they do in The Cow. There's a train. There's taking someone and shooting them in the back of the head. You can't even do it to their face kind of death. Ambrosio doesn't learn much German. My Spanish was just good enough to be able to read his rare thought. He has friends, sort of, in his new coworkers. When it isn't like the farm when the cows push their way to the water trough in their brief moment of freedom. He thinks about telling them about what had happened before, about the farm, when he finds himself surprised. Blösch is in the abattoir.What did Bössinger then successfully look for in the mincing machine?Ambrosio's pulped finger. To avoid the sausage-meat having to be impounded.How did Bössinger say he was able to recognize it?By the colour. He had seen a lighter coloured patch.Was that Ambrosio's worst experience in the slaughterhouse?One of the worst.I am having a hard time seeing the circle of life angle in this right now. Ambrosio sees himself in Blösch and I saw Ambrosio in the tired eyes of his fellow slaughterhouse workers. There wasn't nothing but I am feeling pretty damned low right now. I read articles about shark fin soup and shark hunting today after finishing this book and, yeah, I feel pretty damned bad. Oh yeah, good book. The stoop of life, the breath you need to somehow get up another day. If you can manage to not sense malice in everything. IF you can somehow be surprised that the slaughterhouse is where that cow ended up. But I wish I hadn't read it because my day amounted to trying to get through the day and feeling a lot less human than feeling connected to another misplaced soul who was shit unlucky to be where they were. It would be like going home from work and finding that the work day had started over again and you missed reading, or taking a nap, playing with your dog. Anything that might make you feel happier. I wish I could muster up the energy to write about the life goes on of the "stupid Baby" cow (the prima donna usurper, or wannabe usurper). I read that cows have best friends and pine for each other when they are apart. The red cow didn't get to have that. The obsession of the Farmer Knuchel could not have meant anything to her. The lay it out on the carving table honesty about what it is they are really doing. That's what I saw in her eyes. I appreciated a lot that Sterchi wrote about what these men felt for animals and fellow man in an unsentimental way. If you are lucky it looks less black and ugly. If you are unlucky you are blessed if you can still have something left for empathy. Michael Hofmann translated. I found the book by looking up his translated works (again). The book was published in 1983 and the translation was released in 1988. I have no way of knowing what the German looked like, of course. From what I've read of his translations so far I think he is gifted at a respectful distance. When you know you don't have to know everything about a person. You recognize the right to life and if you are human enough to want to know something about them than that is on you. Sterchi and Hoffmann's book doesn't cut open Ambrosio's heart. It doesn't slice up the red cow. You don't follow the slaughterhouse workers into their dreams. But damned do they have the right to have them. That's something. That means something to me to be able to respect people like that.
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsIt was a surprise for me to realise that this novel was originally published thirty-five years ago. Its themes and subjects are so completely relevant to 2018! Sterchi explores xenophobia towards migrant workers and also the way in which we treat - and mistreat - the animals we raise for our food. For anyone who did Veganuary this year and whose commitment is wavering, Cow is a powerful read to set you right back on track.Cow begins as Spanish cow-hand Ambrosio arrives in the rural Swiss idyll of Innenwald. Small farms raise contented cows, pigs and hens the old-fashioned way; the village makes its own cheeses and hams. It should be bliss. But the villagers, almost without exception, are suspicious of the new outsider and side together to close him out. Why should a Spaniard be given a Swiss job (even though there is no local person out of work). We soon see that local labour isn't the only issue dividing Innenwald. Several of the farms have installed new-fangled milking machines instead of milking by hand. And they are starting to buy in chemicals instead of spreading dung from their own cows. It's so much quicker - more modern and efficient ...Cow jumps in time between the Knuchel farm where the family is still staunchly committed to gentle but labour-intensive methods, and a nearby town abbatoir where Ambrisio is working some seven years later. We know he loses his farm job but don't immediately know how, and we soon see that the Knuchel farm must have been lost to modernity too. The abattoir scenes are powerful. The violence of slaughter and butchery is casually (and I believe accurately) portrayed which left me with memorable impressions of how food animals are killed and processed. It is something I think we should all be aware of, especially people who eat meat, but this subject is usually coyly hidden from public view. Sterchi portrays the abattoir workers realistically and sensitively. I liked the chapters where we are in the midst of their gossip and chatter. These are not innately cruel men, but men forced into inhumane actions in order to keep their jobs.I was, strangely, reminded of Harriette Arnow's The Dollmaker while reading Cow. In that book a rural American family is sucked into the hell of industrial Detroit between the wars. In this book, the respectful farming of generations is cast aside for the same ideal of industralisation as a universal answer. Speed, quantity and profit over humanity and health. I suspect many readers will shy away from Cow, preferring to remain ignorant about our mass produced food supply. However I would recommend this book widely. It is, in itself, simply a very good story and an engrossing read, and also a insightful portrayal of a way of farming which isn't quite completely lost to us which, I think, desperately needs to become widespread again.
Geen boek voor op de nuchtere maag. De hoofdpersoon Ambrosio is een gastarbeider uit Spanje die zijn geluk in Zwitserland gaat beproeven. Hij komt terecht op de traditionele boerderij van boer Knucher. Terwijl de rest van het dorp overgaat op melkmachines en kunstmest, zweert boer Knucher bij het melken met de hand en ouderwetse koeienmest. De boer is blij met Ambrosio in tegenstelling tot de rest van het dorp die hem zien als indringer. Zeven jaar later leeft Ambrosio nog steeds in Zwitserland, maar werkt hij in een slachterij. Een slachterij waar het niet zo nauw met de voorschriften wordt genomen. Als gastarbeider geniet Ambrosio nog steeds weinig aanzien en hij leeft zijn leven totdat Blosch, de beste koe van boer Knucher, op de slachtbank langs ziet komen. Een bijzonder verhaal, waarbij het mooie alpenlandschap afgewisseld worden met bloedspetters en rondvliegende darmen in de slachterij en tussendoor het leven als gastarbeider ook nog neergezet wordt.
This book is, well, strange. It opens with a Spanish man, emigrating to Switzerland, seeking work as a dairy farm worker. The early chapters alternate between the small, non-mechanized farm where the farmer knows his ten or so cows by name and treats them with loving kindness, and, set about seven years in the future, the slaughter house where the cows, now old and abused are butchered. The final chapters are set almost entirely in the slaughter house. The workers dislike their jobs, despise their supervisors, and fear being automated into unemployment. I believe this is the sort of book which should be read and reread several times to tease out all the symbolism and hidden meanings. Not for me however, I found it far too disturbing to read again any time soon. It is definitely not for the squeamish.
Interesting, very interesting, and definitely unlike anything I'd read before. Not that the subject matter itself was unfamiliar but the way it was described gave me something to think about. Like Sally Fouhse (see reviews) said earlier : "Weird but compelling".
Certainly an unusual book but it was this book that made me decide I wanted to be a vegetarian!
Cow by Beat Sterchi (1988)
Weird but compelling. Makes you want to be a vegetarian.