Cover image for Cow
Sterchi, Beat, 1949-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Blhosch. English
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, 1989.
General Note:
Translation of: Blhosch.
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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Here's a novel that comes with a publisher's warning that makes it out to be a bovine equivalent of The Satanic Verses. Certainly, Cow is not for the squeamish, but if the reader can stomach one of the more vivid episodes of "All Creatures Great and Small," there should be no problem with Sterchi's very realistic story of a milk cow's life, from pasture to slaughterhouse. The human element in this tale is a Spanish immigrant who comes to the Swiss Tirol as a guest worker and who, despite many linguistic and cultural obstacles, finds himself at home with the animals, if not with the local populace. Sterchi's novel also raises some hard food-chain issues: where does our daily sustenance ultimately come from, how safely and humanely is it produced, and will the reader gag on the next Big Mac that is ordered up? Certainly the relationship between human and animals has never been portrayed with such intimacy and power as in the pages of this novel, nor have the implications of this animal-human dependency been illustrated on such an elemental level. --John Brosnahan

Publisher's Weekly Review

The premise of this ambitious, sometimes monotonous but ultimately disturbing novel is that mechanization, genetic tinkering with animal stock, and an eye for profit has dehumanized the Swiss dairy industry and the slaughterhouses it services. Its implication is wider, however, provoking reassessment of the mechanistic quality of modern life. Sterchi segues between the Alps dairy farm where the Knuchel family still does things in the ``old way''--eschewing milking machines, growth hormones and the like--and a nearby slaughterhouse which is being modernized. Ambrosio, a Spanish guest worker hired as a milker by the Knuchels, is fired under pressure from the Knuchels' intensely xenophobic neighbors. He becomes a butcher in the slaughterhouse. The brutal, repetitive activities that take place there make for highly uncomfortable reading. Sterchi's focus on the plight of a guest worker in a foreign land is sometimes lost amid muckraking, but this first novel is still a powerful piece of fiction. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The 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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

When Beat Sterchi (b. 1949 in Berne) published his first novel,Blosch (Zurich 1983), it was hailed as a strong and disturbing work on the European literary scene. Michael Hofmann's first-rate translation of this novel makes a fascinating debut of a hitherto virtually unknown author accessible to the American reading public. Cow is an episodic novel. Brief narrative sequences contrast with each other quite effectively. Ambrosio, a guest-worker from Spain, arrives at Innerwald, a small town in Switzerland. There, he is given work at the Knuchel farm, which is depicted as a bastion of bucolic times past. Scenes from a slaughterhouse provide a stark counterpoint to this pastoral setting. Ambrosio's fate is intertwined with that of Blosch, Knuchel's matron cow; both become outcasts. Ambrosio, ostracized by the townfolk, must leave the farm and works for seven years at an abattoir. At the end, he finds himself reunited with Blosch in a shattering climax in the slaughterhouse. Apart from its socio-critical aspects--and plenty of blood and gore--the novel probes deeply into the problematic relation of man and beast, civilization and nature. An important publication. Appropriate for all libraries collecting contemporary European fiction in translation. -G. P. Knapp, University of Utah