Natalia Figueroa Barroso reviews Pink Slime by Fernanda Trías

Pink Slime

By Fernanda Trías




Within the womb we are connected to our mothers by an umbilical cord. After birth, that cord is cut, but our psychological attachment remains no matter the complexities of our relationship. Under the metrics of neoliberalism, the inequalities of carbon trading and the forces of neocolonialism our connection to Mother Earth is obscured.

Peeling back the layers of motherhood and caregiving and mother earth-hood, right to the muscular tissue, multi award winning Uruguayan author Fernanda Trías’ latest sci-fi novel Pink Slime, translated from Spanish to English, by Heather Cleary is an agonisingly beautiful read. 

Written in first person peripheral, but often slipping into future tense, a nameless narrator waits for her ambiguous end, in a nameless port, in a raceless society, in a timeless era, all alone. Through this unnerving and anonymous lens, the narrative unfolds amid a bloodcurdling toxic pink algae-born disease that brings forth lethal red winds, baptised, El Principe (The Prince). Next the fish die, followed by the birds disappearing. Then the haves flee Inland while the have-nots stay behind to fend for themselves.

If anyone becomes infected by this deadly eco-superbug phenomenon their “skin cracked open to the muscle” (p. 17). The city’s inhabitants are forced into lockdown with their cans of Meatrite, “twenty grams of protein per portion, served in a plastic cup” (p. 83). This food product goes into such high demand that its processing plants spit out pink slime, the origin of the title (p. 83). However, it’s the setting’s tone and mood, where this book stands out, well, that and, its striking poetic prose. 

Although, Pink Slime is set in a sci-fi post-apocalyptic setting, it is not too far removed from reality, where the global south suffers from environmental pollution, lack of quality healthcare and economic inequality, trapping its disadvantaged citizens in crisis after crisis, directly and indirectly caused by the global north. 

Within this grim and contagious environment, Trías examines human nature, relationships and isolation. The nameless narrator ignores her body’s demands, surpassing hunger and survives by keeping herself busy. She quits her copywriting job at a content agency and dissects her days and nights among visiting the last that remain close to her, risking the kiss of death from the not so charming El Principe. 

She checks in on her bedridden childhood sweetheart and ex-husband Max, who’s been infected in a self-destructive moment and now a patient at Clinics, conveniently (and inconveniently) not too far from her rundown apartment. And lives with Mauro, a morbidly obese boy with a nameless disability that she’s paid to care for by his affluent and aloof parents, “to watch him get fat and eventually (when?) to watch him die, without feeling the pain a mother would” (p.95).

Oddly she drops in, uninvited, at her mother’s, whom she’s both estranged from, and geographically distant. Their relationship is uncomfortable, like sunburnt skin. Her mother lives Inland, up north of the (almost) nameless South American country near Brazil (p.54). I say almost because there are little clues, in particular for Latinx readers, like the insertion of the sweet, dulce de leche (p. 92), a word used in Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and parts of Colombia and Venezuela. But the inclusion of the tart, pastafrola (p. 100), a dessert that Italian immigrants brought to Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, refines the location of this book.

Cyanobacterial blooms in Uruguay’s Río de la Plata are a common occurrence. Now with climate change at our riverbanks, ever more so. And as I dive into each sensory image in Pink Slime, such as, “Unless you’ve lived it, you could never imagine the nauseating stench, the sudden heat, the river swelling like an octopus, foam tinted crimson by algae” (p.15), my mind travels back to Uruguay, January 2016, when I held a glass filled with tap water to the sunlight and found: tiny phlegm-like blue-green algae floating in my drink at my sweaty pale grip. 

This memory triggered by the novel’s atmosphere, made me wonder where Trías got the grim, but brilliant idea for her Orwellian narrative. I close its pages for a moment and google the following:

“It began with a nightmare. Night after night, I would dream about pollution spreading in waves and ripping off my skin. I would look down and see my skin hanging off me in strips.” (Trías, F. 2023, Scribe Publications)

After reading the author’s note the novel’s non-linear structure makes even more sense to me, as the beginnings and endings, and the passing of time itself are questioned throughout the story’s arc. The beginning of this book is not the true beginning of this dystopian world. As the nameless narrator on the first page declares, “I was never any good with beginnings,” and it’s not until page 154 that she redeclares, “This is how our new official story begins.”

As well there’s the motif of inhabiting a timeless world, where Trías explores living in a place where clocks and calendars are a thing of the distant past.

Take the following:

“… time was measured by a different kind of clock: wind or fog, grey or red, power or blackout; it passed according to Mauro’s cycles of hunger, the preparation of meals, and my ability to keep my distance from Max. So when I talk about days, weeks, and hours, I do it as a way to organise my thoughts, to give meaning to the stagnant memory” (p.194).

The novel’s structure flows like an unnerving nightmare. As a reader I am thrown from one timeless moment to the next, and a lot of foretelling occurs as I land in different points in this non-time within the narrative, creating a cunning sense of dramatic tension like an anxiety blistering at the face of the environmental, the viral and the emotional. 

“I was afraid the world would come crashing down around me if I stopped moving, and when I say the world what I mean is the past, because the fragile and wavering present I’d had until a few hours ago was coming to an end” (p.135).

I am hooked, even at the face of the utterly uninviting. 

Additionally, the juxtaposition of the ecological catastrophe alongside the sluggishly painful ending of the nameless narrator’s complex relationships with her mother, ex and Mauro, generates a visceral sense of an outer and inner turmoil. This is further coupled with anonymity of self, place, and time evoking an ingenious metaphor for an emotional world in crisis, which again adds to the dramatic tension. 

Hopelessness and meaninglessness are prominent themes in the plot. And the strong visual imagery that represents these ideas, in addition, become metaphors for the nameless narrator’s state of mind. Such as, when she wakes up exhausted next to Mauro, and continues doing her caregiving task mechanically and absentmindedly, and expresses how, “Sometimes I picture myself digging a long, deep tunnel to another land. But all my escape routes led me back to Max, like those circular highway exits that spit you back out right where you started” (p. 87). 

A few pages later in the novel, in another timeless moment, the nameless narrator dials for a taxi out of the port and to the Inland, and is led to an automated message with three options to press. But unfortunately, like her internal predicament she, “circled around the maze of options leading nowhere for a while …” (p. 93).  

Finally, I want to bring attention to Trías’ gorgeous poetic prose through her use of poignant similes, as they added an extra layer of skin to peel back and examine throughout the text. When describing her mother’s ironically named, country suburb of Los Pozos (The Pitts), at the non-beginning of the novel, when the nameless narrator goes to visit her, she compares it to, “It was as if the clouds formed there, exhaled by the earth itself, and you could feel the moisture on your face as slow and cold as a slug’s trail” (p. 8).

Immediately, I feel uncomfortable arriving at Los Pozos as I read this. Making me innately mimic the protagonist’s internal world in calamity via Trías’ clever use of one emotionally stirring comparison.   

I adored Pink Slime by Fernanda Trías translated by Heather Cleary, its atmosphere, its poetry, its politics, its humanity peeled back to the muscular tissue like a lab rat under the knife of a scientist, and I would be more than happy to reread it in Spanish. Perhaps by revisiting it in my mother tongue, I too could circle back to a new beginning. 

Mugre Rosa was released 5 October 2020, and its translation Pink Slime was released 1 August 2023. Follow the author on Instagram: @triasfernanda.

NATALIA FIGUEROA BAROSSO is a Uruguayan-Australian poet and storyteller of Charrúa, African and Iberian origins who lives on Dharug Country. Her work has appeared in the collections Sweatshop Women: Volume OneRacism: Stories on Fear, Hate & BigotryAny Saturday, 2021. Running Westward and Between Two Worlds and various literary magazines. Natalia’s currently working on her debut novel, Hailstones Fell without Rain (2025, UQP). She posts at @ms_figueroa_barroso