Like Water For Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. Published 2007 by Anchor Books. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Spanish.
It took me a long time to get around to reading Like Water for Chocolate- years- and I can't quite say why. When I was a student at a New England all-women's college, the film version was just out on video and it was the go-to chick flick. Romantic and magical, it was a passionate love story with an intellectual, foreign-film veneer, perfect for those Saturday nights in the dorm when everyone would crowd around the TV in the common room with cocoa and bathrobe. It sounds like such a cliche, I know, but in cliche veritas, sometimes.
So anyway, the book. I finally got around to reading the book this spring, and with all of the other reading I do sometimes it's hard to find time to read something just for me- not for a challenge, or for work, or for the blog per se, but just for me. I'm glad I did. A quick, light read, Like Water for Chocolate is romantic and passionate like the movie, but with a heavier heart. Covering about forty years, the story is about Tita, the youngest daughter of a strict matriarch, who is raised as the family cook and caretaker. In Tita's family, there is a tradition that the youngest daughter never marries but takes care of the mother until the mother dies, and Tita's Mama Elena is not about to see the end of that tradition. She and a neighbor, Pedro, fall passionately in love, but since Mama Elena will not allow her to marry, Pedro marries Tita's sister Rosaura instead. But Tita is tough, smart and rebellious, and not content to live without love.
But it is through her incredible cooking that she finds an outlet for her emotions. Each chapter opens with a recipe and with Tita preparing a dish of one kind or another, and Esquivel describes the preparations in loving, careful detail. As in a fairy tale, Tita's feelings are transmitted through the food she cooks to those who eat it, with sometimes bizarre and magical results. Her cooking spoils her sister's wedding day, and later causes her other sister, Gertrudis, to go through a liberating transformation. The years pass, and though beautiful, accomplished Tita has her share of admirers, she stays loyal to Pedro. The story has the narrative arc and emotional sweep of a folk tale and the ending, bittersweet and tragic, is consistent and believable in the context of magical realism.
Like Water for Chocolate is a short book and a very entertaining, compelling read, lots of fun and highly recommended for the girly-girl in all of us.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.