Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for ChocolateWelcome to post-revolution northern Mexico, at the turn of the 20th century, the dry, violent land of Pancho Villa, on the border with the United States. Tita is the last-born daughter of a wealthy hacienda owner/widow; as the last-born daughter, her role is to remain unmarried to care for her mother, a nasty control freak who is destined to make Tita’s life as miserable as possible. Stifled in the kitchen and in her role as unmarried daughter, Tita manages to communicate through the food she creates. Any emotions she feels – anger, love, sadness–are conveyed in the traditional Mexican cuisine she prepares for her family. Tita is in love with Pedro. They wish to marry, but Tita’s mother squelches that idea and marries Tita’s sister Rosaura to Pedro. Tita is crushed, and the story chronicles Tita’s lifetime love for Pedro, most unrequited.

Esquivel is one of the best magical realism authors around, and she melds a captivating story that is rich in dialogue, character, and setting. Mexico City-native Esquivel worked in television programming before writing Like Water for Chocolate, her first novel. Her settings are especially evocative, and it is no surprise that the novel was made into a movie in the 1990’s. Esquivel is an effective observer of social roles of women, vis a vis the role of women in the Mexican home. The translation is full and one need not know anything about Mexican history or society to enjoy this novel, as the themes of family tension, love, and jealousy are universal, and the novel is not chock full of regional references; any references are fully explained, as in the history of the recipes that Tita prepares. This is an older novel, but one that I re-read every now and then because, like Tita’s cooking, it is rich and evocative.

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