Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies
By Laura Esquivel
Translators: Thomas Christensen, Carol Christensen
Genre: Magical Realism
Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.
The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, “Like Water For Chocolate” is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.
A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.
This was a buddy read with Kim at Traveling, Gladly Beyond. Being that this was a shorter title, we opted to forgo the usual 5 question format you see in buddy reads here on the blog and simply link up so you can compare our thoughts. You can find Kim’s review here.
2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book by author of a different ethnicity than you
Like Water for Chocolate was ultimately selected after Kim and I discussed wanting to read more translated titles. She was kind enough to produce a nice list of potential books, and this was our final choice. It is a title many have probably encountered if not in books in film. It has been on the bestseller lists in both Mexico and America, and the film has earned several awards. It was an easy selection.
Told through twelve monthly installments that each feature a new recipe, Esquivel delivers a unique narrative of Tita, a young woman forbidden to marry, but passionately in love. When her heart’s interest, Pedro is denied her hand by her mother, he agrees to marry her sister as a means of remaining close to her. But when Tita’s emotions began to carry over into her cooking, something magical happens and a series of side effects ranging from unbridled passion to deep sorrow surface within those who consume her food. Realizing this, Tita begins a slow seduction of Pedro through the art of cooking.
I am torn about my experience with Like Water for Chocolate and find it rather difficult to review. I can easily appreciate why this novel has made a mark, but I encountered a few barriers. Part of me enjoyed the book and another part of me knows I am not the ideal audience. So please keep both in mind here.
The biggest challenge I found lies within the characters. Initially, I liked Tita. Then I did not, then I did. And “loathing” would be an accurate description of my feelings for Pedro. This was a result of their continually
bad terrible decision-making. While I respected the difficulty and heartache of their situation, I was never able to fully remove myself from my own logic and morals long enough to be “OK” with their responses and actions, and they offered no other form of distraction. It was simply one bad choice after another. And this is where my focus remained. In the end, it made for an uphill read.
Another issue (
that I am learning to overcome) is that this is a love story. For the entirety of my reading life, I have struggled with them. However, with that said, the added element of Tita’s emotions literally feeding her family and a genuinely original narrative were the saving grace here. I was drawn to the incorporation of recipes into the story. It is magical realism and food! The author manages to beautifully segue meal preparation into the events as they occur and it works, giving the story a new layer of depth and facilitating a breezy, fun read carried effortlessly by the author’s fluid and spirited writing.
My final quibble would fall to the conclusion. Again, this is the result of poor actions on the character’s behalf. I found it to be disappointing and effectively solidifying of my dislike for each of them and ultimately lessening my overall rating.
But do not let my personal experience sway you away from Like Water for Chocolate. It offers a nice dose of culture through cuisine and tradition packed into an eccentric tale of passion that is incredibly easy to digest. If you enjoy a unique love story and do not mind heavily flawed protagonists, this is worth exploring.
Served with a tall glass of iced tea served and fresh lemon.