This book was sixth I read from the Uncorked Reading Challenge I’d set myself way back in December. The August entry was a book translated from Spanish, so I picked Like Water for Chocolate to read and review. It was the first novel of Laura Esquivel, a Mexican author, screenwriter, and politician, and was made into a movie in 1992.
Sixteen year old Tita is the youngest of three daughters, and destined never to marry. Instead she must care for her mother. When Pedro, her teenage sweetheart asks for her hand in marriage, her mother insists he marries her sister instead, so sets a chain reaction of tragedy and passion.
Tita is abused, and suffers tremendously at the hands of her cruel mother, having to watch the man she loves start a family with her sister. When Pedro, her sister, and her nephew move away, she cracks, and her mother sends for the doctor to take her to an asylum. Instead, the doctor, who harboured an attraction to Tita for months, takes her into his home to help her recover. Then Tita’s mother dies, and her life is thrown into turmoil again.
The first thing worth mentioning about why I liked Like Water for Chocolate was that it was set in Mexico. I fell in love with Mexico on a holiday in 2018, and reading a novel set on a Mexican ranch reminded me of the landscape and culture. I could really picture the settings.
I particularly liked Tita’s character. She’s progressive – refusing to allow her niece to suffer the same lot as her. She’s talented – able to craft delicious meals and banquets. She’s passionate – desperately in love with Pedro, in touch with her body, which is dramatically juxtaposed by her sister’s use of a sheet with an embroidered hole when she and Pedro consummate their marriage. She’s three dimensional, in comparison to the caricature like figures of her mother, Pedro, and her sisters.
Perhaps the most unusual but engaging aspect of the book was the blend of narrative and recipe. The recipes underpin the events of the novel, and are closely connected to the magical realism of the plot – for example, Tita’s tears while preparing one particular dish causes anyone who eats it to vomit uncontrollably. The narrative has a folk tale feel – you know the magical aspects are not true, but you don’t question it at all.
Who would enjoy this book?
Fans of magical realist novels, fans of romances, and fans of a quick, easy read!
Like Water for Chocolate firmly takes its place as one of my favourite books. I only know because I gushed about it to friends on a night out!
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