Title: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Publisher: Random House Black Swan
Genre: Romance, Fiction
Length: 224 pages
Book Rating: B
A bestseller in Esquivel’s native Mexico and the USA for nearly two years and after that a global bestseller, now almost reaching modern classic status in the romance genre, Like Water For Chocolate is an earthy, witty tale of forbidden romance.
In an all female family, Tita de la Garza, the youngest of the daughters is destined for a life looking after the family’s ailing mother until she dies, condemned by the Mexican tradition. She is forbidden to marry, but this life of celebate self-sacrifice does not last forever as Tita falls in love with Pedro. Pedro in turn is seduced by the food she cooks, and they become embroiled in romance. Tita has a natural sense for food and her cooking contains every ounce of frustration from her restricted life.
Desperate to remain with Tita, Pedro marries Rosaura, her sister. The pair can remain close but are forced into a dance of unconsummated, and increasingly forbidden, passion. It is only a freakish series of events, bad luck and fate that will finally reunite the lovers.
“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”
Like water for chocolate is a Latin American saying which means something that is bubbling up to the point of no control. It comes from the traditional use of water for hot chocolate drinks in the region and that you must bring it right to the boil before putting the chocolate in. In this sense, Tita is “like water for chocolate” because of her restricted state of being.
Tita’s story is a beautifully constructed tale of tradition, forbidden love, food and family. We all sympathise with this character who subserviently accepts her position while inside burning with desire to escape the clutches of her fateful position and be loved, be desired. As she puts it; the last “chile with walnut sauce” that everyone wants but no one would take to not appear to be a glutton.
The story is divided into twelve chapters, each representing a month, however the tale takes place over many years so the significance of this, in my eye, is the different phases of the story are represented like the phases of the year. Additionally, each chapter begins with a recipe, to represent the significance of food in Tita’s life and in the story itself and the magical realism that emerges from the food in the story is wonderful. She cries floods of tears from onions and eats rose petals that ignite the loins.
The book lurches between hard realism and fantastical magical metaphor, this represents beautifully the lurching of Tita’s emotional states throughout the book and reflects how she feels wonderfully, giving you a true sense of what she is going through at every step.
The language in the book is at times painfully simple and not in a minimalistic way, purely in a simple way and this, to some degree, lets the book down. Although the story is translated from Esquivel’s native Spanish, so perhaps this criticism is a little harsh, it does sometimes feel like it is written for a child audience (except for the sex scenes).
Despite the language, this is an incredible book full of incredible passion and a plethora of other emotions – as one would expect given the story – all portrayed in a way that captivates the reader. It also has the power to make you look at the woman that we have all known (married or not) who toils away with food for the party or family to devour with little or no recognition. Tita’s story is a beautiful one and Like Water For Chocolate is a beautiful telling of this story. I recommend this book to anyone, especially in this Valentine’s period.