Friday, January 2, 2015

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen

Source: Goodreads
Like Water for Chocolate
A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies
Laura Esquivel
Translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen (from Spanish)
Originally 1989, I read 1994
241 pages, magical realism, romance

Tita enters the world on a wave of tears, prophetic of the difficult life ahead of her. Tita's mother, the narcissistic, overbearing matriarch of the family, bans her from marrying; as the youngest daughter, she is required to take care of her mother until death. When her eldest sister marries Tita's beloved, Tita retires to the kitchen, using food to express her barely-restrained emotions.

A beautiful example of magical realism, Like Water for Chocolate combines the real magic of good food and romance with the tall tales of family legends.

Read a sample or buy from Amazon:
Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

Anxiety and depression

When Tita's life and dreams are thwarted by her mother's narcissism, she very reasonably becomes consumed by extreme anxiety. She knows what is expected of her, but those expectations are so counter to her own personality and desires that she is unable to submit to them. Nor can she escape them; she is trapped in a life in which her love is married to her sister and she is left in the kitchen, alone. 

This finally culminates in a mental breakdown. Tita tears her clothes off and climbs into the abandoned bird houses on the roof of the house, no longer able to cope with her mother or her own emotions. Her mother is completely unsympathetic, and continues to level abuse at her, even removing the ladder so that Tita cannot come down on her own. 

Esquivel captures the emotions inherent in Tita's situation through clear, poignant imagery. Having those emotions is completely understandable and natural when treated in this way. As someone who has dealt with similar issues in my own life, I appreciated the way Tita's suffering was depicted, the way the reader can sense how her world is gradually pulling apart at the seams until it finally snaps. 

But even more important, Tita's recovery demonstrates the need for understanding and respect. And, very reassuringly, she does recover, even from such a big shock.


I adored the romantic aspects of this book, particularly the beautiful sexual imagery. The female aspect of sex is discussed openly. It feels very down-to-earth and homey, as well as a bit scandalous (especially when her sister runs away from home). 

While I enjoyed the descriptions, I did not understand the romantic relationships themselves. How could Tita continue to love Pedro after he marries her sister? How could her sister marry Tita's sweetheart, even though they did not love each other? I understand the concept of arranged marriage, but in the end these decisions seem rather stupid. 

And the arrangement that Pedro and Tita reach at the end of the book - I do not understand how that was a workable agreement. Perhaps someone could enlighten me?

Magical Realism

I love magical realism as a form of writing. Unlike Rushdie's magical realism, Esquivel's magic is intimately connected to the development of the characters and the plot. Like an old family legend that has become embellished over the years, Tita's story is embodied by her saltwater birth just as much as it is embodied by her physical relationship with Pedro. The legendary aspects and realistic aspects come together to powerfully describe her personality. 

The magic is an integral part of telling the story, not just a plot device to make it more interesting. 

Where I found it: Boxcar Books, Bloomington, IN, USA

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