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Like Water For Chocolate Paperback – 16 Sep 1993
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"This magical, mythical, moving story of love, sacrifice and simmering sensuality is something I shall savour for a long time" (Maureen Lipman)
"It's a joy... it has an energetic charm that's quite impossible to resist" (Literary Review)
"If originality, a compelling tale and an adventure in the kitchen are what you crave, Like Water For Chocolate serves up the full helping" (Carla Matthews San Francisco Chronicle)
"A wondrous, romantic tale, fuelled by mystery and superstitition as well as by the recipes that introduce each chapter" (Los Angeles Times)
"Exuberant... for those who like their wines full-bodied and their meals rich and zesty... earthly secrets of strength, suffering, passion and cooking in a humorous and well-drawn portrait of a woman who loves as well as she cooks" (Washington Post)
'A Novel in Monthly Instalments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies'.The international bestseller.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
The events of the book take place around 1895-1925 near the Mexican-US border. The main character, Tita, is a youngest daughter and destined by family tradition imposed by her spiteful mother, Mama Elena, to remain unmarried and look after her until she dies [‘“At her mother’s, what she had to do with her hands was strictly determined, no questions asked. She had to get up, get dressed, get the fire going in the stove, fix breakfast, feed the animals, wash the dishes, make the beds, fix lunch, wash the dishes, iron the clothes, fix dinner, wash the dishes, day after day, year after year. Without pausing for a moment, without wondering if this is what she wanted.’]. Pedro, who had asked for her hand and been refused, married her sister Rosaura so as to be near his beloved. The book describes the subsequent lives of Tita, Pedro, Mama Elena, Rosaura and Gertrudis, the sister who got away.
The feature of the book that has attracted many readers’ interest and attention is that it is divided into 12 monthly chapters, each introduced by a recipe for a dish [or, in one case, describing how to make matches]. This recipe is then described in detail in the following chapter where it is integrated, with various degrees of success, into a narrative that has distinct Magic Realist elements.
The storyline just about held my attention, primarily to find out how the Tita-Pedro love affair would end up. This was despite the limited characterisation of almost everyone in the novel [only one of whom, Dr John Brown, is at all engaging], the heaving breasts, trickling sweat [hers not his] and hot waves of passion. Pedro, in particular, has so few redeeming features that it makes his attraction to Tita, and her response to him, difficult to believe. He is typically a Mexican man of his time but a more nuanced character who have benefitted the story. Mama Elena is a real monster and a better author could have done much more that Esquivel achieves.
The background to the story is the Mexican Revolution that remains rather vague and is only really addressed through Gertrudis, who ends up as a general with the revolutionaries. The rural landscape is similarly rarely rarely mentioned.
The language, or possibly the translation, is very simplified whilst the Magic Realism is rather spare [Mama Elena’s ghost that eventually disappears causing even more pain and distress; Tita’s sixth sense about domestic matters; Gertrusis’ naked body, hot and sizzling with desire and burning the outdoor shower to the ground; Rosaura losing 56lbs in a week or Tita's tears creating streams of water that cascade down the stairs], not at all the multi-layered, subtle complexity of Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende or Alejo Carpentier. Tita is ‘like water for hot chocolate’, the title of the original Spanish novel, if not treated in the right manner it will boil over and spoil the taste and sweetness.
For those with an interest in food, in general, and Mexican food, in particular, this book will be a pleasure. It also offers advice on how to castrate chickens, should the urge take you, clean babies’ nappies, eradicate bedbugs or write secret messages.
One doubts that the message of the book will be much to the liking of those who do not necessary accept a woman’s role being confined to the kitchen, but perhaps the period justifies this. The way that the author handles the question of rape is even less defendable.
I could not help thinking that, just like the recipes she lists, Esquivel has assembled the ingredients for a best seller – Forbidden Love + Spicy Food + Exotic Setting + Sibling Rivalry + Loveless Mother + Family Secrets and has whipped up a tasty but nutritionally inadequate dessert. However, I am a foolish old man so what do I know?
But I still found myself closing the book with reservations. First of all, I found the language a little naive and simple at times, but this might be down to whatever was lost in translation. What bothered me more was the idea of this eternal hunt for love, which I found rather old-fashioned, and I did not connect with it. This might be because 'love' seemed to equate 'marriage', and also because we were repeatedly told that to live without having experienced love was to not have lived at all. Maybe I'm too modern for my own good, but I like to think there is a romantic inside me somewhere that enjoys these kinds of unrealistic, pretty notions. I guess the old fashioned, fairy-tale-esque tone (Finding the man of your dreams, marrying him, having perfect, earth-shattering sex and living happily ever after) seemed a little silly to me.
Having read a lot of the magical realism genre I find it works a lot better when a gritty reality and is combined with little bubbles of magic which are more subtle and fleety than the big showy pieces in Esquivel's book. This book is too close to fantasy, with chickens creating whirlwinds and walls breaking into flame because of the lusty heat puring from the people whitin them. And as a result, it fails to create that dreamy, spooky, smoky feeling that really good books whithin magical realism have.
All in all I thought it was a fun read, a good old romp with a lovely emphasis on food, but as a book writen by a woman for women I found it old fashined, unrealistic and sometimes very silly indeed.