on 5 May 2010
I am a great fan of magical realism, having read a lot of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joanne Harris, Louis de Bernieres and Isabel Allende, which is why I really thought I would love this book. And I did, up to a point. It is frivolous, fanciful and feminine, an exaggarated examination of the connection between our emotions, the food we eat and the people closest to us. As such, it is lovely. Esquivel does not hold back - The food is described almost as a living, mythical thing, and the process of making it is more like alchemy than cookery. Her principle is that in cooking a meal you have a venue through which your emotions are concentrated and expressed - Sadness, anger, jealousy, lust and of course, love, the ultimate goal. The recipes are mouthwatering, the characters are vivid and the atmosphere is intense and infectous.
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.
on 4 November 2001
A passionate story of love, heartbreak and family. The plot is magically woven around the kitchen. This is a book of recipies, love and life put together in a way which was totally unexpected. The story is quite surreal in parts which was a delight and refreshingly different.
I dont like to use the word romance in fear of putting you off. There is so much more to this novel. If your a 'foodie' like me then you'll love it. If you enjoy the slighty romantic notion of family dinners round the open fire. If you love the smell of someone cooking somthing wonderful as you walk through your front door then your going to really enjoy this. Its not all idyllic though, there was enough passion and anger and suspense to let me finish it in two days !
on 23 May 1999
Each chapter begins with the details for a wonderful Mexican dish. However, as the food is prepared by a passionate young woman, a tear or a drop of blood or alike transfers her feelings to the meal. The results on the guests are spectacular. Best suited to romantic food lovers.
on 25 July 2000
I was introduced to this book whilst working on the set of a student film production in Wales. Usually tedious affairs, filled with mind-numbingly long waits, Like Water for Chocolate gripped my imagination and anchored itself to me like a limpitt; I read it in a day. I would reccommend this book to any would-be romantics and foodies alike. The culinary similies and metaphores are a feast in themselves, and make for mouth-watering reading. I would not describe myself as a whimsical daydreamer, but this book relieved my boredom and transported me to a realm of magic and intrigue, flowing effortlessly from chapter to chapter as if part of the ebb and tide of the sea. Essential is not the word for it. Try ummissable.
on 14 August 2016
It's a charming book that I'm glad I read. The characters are enjoyable and I like the tragic set up of Tita's story...but as a fan of magic realism, it feels like magic realism lite...it touches on the techniques I know and love but doesn't quite accomplish them. Sometimes there is a lack of depth to some situations and characters, especially Pedro who she is in love with. As the book progresses, I don't feel he is worthy of her devotion. It also only really touches on the political history that it is meant to run along side which is a shame. But the writing is rich and the recipes so vivid you can taste them.
on 15 September 2000
Just fantastic - this book always stays in the mind. I rate this as highly as Joanne Harris's 'Chocolat', Patrick Suskind's 'Perfume' and Isabel Allende's 'Paula'. If you like the lyrical, evocative text of these writers, you'll absolutely love this too. And the film is excellent if you ever get chance to see it.
on 29 February 2004
I was enticed to read this book purely because of the title, and it turned out to be one of the most well rounded, enjoyabel pieces of fiction I have ever read.
This book focuses on the love between Pedro and Tita, and the years apart they have to endure. It is interwoven with recipies and magical interludes. It is impossible to ever descripe this book, but I would recommend it to anyone, and encourage them to read it now. 'Like Water for chocolate' leaves you feeling warm, uplifted and full of hope.
on 27 July 2014
A magical realism novel, apparently immensely popular in the author’s native Mexico.
The Magical Realism (MR) context makes this a difficult book to appraise, given that the normal aspects of novels, such as narrative flow, characterisation, character development, etc are absent. The book is in 12 parts, one for each month, and in each chapter a particular dish is linked to an incident in the life of the main character, Tita, whose emotions are invested in the dishes she makes.
The book takes place over some 25 years.
The device of hanging the narrative on a monthly dish is reasonable enough, though there is too much detail in the recipes and in the food preparation, and it’s sometimes like reading a cookery book. Otherwise the book was weak. The reader is expected to suspend his disbelief for the entire length of the book, and it quickly becomes wearisome. The symbolism is heavy-handed and juvenile.
It seems weird that we are told so little about the main characters - what’s Pedro like? we know nothing about him. Why should we care about him? Gertrudis - MR or not, we deserve something less cartoonish in the main character’s sister.
I tried to read this book having gained some sort of understanding of MR, but I found myself continually exasperated by the laziness of the author, who just seems to make it up as she goes along, and introduces, kills off and reintroduces characters whenever she feels like it. I’ve read other MR books, and quite enjoyed The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (though not 100 years of Solitude). Allende and Marquez put a lot more effort into their works in my view. In the House of the Spirits the MR is an occasional irritation and does not detract seriously from the book as a whole.
One feature of MR which is common to the MR books I have read is that the magical occurrences only ever happen to the main character and his/her (usually her) family. Everyone else leads normal boring lives like us. I wonder why this is. Projection? the author thinking “I’m special, so my main character is special as well. Everyone else - don’t care about them”
A couple of points about the translation: I felt that the translator had not served this book well, as on many occasions unidiomatic expressions are used, as if the translator couldn’t be bothered to search for an English equivalent. The style, such as it is, is plodding and uninteresting with very occasional exceptions.And it looks as if the book has been translated into American English first, then a half-hearted attempt has been made to convert it to English English. English spellings are used (metres and litres), and we get eg nappies rather than diapers; but Tita “fixes” eggs - I don’t believe anyone British has ever fixed an egg - and her eyes are “pried” rather than “prised” open. And the recipes are full of those dratted American “cups”.
The Wikipedia article on MR refers to British and US authors who use a form of MR, eg Angela Carter, John Banville,John Fowles. Again, however, the MR aspects of these authors’ works are generally a minor feature (except maybe for Carter’s risible Nights at the Circus) Comparisons are also made with fantasy fiction. Quotes I liked: “MR is fantasy fiction written by someone who speaks Spanish” and “MR is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy”.
Some of Stephen King’s books contain elements of MR: I’m thinking of Carrie and The Shining in particular. (I don’t much like them either).
I read this book because it was a Reading Group selection. Most of the members liked it, though they were all quite relieved that it wasn’t longer (take out the recipes and it’s no more than a novella).Members were impressed by the imagination shown by the author (I call it writing down the first thing that comes into your head).
I looked through the 4 and 5 star reviews below to see what it was people liked about this book. However, i got little joy because reviewers are so reluctant to explain their enthusiasm for the book “It’s amazing”, “I couldn’t put it down” and “it’s one of my favourite books” convey nothing. Almost all these reviews are no more than 2 or 3 lines. Surely they can’t all be the author’s mum? I think it’s significant that the people who didn’t like the book are much more coherent and give a much clearer idea of what they thought about the book.
In short, “Like Water for Chocolate” stinks the place out.
on 25 May 2016
I first read this about 15 years ago after it was recommended to me by a colleague at the library where I worked. Knowing I loved the novels of Alice Hoffman and Joanne Harris - who also specialise in the magical realism genre - my colleague thought this would be right up my street. And being in my early twenties at the time, I was very much taken with the idea of true love and all that it promised, which is a major theme of the book. So, after all this time does 'Like Water for Chocolate' still hold up under the scrutiny of my more mature (and slightly jaded?) eyes? Sadly, no…
First off, I found the timeline of the story very confusing. Although at first glance it appears to take place over the course of one year - with a chapter per month - the book actually spans closer to 20 years in the lives of sisters Tita, Rosaura and Gertrudis, Rosaura's husband Pedro and the rest of the De La Garza family.
It may also have helped to know a little about the Mexican Revolution (which took place between 1910 and 1920 for those of us who don't know), as it turns out this is the period of time when the majority of the novel is set. Had I have known this beforehand it may have helped a little in gaining a sense of place and time but as it is, Esquivel gives so little detail regarding this historic event, the effect it has on the people and their surroundings (with the exception of sister Gertrudis who leaves under VERY unusual circumstances and later becomes the general of a local revolutionary troop), that it's hard to really place anything beyond the confines of Tita's surroundings which are mainly limited to the kitchen.
Secondly - and this was the major flaw for me - I found none of the characters likeable or appealing. Mama Elena, the matriarch of the family who rules everyone with a fist of iron, is spiteful, mean and selfish, and the least maternal person I've ever encountered. Tita is flighty, swooping about like a startled bird looking for somewhere safe to land, but never settling for more than two minutes before she's up in the air again. Pedro - Tita's 'one true love' who ends up marrying her sister on account of a family tradition that dictates, as the youngest child, Tita will never marry - is nothing more than a petulant child trapped in a man's body, whilst the other characters are so limited in their characterisation it was hard to imagine them at all.
Finally the language used often comes across as very simple at times, although I appreciate this may have more to do with the Spanish to English translation as opposed to any flaw in Esquivel's original text. Unfortunately it doesn't help when you're reading what are supposed to be very passionate moments - for example the secret meetings between Pedro and Tita - and instead it feels more like you're reading the diary of a 13 year old who's just discovered boys.
Having read a lot more of the magical realism genre in the intervening years, the conclusion I've come to is that I like the magical moments to be subtle. Alice Hoffman is a writer who does this well (in my opinion), adding just enough magic for it to stand out without making it feel like the overall realism of the book has been lost. For me, the magical moments should feel like a natural part of the book, so much so that you don’t question them or snort in derision when they occur but just accept happily that that's the way things are.
Unfortunately Esquivel doesn't seem to subscribe to this subtle way of writing, including moments in her book that only become more lavish and eccentric as the story progresses (chickens creating whirlwinds; walls bursting into flames because of a woman's lust; Tita's tears creating rivers of water that flow down stairs; and a crocheted blanket that can cover a 3 hectare ranch being some of the more outlandish moments). As a result I found myself enjoying it less and less as it crept more towards fantasy and further from realism.
I'm sad to discover that the book didn't have the same impact on me as it did on first reading it all those years ago, but that said I'm still glad I read it again. I just wish it had turned out to be as wonderful as I'd recollected it to be.
The premise that a martinet mother, her three daughters and two female house servants live together in revolutionary Mexico, is lively enough, then add some magical realism and cookery.
This is not for the tender, it has to be said, especially those who are vegans; the land doesn't produce much of crops so meat, birds, eggs form a large part of the recipes, with beans, various nuts, pomegranates and many kinds of chillies. And cocoa beans, from which hot chocolate is made by toasting them, grinding and adding seething water. The recipes and other household remedies head each month's chapter and are demonstrated in such ways as a wedding cake, a fine Sunday meal, a childhood treat. These form the backdrop to the romantic drama of the sisters.
As the youngest sister Tita is obliged to stay at home and care for her mother, never marrying; this callous decree spoils her budding romance and happiness. She works hard in the kitchen and garden, and her emotions, such as crying when she peels onions and releases her own unhappiness at her sister Rosaura marrying her beloved Pedro, are absorbed into the foods and magnified through the diners. Similarly a rose-petal delicacy reflects amorous feelings, causing her other sister Gertrudis to run off with a soldier and make her own life. Stuck in the house with her demanding, scowling mother, her jealous sister and her roving-eyed brother in law, poor Tita makes the best of matters and cooks up a storm, waiting for her life to change. Roving bands of soldiers, rebels and bandits might cause that to happen.
Do I think Tita got it right, or was the heroine? No, I think Gertrudis was the heroine of this tale. I think Tita got it wrong at least four times. Everyone will bring their own impressions to Like Water For Chocolate and come away feeling differently. Some of the recipes I would love to make, but I don't want to spend four hours of backbreaking, hand-tearing labour on them. Everyone will learn from the tale, not least about the hardships of women. Enjoy with some spicy Mexican food.