In the early 1990s, Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies by Laura Esquivel was one of the most popular books in the world, thanks to a well-made movie and an intriguing love story. Its popularity was well-earned.
The main character, Tita, has been told that she must take care of her mother Mama Elena in her old age – denying her a chance to be with Pedro, who has declared his love for her. He agrees to marry her older sister, Rosaura, so he can be closer to her.
While Pedro and Rosaura are raising a family and the revolution rages in Mexico, Tita is running the family ranch. The events of her life push her to feel “‘like water for chocolate’ – she was on the verge for boiling over.’”
In fact, her volatile emotions are felt in the meals she cooks for her family – causing those who eat her food to feel the same emotions she does. (The recipes are printed at the beginning of each of the 12 chapters, although they seem too elaborate to cook.)
Although it’s story about love, Like Water is also interesting when depicting family dynamics and early feminism. Mama Elena is portrayed as a domineering woman who rules the household, and Tita questions why the youngest daughter has to take care of the mother. Here’s one great passage that describes her life:
“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.”
I’m not always a big fan of magic realism, but it works well in this novel because, oddly, it seems natural. This is a great book that – thanks to its creativity and strong heroine – is as satisfying as one of its meals.
More about Laura Esquivel: Laura Esquivel, who lives in Mexico City, is a former teacher who also has written the books The Law of Love, Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food, and Flavor and Malinche. The book was translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen.
Note: This is part of a series of classic books written by Latinas. Next up: Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban. (Yes, I’m running a bit behind.)
Source: I bought a hardcover version of this book for $1 at a thrift store. Don’t you love it when that happens?