Tag Archives: Laura Esquivel

Happy Independence Day, Mexico!

Mexico declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810. The North American country is the largest Spanish-speaking nation and perhaps the most influential Latin American nation in the world. Its close proximity to the United States has given writers great fodder for literature. Here’s a look at its writers:

OctavioPazOctavio Paz (1914-1998), right, won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Cervantes Prize for Spanish language writers for his collection of poems, including 1957’s Sun Stone, which revolves around the Aztec calendar and was adapted into a play, and 1950’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, which focuses on his homeland.

Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), left, had a tremendous influence on writers, including Colombian writer Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, despite releasing only two books, 1955’s El llano en llamas/The Burning Plain and 1955’s Pedro Páramo. Short story writer Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) is known for his humorous writings, which are collected in the book, Confabulario and Other Inventions.

carlos-fuentes• Novelist Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), right, was part of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s. He is best known for 1962’s The Death of Artemio Cruz, about a dying man looking back on his life, and 1985’s The Old Gringo, the story of an American writer in the Mexican Revolution. He also won the Cervantes Prize.

• Other winners of the Cervantes Prize are Sergio Pitol, a diplomat who described his international experiences and his life in Mexico in his 1996 novel El arte de la fuga/The Art of Flight, and José Emilio Pacheco, a poet and short story writer. Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos Prize include Fernando del Paso for Palinuro de México; Ángeles Mastretta for Mal de amores and Elena Poniatowska for El tren pasa primero.

LikeWaterforChocolate• Contemporary Mexican writers include Laura Esquivel, author of the hugely popular Like Water for Chocolate, and Juan Pablo Villalobos, author of Down the Rabbit Hole. Mexican-American writers include (among many others) Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Alex Espinoza, Reyna Grande, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Michele Serros, Luis Alberto Urrea and Victor Villasenor.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Poets.org, Wikipedia

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¿Tienes hambre? You will be after you read these books about food

This spring, Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA comes out in paperback and Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa celebrates its 15th year in publication. So it seems like a good time to look at books in which food is the main ingredient.

Children’s books:

delicious-hullabaloo• Pat Mora’s Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga deliciosa is a bilingual poem in which a passel of creatures cook up a meal. Another one of her books, Yum! MmMm! Que Rico!: America’s Sproutings, features foods that originated in the Americas.

ArrozConLeche• In a series of books, Salvadoran Jorge Argueta covers a range of foods in poetry form – Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Guacamole: A Cooking Poem/Un poema para cocinar, Tamilitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup and La Fiesta De Las Tortillas/The Fiesta Of The Tortillas.

TooManyTamales• Tamales are featured in Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto, in which a young girl faces trouble while cooking the food; Growing Up with Tamales, by Gwendolyn Zepeda, in which two sisters learn how to make the Christmas classic; and Tia’s Tamales by Ana Baca, in which a girl makes the food with her grandmother. Baca also wrote Chiles for Benito/Chiles para Benito and Benito’s Sopaipillas/Las sopaipillas de Benito.

magdastortillas1• In Becky Chavarria-Chairez’s Magda’s Tortillas/Las Tortillas de Magda, a 7-year-old attempts to make the food for her family. The round bread also plays a magical role in Joe Hayes’ The Day It Snowed Tortillas/El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas, which is part of a collection of bilingual folktales.

Like_Water_for_Chocolate_(Book_Cover)Books for adults:

• In the Laura Esquivel novel Like Water for Chocolate, the characters feel what the main character Tita is feeling when she makes her elaborate concoctions – and those emotions are all over the place as her heart is breaking. The 1992 movie was hugely popular.

tacousa• In exuberant prose, Gustavo Arellano reveals the origins of Taco Bell, tortillas, margaritas and other culinary delights in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Just one question – where’s the section on menudo?

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The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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Classic book review: Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate”

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?

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Resolutions for the New Year

Hey, happy new year! Today is the day set aside to recover from last night, watch football and make resolutions. I’ve got a few of my own for my blog. 2011 was a great year for Latino literature but, with just a few exceptions, most of the books I reviewed were by male authors. So I’m declaring 2012 year of the Latina writer. Each month, I’ll review a classic book from a woman author. Here’s my schedule:

• January – Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

February – Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

• March – Ana Castillo, So Far From God

• April – Denise Chavez, Loving Pedro Infante

May – Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

• June – Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban

• July – Lorraine López, The Realm of Hungry Spirits

• August – Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

• September – Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican

• October – Michele Serros, Chicana Falsa

• November – Alisa Valdes, The Dirty Girls Social Club

• December – Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus

As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t include some prominent writers. I’ve read most of Sandra Cisneros’s books, and I hope she will have a new book out soon that I can review. I also decided not to include academic Gloria Anzaldúa or poet Gabriela Minstral because I wanted to focus on novels or memoirs. I do plan to profile them on their birthdays, as I did for Cisneros.

Besides reading these books, I also hope to attend more plays for my “At the Theater” feature (which I kicked off last month with 26 Miles) and cover lectures by authors (I have tickets to a Luis Alberto Urrea talk in January). Of course, with all resolutions, things don’t always they turn out as planned, so all items are subject to change. I’ve also decided to scale back on my postings from three times a week to twice a week to make things a little easier on myself (and get to work on my own novel). I’m also in the midst of moving the headquarters of The Hispanic Reader, so I’m giving myself a break for a couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

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