|Like Water for Chocolate / Laura Esquivel|
trans. from Spanish by Thomas Christensen and Carol Christensen
NY: Anchor, 1994, c1989
And I really enjoyed it! I recalled most of the gist of the story, but had forgotten many of the details, and much of the charm of its style. So this time around it was like rediscovering something faintly familiar. I remember liking it way back when, and there was no change there; I enjoyed this read.
Tita is the youngest of three girls, and as the youngest, a family tradition rules that she must never marry but remain home to care for her mother until she dies. Mama Elena is strict and cruel, and when Tita finds a sweetheart, Pedro, he is married off to her sister instead. Tita only expresses herself through her cooking, and when she's forced to make the wedding cake for her sister's wedding, she weeps into the icing, and everyone who eats it is overcome with illness and sorrow.
The title comes from Tita's emotions as well:
"Tita was literally 'like water for chocolate' -- she was on the verge of boiling over. How irritable she was!"
This emotional resonance with her cooking appears a few more times in the book, and it's always told straight -- the magical realism is folded into the narrative seamlessly.
The structure of the book is also tied to food; each chapter is a month, and each one starts with a recipe, and then someone cooking it. It's like a serial novel in a women's magazine in some ways, with food and romance and True Love as themes. And in other ways it feels like a fable.
The idea that true love is all consuming is a bit questionable, at a distance. Should one really be willing to die for love? As an older reader, the ending isn't as satisfying as Tita's possible other choice might have been. But this isn't a realistic, serious tale, it's a romance, a fairy tale of sorts.
I appreciated the structure, the earthiness of the story based in food and relationships, and the writing style. I also found the depiction of the characters well done. Nearly all the important characters are women, and they are all different. From Tita -- sweet and sad but very skilled at cooking -- to her sister Gertrudis, adventurous and tough and sexual; to Rosario, the eldest sister who weds Pedro and is a sour, suspicious woman; to Mama Elena, cruel and selfish; to the old cook who taught Tita everything and was more of a mother to her than Mama Elena ever was. The women represented are complex; good and evil, generous and selfish -- not all one type of being.
While this is a bit of a light read, it was delightful to reread, and felt just as charming as it was 30 years ago.