No. 195: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Food and passion are mixed together to create a mystical tapestry in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. In a tale which quite literally simmers, stews and sizzles right before the reader.
Through alchemic combinations Like Water For Chocolate presents an entirely unique story for the reader. Over the course of twelve chapters – one for each month, spanning several years. The novel can be viewed and comprehended through the stories of two women: Tita De La Garzs and her mother, the intractable and formidable Mama Elena.
The novel is presented using a framing narrative from a more recent generation. The effect of this makes the way of life for the characters depicted seem more authentic and traditional creating a greater mystique.
The book entices its reader right from the start through the delectably emotive language:
By the conclusion of this first paragraph, the reader has been utterly drawn into the world Esquivel is trying to create. A literary tableau chronicling the relationships between one family seasoning their story with the interplay of food and recipes. Through the kitchen, we begin to understand the dynamics at play for protagonist Tita, and as the reader, we can see the supernatural power she appears to hold over food she has prepared in the kitchen.
The heart of the novel follows the love story of Tita and Pedro, with whom she falls in love at fifteen. Unfortunately, when Pedro asks to speak to her mother in order to ask for her hand in marriage, he is instead faced with a family tradition that Tita will be unavailable because she must administer the duty of her position as the youngest daughter and care for her mother in her age.
From this moment, Tita and Pedro’s lives do not fulfil their potential. Instead, in an effort to keep close to Tita, he marries one of her sisters, which devastates Tita. Over the course of twenty years, the pair continue to love each other through unrelenting challenges and endless meals reflecting the triumphs and pitfalls of the human experience. For instance, the February chapter and recipe chronicles the Chabela Wedding Cake which Tita makes for her sister who marries the love of her life Pedro, the 170-egg cake meant to feed 180 guests causes all those who eat it to descend into a weeping epidemic ‘all of them wailing over lost love.’ Only Tita was exempt from its mystical impact.
One particularly intriguing aspect of the book is its exploration of a complex mother-daughter dynamic: particularly that between Tita and her mother. As the youngest of the four daughters, Tita is expected to remain at her and care for her, despite a palpably tense relationship shared between the two. Mama Elena is a formidable parent who has endured hardships and instead of wishing better for her youngest, she is determined that her youngest should face the same adversity.
When Mama Elena dies, Tita discovers that her mother had previously fallen in love and had planned to run away with this man, but unfortunately he had been killed. She also discovered that her sister Gertrudis was the son of this passionate love, not the marriage from which Tita and her other sisters came. The reality that Mama Elena in fact lived a repressed and castrated existence finally enabled Tita to empathise with her mother enable herself to pursue love in her own life.
Esquivel masterfully describes the interplay of the conflicting emotions of life: dfrustraition, love, hope and passon conflate within the appropriated feminine domain of the kitchen where Mexican women of this period reigned.
Whilst epic in scope and yet personal in the narrowness of the focus and concentration, Laura Esquivel’s
This novel is fizzing with luscious language and evocative passion each individual moment recorded over the 20 years knitting together the patchwork of Tita’s life. I advise all to take a bite out of Like Water for Chocolate.
This utterly captivating and charming text is a must read for all. It displays an exiquiste feast which mirrors the life and soul of a traditional Mexican family.