Book Review: Like Water For Chocolate

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Title: Like Water For Chocolate
Author: Laura Esquivel
Publisher: RHUK (16 September 1993)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Price: Rs. 360 on Amazon
Pages: 224

This book was touted to be a magical realism one and I was fresh from the brilliant hangover of 'The Night Circus', so I picked this up gleefully. For a food lover like me, any book that revolves around food is a bonus hit. I had read and loved 'Chocolat' and this one seemed to be on similar lines. It is a love story like none other and every chapter begins with a delicious recipe. I devoured the story, page after page.

Tita de la Garza, 15 years old, lives on a ranch near the Mexico-US border with her mother, Mamá Elena, and her older sisters Gertrudis and Rosaura. It is the de la Garza family tradition that the youngest daughter must remain unmarried and take care of her mother until her mother's death. Tita was born in the kitchen and has a deep connection with food and a love for cooking. This is also due to the fact that Tita's primary caretaker as a child was Nacha, the family cook. Tita falls in love with her neighbor Pedro, who feels the same towards her. When they ask for Mamá Elena's permission for marriage, they are reminded of the tradition and Mamá Elena suggests that Pedro marry Rosaura instead.

In order to stay closer to Tita, Pedro obliges and marries Rosaura. He consummates the marriage only to produce a child, just as Mamá Elena wanted. When Roberto, their son is born, Tita develops a close bond with him as she is the one nursing the baby and not Rosaura. This brings Pedro and Tita more closer. When Mamá Elena begins to suspect a relationship between them, she sends Rosaura, Pedro and Roberto away to Texas. Plagued with sickness, Roberto soon dies and Pedro and Rosaura have a daughter Esperanza. Rosaura develops complications during the pregnancy and becomes infertile. Blaming her mother for her nephew's death and tired of her controlling ways, Tita stands up to Mamá Elena one fine day and is banished from the house. Tita is found by Dr. John Brown who is asked by Mamá Elena to institutionalize her. But John takes her to his house and cares for her as his own soon falling in love with her. Tita too reciprocates while still having underlying feelings for Pedro.

What happens to their love story? Will Mamá Elena continue to control Tita? Will Tita end up with Dr. John instead? The book raises a lot of questions before it ends in a very supernatural way.

Food is celebrated in the book throughout the story. The book is divided into 12 sections named after the months of the year, starting in January and ending in December. Each section begins with a Mexican recipe that connects each dish to an event in Tita's life. Tita's strong emotions get infused with her cooking and affect the people around her through her food. Unintentionally of course. For example, while preparing the cake for Pedro and Rosaura's wedding, Tita gets overcome with sadness and cries into the cake batter. Everyone who eats the cake starts vomiting and gets violently sick angering Mamá Elena. After a particularly rich meal of quail in rose petal sauce flavored with Tita’s erotic thoughts of Pedro, Gertrudis becomes inflamed with lust and leaves the ranch in order to explore her sexuality and make ravenous love to a revolutionary soldier on the back of a horse. Such is the effect of Tita's emotions on her food.

The writing is easy and the story flows beautifully. While the chapter starts with the ingredients of the recipe, the rest of the chapter show Tita preparing the dish. Every method, every step of the process is described deliciously. Every emotion of Tita is shown in its raw, pure form. Love remains the soul of the book while food remains the backbone. Pedro is the hopelessly in love guy having no grip on his life. I did not like him much, but his traits help form the story. While Rosaura is a very misunderstood character, I liked Gertrudis for standing up for herself and creating a life of her own. With a handful of characters and just twelve chapters, this is a quick read and I finished it in a couple of sittings.

Many may not like the book. Magical realism was something new for a realist like me. Well, it didn't almost exist. But when I decided to try out new genres, this is one I fell hopelessly in love with. The events though unbelievable are beautiful and the imagination behind them is magnificent. For some, the ending might not make sense, it did not for me the first time too. But when I re-read the chapter, I loved it. I would not have ended the book in any other way. Such true love does deserve some kind of magic. A happy ending or not, is for the reader to decide.


Verdict: Love and food, this can't go wrong for me.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

10 comments:

  1. I had added this book to my TBR, thanks to Sreesha. I even have a copy of the book, but I haven't read it yet. :(

    Magical realism is one of my favourite genres. Chocolat was an introduction to it, and One Hundred Years of Solitude blew my mind away with its depth and meaning. I have to read this book this year itself! Because two bloggers recommending the same book with a glowing review is a rarity.

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    1. Read this soon and let me know how you like it.

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  2. What a lovely concept for a book, Soumya! I enjoyed the way you wrote the review. I think I might like the book! Lemme look for it! I often imagine that when I write a book, there'll be recipes and poetry punctuating the narrative. Hugs!

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    1. You will love this, I'm sure.

      Hugs!

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  3. Such a lovely Story and review of book.

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  4. INteresting book... and four stars by you!!!! Should get this one then

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    1. Do try it. Let me know what you think.

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  5. This sounds like such a good read. I like magical realism and I love books that incorporate food. I love the idea of Tita's emotions being transferred to whatever she cooks. Have you read That Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake? The protagonist in that book could taste the emotions of the person who'd made the dish. You make me want to pick up this one right away.

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    1. Oh you will love this then. I just checked That Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake on Goodreads now and added it to my TBR. Thanks, Tulika :)

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