Like Water for Chocolate came out when I was 9, so I didn’t pick it up right away. 🙂 However, the name has always stuck with me and resurfaced when I looked at one of my favorite blogs a couple of months ago. Sotto Il Monte Vineyards is a beautiful blog with photography, food, architecture, and decor, so when I saw this post in January, I added the book to my list. I got it at the library Monday afternoon and read it yesterday evening.
Told in one-month episodes by the great-granddaughter of the main character, each chapter/month begins with a recipe and is the story of a family of women, Mama Elena, Gertrudis, Rosaura, and Tita, living on the Mexican-American border. Mama Elena is a hard woman, raising three daughters on her own on a ranch in Mexico with help only from a woman housekeeper, Nacha. Tita, her third daughter is born
on the kitchen table amid the smells of simmering noodle soup, thyme, bay leaves, and cilantro, steamed milk, garlic, and , of course, onion….The way Nacha told it, Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor.
Tita’s kitchen birth gives her a special affinity to the kitchen and food. Her tears are supposedly because as the youngest in this family, she is expected to remain single and to care for her mother until one of the two dies. However, Pedro, a neighboring young man, loves Tita, and Tita loves Pedro. Her mother refuses to allow the marriage, so in order to be close to the woman he loves, Pedro marries Tita’s older sister Rosaura. (Are you groaning? Yes, it’s a horrible idea.) The story follows with the clandestine love of the two, the volatile relationship between Tita and her mother, and the dynamics of this matriarchal household.
Tita’s love of the kitchen is what moves the story along, and Tita, in true magical realism, cooks her soul into her dishes. At the marriage of Pedro and Rosaura, Tita prepares a multi-course dinner, culminating with the cake. Tita cries as she makes the icing, and
The moment [the guests] took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing….But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication – an acute attack of pain and frustration – that seized the guests and scattered them across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love.
In turns sad, joyous, sensual, frustrating, and angering, Like Water for Chocolate was an enjoyable read. I particularly enjoy magical realism* and Mexican/Hispanic stories. The translation by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen is excellent, and I look forward to watching the movie.
* If you have read this or are curious about magical realism, I highly recommend Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. It is an absolutely epic familial tale with magical realism galore. It’s one of my favorite books.