Thursday, 14 February 2019

Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel

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A story of how food and cooking reflects the flavours of life.

I always enjoy stories where food and plot are interwoven together. My last read of a similar style was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Mistress of Spices.

Laura Esquivel is a South American Writer and this Mexican love story apparently was the bestseller list in Mexico and America for over two years. Written way back in 1989, it was made into a movie in 1992. I haven't seen the movie though and came across this book when it was recently mentioned in my writing class when they were talking about a book which had food and cooking as an important element for narrative. The reason why it is in news is it is part of a trilogy with its sequels written in 2013 and 2017. 

However, I came to this book not knowing that it was perhaps the book whose copies matched the sales of One Hundred Years of Solitude. 

Luckily I was unaware of it and therefore no preconceived notions.

The title, which I found terribly intriguin was a literal translation from the Spanish that means "Agua para chocolate" meaning when a person's emotions are on the verge of boiling over. Having read the novel, the title makes sense now.


Tita is the youngest in the De La Garza family. According to the family tradition the youngest girl is not allowed to marry since she was expected to look after her parents. However, she falls in love with Pedro. Knowing that marriage with her was not possible, he then marries her older sister Rosaura to be close to her. What follows is a 22 years of unconsummated passion. Their relationship is marked by freak mishaps, bizarre happenings until Tita and Pedro are united again.

What works:
  • It is a slim novel that can be easily finished in one sitting.
  • The writing is not conventional in the sense,  it does not introduce the characters as you would normally find, perhaps therein lies its appeal.
  • The element of magic realism is put to good use especially when it comes to introducing the flavours of food.
  • The way Esquivel has used more of third person narrative instead of dialogue. The story is plot heavy and yet Esquivel handles the technique well, making it a compelling read.
  • What I really enjoyed is the fact that the writer does not seem to be moulded by the standard storytelling tradition which is carefully shaped by creative writing classes. There is a rawness to the style, a fresh approach that I really liked.
  • The concept of rigid family traditions, rituals give an  insight into the Mexican Spanish society. A big plus in my book.
What  doesn't:
  • Except for the character of Tita Pedro and the matriarch, I did not find any other character having that much of an impact.
  • The story is not exactly linear, there is a bit of back and forth and situations are not clearly explained. There is a lot of third person here which makes it a bit of a difficult read at times.
  • The writing style is a bit unconventional as mentioned before. Some readers may find it difficult to adjust and therefore be put of by it.
Overall, I can see what the appeal is. It has an exotic factor to it - the Mexican Spanish way of life and traditions and the element of food that is stirred into the fabric of the story.

A great combination. But not to everyone's liking. Pick it up if you are feeling adventurous or in a mood for something different.

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