I’ve been reading lots lately and I have also re-read a few books. I came across an old favorite. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies (1989) contains all the great ingredients for a best-seller: love, betrayal, hardship, food, fantasy, and death. At first glance, many dismiss the book as a mere love story touched with tragedy for Tita de Le Garza, the protagonist. Upon closer examination, though, the book provides a strong example of fiction, cultural archetypes, and theory. I argue that Like Water for Chocolate is a text of theory in the flesh (apologies to Moraga and Anzaldua) and is part of the canon of strong Latina/o fiction.
Esquivel uses narrative form as she explores Mexican folklore, racism, sexism, sexuality and women’s role in society. Tita embodies every woman–an affirmation of the reality of a life. The good, happy, sad and dare I say bad. The main action of Esquivel’s book is Tita’s struggle for freedom against an authoritarian mother and cultural traditions that Tita finds suffocating. The story has mysticism and fantasy added to it. And, it’s important to note that the timeline is during the Mexican Revolution in war-torn Mexico. Thus, Tita’s life is in constant flux with the denial of her true love and the subsequent hostile environment that she lives in–he life mirrors Mexico at the time. She is Mexico.
What made the book so popular to many was the magical parts. Yes, Tita has a certain culinary flare and her emotions seep into the food that she makes. Tita’s only respite is the kitchen among the pots, pans, food, and her memories. Due to a family tradition she is not allowed to marry and must take care of her mother, while her older sister marries her true love. We have unrequited love, betrayal, and cooking! I don’t want to give away the entire plot, but this book was just as good for this third read as it was during the first and second reads. The book is both fun and serious. You’ll enjoy it and you’ll most likely want to eat some good, spicy food when you finish it.