I was given this book during my freshman year at (Southwest) Missouri State University, at the same time I was given the first Harry Potter book. How sad it is that I was so taken with the Potter series that it took me seven years to read Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I devoured it in one lazy Sunday afternoon, not too unlike the way the Baileys, Rob, and I devoured the delicious spoon-in chocolate cake they baked for us just last week.
This book is set up in monthly installments, and with each month, comes a new recipe. And that, dear readers, is the reason I love this book so much. Esquivel weaves food into the lives of the characters smoothly, like it is a fact of life, which it is for Tita (the main character) and her family. If the cook was experiencing terrible feelings while creating a meal, it will have bitter effects on those who eat it. Likewise, if she is feeling strongly of love, those who eat them meal will be struck without knowing why. They will smell of the beautiful, sensual ingredients used to create the meals, like rose petals, and life will be sweet for them for at least a while.
The way Esquivel describes the life of Tita, Pedro, John, Mama Elena, and Rosaura reminded me of other non-American writers I’ve thoroughly enjoyed: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (thanks to Mr. Ramsey!) was an eye-opening read (even if we did perhaps pay too much attention to the yams), as was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”These books, including Esquivel’s, open this American’s eyes to different cultures in a very real way. And that is especially relevant and enjoyable in this point in my life.
The final aspect of this book that warmed my heart was the way it reminded me of the women in my family tree. My grandmothers, my Aunt Linda, and my mother all talk just like this book. Crafting and enjoying food is a part of their life like air is, it seems. So every chapter, there would be at least one section that my inner narrator would read in the voice of one of these women. Being so far from home and missing my family and friends dearly, I appreciated this reminder of home warmly.
Last, I must give my one disappointment in the book. I was partly intrigued by this book because of the title, and I was just sure that by the end of the book, I would understand the confusing phrase that graces its cover. I did not. It was only until I checked out Wikipedia that I was able to access the double meaning it holds in Latino culture, although that could be because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the hot chocolate recipe to apply it to the plot.
Like Water for Chocolate is a must read if you enjoy food, passion, and the intricacies of familial relationships.