Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate is a Mexican love story about Tita de la Garza and her family.  Tita has a great talent for cooking all of her family's recipes perfectly.  She also possesses a magical power that adds her emotions to her dishes if she is feeling a particularly strong sentiment while preparing that meal.  The people who enjoy her dish then feel the same strong emotion, be it lust, anger, sadness, or joy.  Tita has no control over this power and only seems half-aware of it, which gets her into a lot of complicated situations with her family members.

Like Water for Chocolate is told in twelve monthly installments, with a pertinent traditional recipe preceding each chapter. Esquivel's style is folklore frank and matter-of-fact, even when the facts of the matter involve crazy magical realism such as a chicken tornado (it's exactly what it sounds like) and death by spectacular causes (which I won't spoil for you).  As with most folk stories, it is sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking.

A while ago I found this BuzzFeed list (love BuzzFeed book lists!).  As I was looking through these awesome titles, I started to realize that Like Water for Chocolate could easily have been on this list.  It has some of the same components as the list's other books that have sparked someone's "feminist awakening."  Like Water for Chocolate is totally focused on the women of the de la Garza family.  Tita's Mama Elena has been head of the house since Tita's father died, and Mama Elena only has daughters, making their house and ranch and story very femme-centric.  All the main characters are women: women obeying other women, learning from other women, helping each other, fighting each other for supplementary, passive male love-interest characters.  While civil war Mexico was undoubtedly a patriarchal society, Like Water for Chocolate demonstrates how war has often pulled countries away from domestic patriarchy to literal matriarchy.

Like Water for Chocolate also explores female sexuality, highlighting the women's desires more than their male lovers.  Apart from this feminist-approved treatment of sexuality, this bittersweet tale boasts female characters that take charge of their own futures.  At first Tita tries to follow tradition even though it causes her pain, separating her from her beloved Pedro.  Eventually she throws tradition to the wind and goes after what she wants.  Tita's sister Gretrudis, who runs away from home to chase a handsome soldier after eating a delicious meal made by Tita that happened to be drenched in lust, becomes a general in the Mexican army, so it's not just domestic life that doesn't adhere strictly to traditional gender roles in Esquivel's tale.

Whether you're into feminist awakenings or not, you should definitely read Like Water for Chocolate, particularly if you're into any of the following: Mexican food, sexual tension, crazy mothers, sister rivalry, magical cooking powers, chicken tornadoes, ghosts, interesting deaths, or everlasting love.  And if none of that interests you, I'm not sure what type of friendship we could have.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree that this is a feminist text. Mama Elena, who truly subverts gender expectations, is consistently vilified. Further, she (along with EVERY other female in the novel) is unable to live as an independent woman. Once Pedro dies, Tita sees herself as having no reason to live. Essentially, she commits suicide to be with him. Why not have her move on and find fulfillment in herself instead of in a relationship? Gertrudis's rebelliousness happens entirely away from the ranch; no one sees how she rose through the ranks and succeeded in a male-dominated field. Furthermore, Rosaura is horrifically treated because she had the audacity to expect her husband to remain faithful to her and their marriage vows. Neither Tita nor Esperanza rebel: they both wait until the authority figures die. Chencha is only deemed "healed" after being raped when a man deems her acceptable and marries her. This seems the opposite of a feminist text, to me.