Like Water for Chocolate

This is a Favorites Series post by guest blogger Lindsay Gressard.

Lindsay bio pic

This is a picture of Christi and me posing as each other. I think we both nailed it, but the A1 photo bomb takes the cake.

Hi peeps. If you don’t already know me, I’m Christi’s stepsister, Lindsay.  I got my name from Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman. I don’t share her superhuman strength, but I do have superhuman love for Dairy Queen blizzards, Sweaters (capitalized), and orange cats. Superhuman hates include overhead lights, chalk, and opossums that terrorize orange cats.

 

Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel
© 1989

As I make my first venture into the world of blogging, I must admit I’m a little terrified. I don’t know the first thing about blogging and I’m fearful that this may end up in the same category as grandma facebook posts. You know what I’m talking about. You post a random selfie from the club one night and two months later, you get a comment on the photo that says something like, “HI SWEETHEART, WHEN YOU VISIT NEXT WEEK DO YOU WANT POT ROAST OR CHICKEN POT PIE. LOVE GRANDMA”  (in all caps, of course). It’s almost endearing, but more so awkward and uncomfortable. I’m aiming for just above that.

Adding to my fear, I had a slight crisis with the favorite book I chose to review, Like Water for Chocolate. But, more on the crisis later. Let’s start with the book.

Like water for chocolate - CoverFor those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Like Water for Chocolate (or Como Agua para Chocolate, as it was originally titled) was published in 1989 by first-time Mexican author Laura Esquivel. It was a number one bestseller in Mexico and has since been translated into a slew of languages.

The book follows the story of Tita de la Garza, the youngest of three daughters to the tyrannical and generally unpleasant widow Mama Elena. As mandated by Mexican tradition, Tita’s lot in life as the youngest daughter in the family is to remain unmarried and care for Mama Elena until death do them part.

As misfortune would have it though, Tita meets her neighbor Pedro at the age of 15 and the two instantly fall in love.  Now, while I don’t condone marrying anyone at 15 (or even 16, ESPECIALLY if it’s to this guy), what Mama Elena does to make sure Tita and Pedro never get married is pretty effed up (you’ll have to read to find out).

The rest of the story chronicles Tita as she uses her passion and innate talent for cooking to secretly express her heartache and desire for Pedro through food.

This is where the book shines.

All of the chapters begin with recipes that are woven throughout the narrative to create a metaphor for Tita’s emotions. Esquivel describes the recipes in excruciatingly delicious detail. If you don’t already know the beauty of true Mexican cuisine, you are in for a culturally eye-opening treat. Chabela Wedding Cake, Ox-Tail Soup, and my personal favorite—Chiles in Walnut Sauce. Good grief.

Another marvel of the book is Esquivel’s knack for imagery. She writes in a style that is strikingly raw and simple, yet she is able to construct a mysterious, almost magical setting for the story. If you’ve been to Mexico (real Mexico, not this Mexico), you know it deserves no less. When describing Tita’s birth, for example, she explains, “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.”  When the tears finally dried, “there was enough salt to fill a ten-pound sack.”  Marvelous.

Soooo… sounds great, right? But what about that crisis I mentioned earlier?

Well, before I wrote the review, I thought it would be a good idea to re-read sections of the book. After all, I probably read it 8 to 9 years ago. Without fail, I fell in love all over again with the writing style, the food…

But then, something hit me while I was reading. This is not my favorite book anymore.

Nuclear-bomb-explosion

Bear in mind, I figured this out literally two days before the post was due. There was no time to find another potential favorite book, read it, AND write about it. So after a consult with Christi, I decided to write about it anyways. Because, frankly, there’s a lesson to be had.

When I read Like Water for Chocolate for the first time, I had just started reading books again. Sadly, I had taken a hiatus from reading anything but Seventeen magazine for over a decade.  How else could I learn which bathing suits look best on a pear shape?

But since then, I have thankfully ventured back into the world of book-reading. And I have discovered that the worth of a good book can go far beyond a few hours of entertainment. More so than movies or magazines, books allow you to totally and completely immerse yourself in the perspective of another for a while. The result, for me, has often been whole new insights into pieces of my own life–relationships, religion, loss…

While Like Water for Chocolate is a beautifully, imaginatively written book, at the end of the day, it’s not much more to me than a love story. And I guess that’s no longer enough to be the best.

So sure, this revelation made for a strange “favorite book” post.  But it also helped me to recognize how grateful I am for all the stories that have shaped how I now see the world… and for all those I have yet to read.  I’ll probably start here, in case you’re curious.

Book rating: 4/5

It may not alter the course of your life, but I still think it’s a beautiful piece of literature.  And the verbal food porn alone is worth the read.

Life lesson rating: 5/5

No, I’m not really rating my life lessons. I just wanted to see if I could make you yark.

Movie alert!  If you want to forgo the whole reading experience all together—which you shouldn’t after what I just said about reading durn books, peeps–there is a movie version.

Like water for chocolate - Movie poster

It’s not a good sign when the movie poster looks like a bad romance novel with the font from Cool Runnings.

From what I remember, the movie is only okay.  The surrealism and magic of the book is totally lost on the big screen.  Example:  The “great tide of tears” at Tita’s birth looks more like the special effects guy hid a bucket of water behind Mama Elena and tipped it over on cue. Eww.

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2 thoughts on “Like Water for Chocolate

  1. You’ve made me dig out my book and read it all over again to find out why I loved it so much. I concur with you on all points. It’s still a good read, but as a “mature” reader, now I find myself wanting more!

    • Glad the post gave you an excuse to read the book again–she’s a good one! Although it is sad when we grow out of our old faves–like saying goodbye to my extra-flared, light wash jeans. Thanks for reading the blog!

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