Pages: 256 Copyright:1989
Disclaimer: I read this book in the original Spanish for a class, and I thought it would be fun to review; so keep in mind that technically, this is a review of the Spanish version of the book, and I can’t necessarily vouch for your experience if you read it in English. But I imagine it’s still good. Technically it isn’t YA, but as I say on the About page, I’m the YA here. And I do what I want. Muahaha.
Like Water for Chocolate, set in Mexico during the revolutionary war of the early 1900’s, is like a Mexican soap opera with a splash of magic realism. Tita de la Garza has grown up in the kitchen with her family’s cook, Nacha; it’s her only escape from her mother, the dominating matriarch of their family ranch. Mama Elena has always been heartless to Tita, but she goes a step further when she offers her sister’s hand in marriage to Pedro, the man she ardently loves, as a family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must serve her mother all her life. Pedro accepts for the sole purpose of an excuse to keep seeing Tita. The drama continues. Meanwhile, Tita grows more and more masterful as a cook, and at every turn her food reflects and affects her life and the lives around her in strange and magical ways.
I thought this was a really beautiful book. It had a kind of simplicity to it, very sincere. But at the same time, it was very poetic. The plot was very gripping and full of twists. And the romance! It was passionate, brooding, and mega-dramatic, but not so overblown that it was outright silly. If you’re a hopeless starry-eyed romantic, which I am, it will be just right.
One of the main themes of Like Water for Chocolate is described by a metaphor a character relates to Tita: everybody is born with a box of matches inside them, and they have to find the things in life that light those matches, or else the matches will get damp and useless and the soul will starve. In other words, passion is vital to life. This is something I very much agree with. Other major themes are power struggles between women, and varying forms of femininity. Mama Elena and Tita represent two sides of the same coin: both are strong, obstinate, and self-sufficient, but Mama Elena is cold to the bone, while Tita is chock-full of heat and emotion. Comparisons between Tita, Tita’s prim, traditional oldest sister, Rosaura, and her free-wheeling middle sister, Gertrudis, are yet another possible basis for discussion.
All of the characters had really lovely depth to them. Tita, being the main character and all, was especially well done. In many ways, such as her cooking, she is a natural-born nurturer, and in others, she is very survival-minded and good at recognizing and championing her own needs. An important thread of the book is Tita’s evolution in terms of slowly building her conviction that she deserves to have the life she wants for herself, and finding the strength to stand up to people and get it.
Every chapter starts with a recipe. The way that food is woven into the story was unique and very memorable, and I thought it was really well integrated.
Did I mention that the romance was downright smoldering? I’m mentioning it again.
Lyrical Award for pretty writing. Though isn’t Spanish always pretty?
Squee! Tita and Pedro, climb aboard the hot tamale train! WOO WOOO! (That’s a So You Think You Can Dance reference, but I think the sentiment is universal)
Illuminator Award– there are just so many layers of interesting themes.
This book is kind of a classic. Go read it. And if you know Spanish, I recommend reading it in Spanish!