Like Water for Chocolate
by Laura Esquivel
Published by Doubleday
3 Out of 5 StarsOkay, so maybe more of a 3 1/2 star. I have a love/hate relationship with magical realism and, if anything, part of my disappoint with the novel comes from the fact that there's not as much "magic" as I had hoped for (I prefer Isabel Allende's House of the Sprits by comparison). However, I still enjoyed the novel as it was unique in its structure, and the conduit for the magical aspects of the novel--food--was beautifully rendered in the recipes and descriptions of the connection between food and culture, as well as food and memory.
Tita, the youngest daughter in her family, is doomed by tradition. She grows up knowing that she will never marry as it is her fate to take care of her tyrannical mother as she enters old age. Tita might have been able to resign herself to her destiny if it weren't for Pedro, the man with whom she falls passionately in love at first sight. Tita's mother, of course, forbids the marriage and instead does the unthinkable--offers Pedro her eldest daughter Rosaura's hand in marriage. Pedro, the effin' fool that he is (oh, that's my other complaint with the book; I did not cotton to Pedro, although, to be fair, he's not a very well-developed character and so his actions come across as moronic since his only driving impulse is to be with Tita), accepts because it is the only way he can be near Tita. Oh, yeah. You know that's a plan that's going to end in a fustercluck.
Tita is both elated to know that Pedro is only marrying her sister out of love for Tita and depressed by the fact that their love is to go unconsummated as long as her mother's eagle eye ensures that the two are kept apart. Unable to express her innermost desires, they instead surface in her famed cooking. Ordinary meals become an emotional feast as those who eat her food are consumed by Tita's suppressed passion, anger, and resentment.
The episodic structure of the novel is genius, separated month by month and beginning with the recipe around which the story will revolve.
The characters are somewhat one-dimensional, but given that the novel has a fairytale quality to it and reads more as myth than reality, I'm willing to forgive that. What ruined the entire novel for me was the ending. I don't want to ruin it for other readers, so I will simply say that I don't think Tita chose the right man and leave it at that.