Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

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On my flight back to Spain now and I’ve just finished this book. The whole way through I’ve had a niggling feeling that I’ve read this book before and I think I have, though I couldn’t really remember it. That says something.

I enjoy magic realism as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t count this as a fantastic example. Maybe most of it is to do with the book itself but I think part of it is also due to reality seeping in after a journey home. I had an amazing time at home, but also I was reminded of a lot of problems that get pushed to the back of my mind when in Spain.

When people comment how lucky we are to be living in Spain I always reply that we still live a normal life, go to work, have the same everyday problems as anybody else. But it’s not quite true. You are removed from your family and friends from home and with that you don’t always get told what is going on. A few things happening over the last few days have reminded me that many of what I perceive as being problems of living where I’m living should really just be classed as inconveniences. So maybe if you do want to avoid dealing with family and their issues you should move to the Costa del Sol and avoid the phonecalls.

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However to me it’s just not life. My main complaint is loneliness. The fewer friends and family you have around, the fewer problems. And also the fewer friends and family. I’m sure when I am home and deep into ‘real life’ I will often long for an escape to the blue skies and the peace. But despite my awkwardness and my lack of social skills I am a social creature and I need that community and despite some inroads I haven’t really developed it in the last 4 years.

So, mulling over the ‘real life’ to which I will shortly return, perhaps I wasn’t as accepting as I should have been of this story.

I thought Pedro was a whiny spineless lech who caved in too quickly when told he can’t marry Tita. Tita herself was too much of a saint and Rosaura too much of an ugly stepsister and Mami Elena too much of a witch. These are broad strokes and I can accept them in a fairytale (I’ve been reading plenty of those lately, post coming…), not in a novel. Pedro does not try very hard to convince Mami Elena. Tita is only 16, he could have waited. The plan of marrying one sister to be close to the other makes no sense, not even in a novel such as this.

At times I felt the passion of this great love between Pedro and Tita but I got bored of it. I thought John was one of the better written characters and would have much preferred the slowly building love which could be shown to outgrow the puppy love of Pedro and Tita. Thank God Tita at least tells Pedro, when he has the gall to suggest she shouldn’t marry anybody else: ‘next time you fall in love, don’t be such a coward!’

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And the ending, I’m sorry, but no. I’m reading this in the week of Gabriel Garcia Marques’s death. Maybe I was in a much better mood when reading 100 years of solitude (by the way Cartagena is the most beautiful city in South America, go visit it!) but this felt like a pale imitation.

The food as an emissory of love/sex I’ve read in other stories such as The Chef and the Food of Love. Those have been written since this and I suppose nobody has a monopoly on those themes, but the scene of the last wedding reminded me most of the orgy scene from ‘Perfume’.

Mami Elena is given some humanity after her death when letters are discovered between her and lover. Such a pity that this did not give her the empathy to understand Tita’s pain. It is as if she feels she was made do without this love so it should be the case for everybody else too.

When Rosaura’s daughter is born Tita decides to make peace, until she realises that Rosaura is also planning on forcing Esperanza to look after her into her old age.

The one thing that I think I ‘remember’ from a possible earlier reading is Gertrudis running away naked from the party. It’s just so strange that I remember so little else from before. Though it’s not surprising if I have read it really. I expected that on moving home the number of unread books I own would at least double, but most of the books on my Irish shelves have already been read. If I remember, of the books I’d read I only took a small number of precious ones. And I don’t see any reason why this would be among that number.

I am not denying that this wonderful passion may not exist between people such as Pedro and Tita, just that it would not survive such a long time unscathed. Resentment would creep in. No matter what the reason or how seemingly pure a love is I don’t think it can survive the marriage of one to another. Whatever remains is something different.

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3 thoughts on “Like Water for Chocolate

  1. I read this book a long time ago but I do remember enjoying it. I think there has been a film made of it since so maybe you saw the film and that’s why it seemed familiar! 🙂

  2. I’ve heard of this book, but never read it. I’ve been an expat for over 15 years and have gotten used to not having access to many or even any books in English or French. I read what I manage to find. I totally understand the feeling that you lose your family and friends when you move abroad. They disappear more with each passing year.

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