Each chapter of screenwriter Esquivel's utterly charming interpretation of life in turn-of-the-century Mexico begins with a recipe—not surprisingly, since so much of the action of this exquisite first novel (a bestseller in Mexico) centers around the kitchen, the heart and soul of a traditional Mexican family. The youngest daughter of a well-born rancher, Tita has always known her destiny: to remain single and care for her aging mother. When she falls in love, her mother quickly scotches the liaison and tyrannically dictates that Tita's sister Rosaura must marry the luckless suitor, Pedro, in her place. But Tita has one weapon left—her cooking. Esquivel mischievously appropriates the techniques of magical realism to make Tita's contact with food sensual, instinctual and often explosive. Forced to make the cake for her sister's wedding, Tita pours her emotions into the task; each guest who samples a piece bursts into tears. Esquivel does a splendid job of describing the frustration, love and hope expressed through the most domestic and feminine of arts, family cooking, suggesting by implication the limited options available to Mexican women of this period. Tita's unrequited love for Pedro survives the Mexican Revolution the births of Rosaura and Pedro's children, even a proposal of marriage from an eligible doctor. In a poignant conclusion, Tita manages to break the bonds of tradition, if not for herself, then for future generations.
Take one part Whitney Otto's How To Make an American Quilt (1991), add a smidgen of magical realism a la Garcia Marquez, follow up with several quixotic characters, garnish with love, and you'll have Like Water for Chocolate , a thoroughly enjoyable and quirky first novel by Mexican screenwriter Esquivel. Main character Tita is the youngest of three daughters born to Mama Elena, virago extraordinaire and owner of the de la Garza ranch. Tita falls in love with Pedro, but Mama Elena will not allow them to marry, since family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter remain at home to care for her mother. Instead, Mama Elena orchestrates the marriage of Pedro and her eldest daughter Rosaura and forces Tita to prepare the wedding dinner. What ensues is a poignant, funny story of love, life, and food which proves that all three are entwined and interdependent. Recommended for most collections. —Peggie Partello, Keene State Coll., N.H.
A first novel ("the number one bestseller in Mexico in 1990")—liberally sprinkled with recipes and homemade remedies—from screenwriter Esquivel. Set in turn-of-the-century Mexico, it tells the romantic tale of Tita De La Garza, the youngest of Mama Elena's three daughters, whose fate, dictated by family tradition, is to remain single so that she can take care of her mother in her old age. Tita has grown up under the tutelage of the spinster cook Nacha and has learned all the family recipes and remedies. When Pedro, Tita's admirer, asks for Tita's hand in marriage, her mother refuses permission, offering instead Tita's older sister, Rosaura. Pedro accepts, thinking it will be a way to stay close to his one true love. But Tita doesn't know his thinking and, crushed by what she sees as betrayal, she must make the wedding cake. Crying as she bakes, her tears mingle with the ingredients and unleash a wave of longing in everyone who eats a piece. It is just the beginning of the realization that Tita has special talents, both in the kitchen and beyond. As we witness the nurturing Tita's struggle to be true both to family tradition and to her own heart, we are steeped in elaborate recipes for dishes such as turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds or quail with rose petals, in medicinal concoctions for ailments such as bad breath and gas, and in instructions on how to make ink or matches. Eventually, Tita must choose between marrying a loving, devoted doctor or saving herself for Pedro, her first true love. Her choice is revealed in a surprise last chapter. Playful in its flirtation with magical realism and engaging in its folkloric earthiness but, nonetheless, light, romantic fare.
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