Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel)

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies
Laura Esquivel, 1989 (Eng. trans., 1992)
Knopf Doubleday
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385420174

Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.

The classic love story takes place on the De la Garza ranch, as the tyrannical owner, Mama Elena, chops onions at the kitchen table in her final days of pregnancy. While still in her mother's womb, her daughter to be weeps so violently she causes an early labor, and little Tita slips out amid the spices and fixings for noodle soup.

This early encounter with food soon becomes a way of life, and Tita grows up to be a master chef. She shares special points of her favorite preparations with listeners throughout the story. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 30, 1950
Awards—ABBY Award by American Booksellers
   Association; 11 Ariel Awards by the Mexican
   Academy of Motion Pictures (for the film)
Currently—lives in Mexico

Laura Esquivel is a Mexican author making a noted contribution to Latin-American literature. She was born the third of four children of Julio Cesar Esquivel, a telegraph operator, and Josefa Valdes.

First novel
In her first novel Like Water for Chocolate (1989), Esquivel uses magical realism to combine the ordinary and the supernatural, similar to Isabel Allende. The novel, taking place during the revolution in early twentieth century Mexico, shows the importance of the kitchen in Esquivel's life. The book is divided into twelve sections, named after the months of the year, each section beginning with a Mexican recipe. The chapters outline the preparation of the dish and ties it to an event in the protagonist's life.

Esquivel believes that the kitchen is the most important part of the house and characterizes it as a source of knowledge and understanding that brings pleasure. The "title refers to a colloquial phrase used by the Spanish that means an extremity of feeling. It refers to a boiling point in terms of anger, passion and sexuality." The idea for the book came to Esquivel "while she was cooking the recipes of her mother and grandmother." Reportedly, Esquivel ...

used an episode from her own family to write her book. She had a great-aunt named Tita, who was forbidden to wed. Tita never did anything but care for her own mother. Soon after her mother died, so did Tita.

Like Water for Chocolate was developed into a film in 1994, becoming one of the largest grossing foreign films ever released in the US. Esquivel earned 11 Ariel Awards from the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures.

Other writings
Esquivel's second novel, The Law of Love (1996), takes place in the twenty-third century Mexico City and combines romance and science fiction. Reportedly, "the theme of romantic love, particularly love thwarted, appears repeatedly throughout her novels, as does the setting in Mexico."

Between Two Fires (2000) featured essays on life, love, and food. Her 2006 novel, Malinche, "explores the life of a near mythic figure in Mexican history—the woman who served as Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez's interpreter and mistress" as he fought to overthrow the Aztecs.

Personal life
Esquivel was once married to actor and director Alfonso Arau.  She currently lives in Mexico City. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
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.
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:• How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Like Water for Chocolate:

1. Talk about the three De La Garza sisters—Gertudis, Rosaura, and Tita. How do they differ from one another?

2. Do you consider Tita a strong or weak female heroine? Does she change by the end of the novel? If so, how? Or if not, why?

3. Describe the matriarch of the family, Mama Elena. Does the revelation later in the book about her own history alter your opinion of her?

4. What about Nacha? Both she and Mama Elena represent maternal figures for Tita. How do their maternal qualities differ?

5. What role does tradition play in this book? Is it always a negative role, as exemplified by Mama Elena? What might the author be suggesting about family or cultural customs in general?

6. Discuss the magical properties of food and cooking in this book. In what way is food a central metaphor in the novel—what does it represent? How does Tita use food—as a weapon? Or does she use it for solace, seduction, or healing? Is her use of it unwitting or purposeful? How does food affect the actions of various characters?

7. What does the title of the book refer to—and what is its thematic significance? How does the title relate to the internal passions of characters?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: Discuss the images of heat and fire (as a symbol of desire) found throughout the novel. How does heat affect different characters? Are heat and fire sources of strength...or destruction?

9. Different characters are plagued with illnesses in Like Water for Chocolate. What is the significance—psychological or symbolic or spiritual—of those physical ailments?

10. What role do spirits (ghosts) play in the novel?

11. Talk about what happens when Tita finally stands up to her mother's ghost.

12. Compare the two male figures—Pedro and John Brown. What is each of the men's relationship with Tita? Why does she make the choice she does?

13. What do Tita's and Pedro's deaths suggest about love? About their love in particular?

14. What is the significance of the narrator's identity. What does it mean that she is the one who tells the story?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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