I saw the movie “Like Water for Chocolate” years ago, so I knew the story before reading the book. Even so, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book.
The novel takes place in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. It is divided into 12 chapters, each representing a month, a recipe and a significant event in the life of Tita, the youngest daughter of Mama Elena De la Garza. Mama Elena is like a Disney villainess – hypocritical, sadistic, abusive and vain. According to tradition Tita cannot marry but must take care of Mama Elena. For generations no one questioned the tradition but then Tita meets Pedro, and he announces his intent to marry her.
Of course Mama Elena denies Pedro. Instead she offers her other daughter Rosaura, and Pedro accepts, if only to remain physically close to Tita. The rest of the novel rotates around the emotional love affair between Tita and Pedro, and their attempts to be together despite Rosaura, Pedro’s children, Mama Elena and the revolution that occasionally interrupts their lives.
But the thing that brings everyone in this novel together and ties all the stories together is food. The author uses the pleasures of food, meal preparation and eating a meal as metaphors for love and life and passion. Tita was literally born in the kitchen so she has always been “wrapped up in the delights of food.” She finds comfort, inspiration, refuge and confidence in the kitchen. And through her cooking she is able to affect her family, her surroundings and her fate. Rosaura lacks Tita’s passion for cooking; her life and her relationship with Pedro is bland and unappealing.
With Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel has created a unique story that is appealing on many levels. It is a love story, a fairy tale and a cookbook. The relationship between Pedro and Tita is sad and sincere and intense. The descriptions of the food and the meals are lush and sensual. And the magical elements of the story – the potions and home remedies and old wives’ tales – add to the story’s appeal.