A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies, by Laura Esquivel
Okay, so I admit it. I bought the book because it had “chocolate” in the title, and I thought surely it would include nothing but fabulous, fantastical stories of lovers courting each other with chocolate, tempting each other, feeding each other … okay, you get the idea. So, from that perspective, the book was a dud. There was just one chocolate recipe, and it was for hot chocolate. That being said, if you walk away from this review right there you’ll miss the point of the book – and what a great book it is.
Like Water for Chocolate was originally written in Spanish and is based on Mexican mysticism. The story revolves around food and its emotional, erotic pull, something that all of us chocolate lovers understand completely. Like water chocolate is a story of love, desire, passion, disappointment, betrayal, family intrigue and jealousies … all wrapped around the unifying theme of food. The book is told in twelve chapters, one for each month, and starts off with a recipe that ties into the tale told within the chapter. It is an enchanting way to bring the story’s magic together with the act of eating, or more accurately, consuming and being consumed.
The story itself tells of Tita, the youngest child of Elena – she is born in the kitchen and is a magical cook who falls in love with a young man named Pedro. But because she is the youngest daughter it is her fate to remain unmarried at home, caring for her mother until she dies. Pedro is forced to marry Tita’s eldest sister, and the story tracks from that unfortunate (and almost Biblical) situation; as Tita cooks throughout the book, her passions and emotions impact the food that she feeds everybody, and this in turn colors their behaviors.
The book is deep and dark, and completely compelling. As for the title, that one word that pulled me in in the first place? Tita is described as being “like water for chocolate” – “como agua para chocolat” in the book’s original language – and while I had anticipated this as any good chocolate cook would, thinking that she made things difficult, tough, literally making the situation seize up as melted chocolate does when water hits it, it actually refers here to how boiling hot with desire and passion Tita is – the temperature that water needs to be in order to melt chocolate. If you’re looking for a book about chocolate kisses, this one isn’t it – but if you’re looking for a fabulous, delicious read that is as enticing as the best chocolate dessert, this one should satiate your desires.