Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Like Water for Chocolate

I read this book by Laura Esquivel a few days ago called Like Water for Chocolate- A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies. The novel has an interesting format, part magic reality and part recipe book.

The novel is divided into 12 chapters, named after each month of the year - starting from January and ending at December. Each chapter begins with a traditional Mexican recipe - sometimes complex and sometimes simple but always relevant to the events which follow in each chapter.

The story is woven around Tita, the third and youngest daughter of a domineering mother. The story is based during the Mexican Revolution and it has a deep impact on the characters in the story. Tita is raised as a sort of kitchen goddess by Nacha the cook at the Di la Garza Ranch. The taste and flavour of food cooked in her kitchen, change according to her moods and fancies. She can whip up intricate recipes and innovate complex dishes, skills which her sisters lack. While it is a Cinderella story to some extent, Tita does not really get her prince. Her tyrannical mother, Mama Elena, insists that she remain unmarried to care for her in her old age. Pedro, the man Tita loves, secretly comes up with a plan to marry Tita's eldest sister Rosaura so that he can stay near her.

While Mama Elena keeps a sharp eye on Tita and Pedro, the lovers find a way to communicate through food. Each dish that she prepares with love and longing for Pedro successfully transmits her feelings to him. While Mama Elena and Rosaura remain impervious to the magical food, Tita's other sister Gertrudis is driven to a wild lust. She runs away from home with a Revolutionary!

In the meantime, Rosaura has given birth to a son called Roberto. Tita cares for the child as her own. Mama Elena suspects that Tita and Pedro might be meeting behind her back. She sends Pedro and Rosaura away to San Antonio. The child dies and Tita is heartbroken. She mourns alone in a dovecote from where she is rescued by a sympathetic doctor called John Brown.

Dr. Brown takes Tita away to his own house and nurses her back to health. Tita is revived by the spirit of Dr. Brown's Indian grandmother who passes on some of her native wisdom and healing magic to her. Mama Elena passes away in the meantime and Pedro and Rosaura return to the ranch. Pedro is driven to jealousy by the intimacies that Tita seems to share with Dr. Brown. He and Rosaura soon have another child called Esperanza.

Dr. Brown and Tita plan to marry but the marriage is foiled by Pedro's jealous rage. He tries to seduce Tita so that she refuses Dr. Brown's proposal. Eventually, Tita realises that she is still in love with Pedro and that she cannot abuse Dr. Brown's trust. In the meantime, the seeds of romance are sown when Dr. Brown's son, Alex falls in love with Esperanza.

However, tyranny lives on when Rosaura decides that Esperanza would never marry and continue to serve her mother in her old age. Tita is enraged that Esperanza should share a fate like hers. Both Pedro and Tita unite and plan for a better future for Esperanza.

Finally, Rosaura passes away in a mysterious illness caused by jealousy and ill-will. Gertrudis, the middle sister returns as a triumphant and glamourous general of the Mexican revolutionaries. She brings in a host of new elements to the story.

The final chapter begins with arrangements for a wedding and we find that Alex and Esperanza are about to be married. Tita's special marriage dishes kindles a frenzy of love making and passion in all the wedding guests. Pedro and she finally unite, though in the end they both die out of their passions. The ranch is burnt down in the fire that follows and all that survives is Tita's magical cookbook.

The story is also known as Como Agua Para Chocolate. It's a common Spanish phrase originating from the Latin American practice of making hot chocolate by boiling chunks of milk chocolate in water. It is also a sexual innuendo for describing a state of passion.