Laura Esquivel,
Like Water for Chocolate
(Doubleday, 1992)

I'm a greedy little bugger, really. So when novels come with "extras," I jump for joy. Laura Esquivel's first novel, Like Water for Chocolate, is one such novel: the cover blurb describes it as "a novel in monthly installments with recipes, romances, and home remedies."

Tita was born and raised in the kitchen; many of her joys and sadnesses revolve around food. As the youngest of three daughters, Tita is dismayed that her love for Pedro must be denied so that she can continue a family tradition: as the youngest daughter, she must take care of her mother until she dies. Naturally, she seeks the refuge of the kitchen, immersing herself in preparing age-old recipes for family meals and celebrations.

Each chapter opens with a recipe, usually for a dish that figures into the events of the chapter. The preparation of each dish sparks a type of "kitchen magic" any time Tita is present. As a result, many of the dishes have unexpected results on the members of the family, thus setting into motions events which will test Tita's love and her devotion to her family and Pedro.

Esquivel's novel is a fresh combination of love, food and Mexican tradition -- prepared and served from a delightfully rich point-of-view. The translation by Carol and Thomas Christensen is excellent (as far as my mediocre Spanish can tell); the subtle nuances of Mexican oral storytelling are kept intact, and the writing simmers with flavor.

Like Water for Chocolate is a spicy little novel, steeped in the history and traditions of Mexican women. I highly recommend both the novel and the screenplay.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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