Monday, February 29, 2016

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Title: Life Water for Chocolate
Author: Laura Esquivel
Publisher: 7th Dimension Entertainment Co (1989)
English Translation: Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen (Doubleday)

It's only coincidence that our second title of the year (and the next one coming) are translations but I'm enjoying the very international flair with which Michael and I are starting the year. There's more of that to come, we're spanning the globe throughout the year, though, interestingly, we've yet to hit on a book from my country of residence. But I can't get sidetracked, it's too early to think of next year. :)

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Like Water for Chocolate
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Tita discovers young that she has a knack for cooking and a limiting destiny. When first love comes to call she discovers a tradition in her family of the youngest daughter staying home and unmarried to care for Mom until the day she dies. Her reaction to this unfairness spills over into her cooking which starts a lifetime of hidden surprises in some of her meals (told, of course, "in monthly installments with recipes, romances and home remedies").

For one thing, she wanted to know who started this family tradition. It would be nice if she could let that genius know about one little flaw in this perfect plan for taking care of women in their old age. If Tita couldn't marry and have children, who would take care of her when she got old?

And thus begins our narrator's delightful sense of playfulness as regards the absurdities, hypocrisies, and contradictions of life. I quite adored Tita but I think the structure and tone of the novel were a close second if I had to list my favorite thing about the book. The recipes and remedies are perfectly entwined with the story; always including enough reality to tempt you to try them and enough unreality to make sure you proceed with caution (if at all). 

The book chapters are set up in months but the story is far from linear. Information from the past, present, and future is sometimes jumbled together in the telling of one particular story and it's wonderfully done. Rather than being confusing it actually feels like the backbone of the very even and snappy pacing. I was also super relieved that, despite getting info that clearly referred to the future, I wasn't getting all the details and so many characters cropped up again. I'm mainly thinking of Gertrudis here. The cast of characters is so intriguing and fun and she was a favorite. I was super bummed when it looked like she was lost to the family forever. Not so! She just had some adventuring to do.

So it's playful with pacing that pulls you along quickly enough that you almost don't notice how shitty so many of the things that are happening are. There's quite a bit of family drama playing itself out over the years (like, whoa, Mama Elena and Pedro!) and also what seems to be a civil war in progress (I wish my Mexican history was better. Were these true events being depicted? Partially true? I need to do some googling.) The many moments of joy are interspersed with hellish events but seen through the narrator's eyes it never seems as horrible as it really is. 

Speaking of, Mama Elena was pretty horrible (look what she did to Tita!) but I loved that her character wasn't just an over-bearing, screamy, controlling parent. She's written in such a way that it's easy to imagine her being your best friend because you were never in the path of her wrath. In the right circumstances (and by right I mean controlled and approved by her) she'd be loyal, supportive and faithful in friendship.

But (there's always a but isn't there?) I actually didn't end up liking this book as much as it might seem I did. There's a lot about it that's so wonderful but at the end of the day I didn't AT ALL ship Tita/Pedro and so really had a hard time with their love (if you can call it that) being the driving force of the book's plot. I mean, this asshole married her sister (not Gertrudis obv) amongst many other things that really irked me. I really dug Tita so how am I supposed to believe Pedro is good for her? Spoiler alert: he's not! So there I am constantly wanting to shake Tita for not realizing he's terrible and definitely not having any interest in what is arguably one of the most important aspects of the book. Blech, Pedro!

So, come for Tita, Gertrudis, the writing style, the recipes, not to mention Chencha and rebels being dispatched at gun point, and stay despite Pedro because otherwise it's a lot of fun. 

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
The Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Nature is Cool!

Kudos to this particularly well lived albatross!


My favorite game of gender swap in scientists' bios form: click here.

h/t Beth