Tita de la Garza lives a life of self-sacrifice in revolutionary Mexico at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is power, love, and life in food, and this novel explores the life force of food and the women who nourish us by starving themselves of their own desires in order to do so.
Food takes on mystical qualities, and Laura Esquivel structures her story into 12 monthly chapters, each centered around a recipe with exotic ingredients that is central to the plot of the chapter: Christmas rolls; wedding cakes; quail in rose petal sauce; turkey sauce; chorizo (sausage); matches; ox tail soup; Champandongo; chocolate; cream fritters; beans; and chiles in walnut sauce.
Tita has a sixth sense about food, and, just as a poet plays with words, she juggles ingredients and quantities while still remaining faithful to the culinary secrets from ancient times.
Tradition decrees that Tita, the youngest daughter, must serve her mother, Mama Elena. Denied love, Tita swallows her sorrow and flavors meals with her tears. How does a cook’s mood affect her food?
Each of us is born with box of matches inside us, but we can’t strike them all at once or by ourselves:
You must take care to light the matches one at a time. If a powerful emotion should ignite them all at once, they would produce a splendor so dazzling that it would illuminate far beyond what we can normally see; and then a brilliant tunnel would appear before our eyes, revealing the path we forgot the moment we were born, and summoning us to regain the divine origins we had lost. The soul ever longs to return to the place from which it came, leaving the body lifeless.(117)
Tita, like the matches, awaits kindling and illumination. Courage and persistence are needed for liberation and self-determination, and few people are prepared to pay the cost.
The title, “Like Water for Chocolate,” conveys the idea that water is better than milk for hot chocolate but must be brought to the brink of boiling several times. Care must be taken with quality chocolate, which can easily become bitter or scorched. In what way is Tita water for chocolate? Will Tita ever find freedom? Love?Conclusion
This is a four-star book to which I awarded five stars, as I do to all good books that change me in some way. Very often, we consume without appreciation for the love, the skill, and the hard work expended on our behalf. I suppose every family has these women with servant-hearts, who toil without glory or even recognition– who sacrifice for others and defer their own dreams. History celebrates the conquerors, so I was grateful to author Laura Esquivel for forcing me to acknowledge this more important realm of the domestic hearth and to honor the women of this world who possess skills, wisdom, and love greater than my own.
June 3, 2012