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Like Water for Chocolate
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Previous Reads: Around the World > Mexico: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 2 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our Read Around the World book for June is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - set in Mexico



Like Water for Chocolate
Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.
The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit - and recipes.
A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her, so that Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.

Laura Esquivel
Laura Esquivel is a Mexican novelist, screenwriter and a politician who serves in the Chamber of Deputies (2012-2018) for the Morena Party. Her first novel Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) became a bestseller in Mexico and the United States, and was later developed into an award-winning film.

Kristin will be leading the book discussion this month


message 2: by Carol (last edited Jun 03, 2018 12:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
I’m not going to be able to read-read this novel, but it remains one of my favorite books of all time. It’s probably been twenty plus years since I read it and I still recall how original and mesmerizing I found it.


Liesl | 512 comments Kristin wrote: "I am starting this one (again, for me, as it is a re-read). Has anyone else started it yet?"

I have started reading it. It is not very long so hopefully I will have time to finish it this week and join in the discussion.


Cendaquenta Just starting it, I've read the first chapter. Not quite sure what to think of it so far. The writing seems oddly simple and I feel like the reader is plunged right into the story too quickly.


message 5: by Rae (last edited Jun 07, 2018 06:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rae Sengele (raesengele) | 15 comments Kristin wrote: "Carol wrote: What do you (Carol and others) think about what Pedro said about love? Anything else stick out from the first chapter?"

First, my family was in absolute disarray last month and I didn't pick up a single book. I'm glad to say we've finally settled and I have time to read again. I was so ready to start back up that I checked out five books from the library before I actually stopped to think about whether or not I'll have time to finish them all before I have to return them. Oh, well.

Anyways, I started Like Water for Chocolate during dinner and I really enjoyed the first chapter. I love the fact that Esquivel dives face first into the food imagery right from the get go! It reminds me of Chocolat in a way.

Kristin, you didn't waste time getting to the tough questions, did you! (view spoiler)


Isabelle (iamaya) | 105 comments Kristin wrote: "Liesl wrote: "Kristin wrote: "I am starting this one (again, for me, as it is a re-read). Has anyone else started it yet?"

I have started reading it. It is not very long so hopefully I will have t..."


I've just read this book a while ago and like many, I loved the magical realism and personally, the fact that the writing is simple was quite appealing as the story is not that simple, and nor are the recipes. Living in Central America, I'm quite familiar with all the cooking ingredients and recipes present in here, as they all exist but unfortunately, too time-consuming to make. Of course, it is not a recipe book and it should not be at the heart of the discussion here. One interesting fact nobody has mentioned though is its title. I've read the book in English and like many, I presume, I related its title to the recipes it contains since it is a literal translation from Spanish. But my son who has read it in his Spanish class told me that it had a specific meaning. In Spanish "Como agua para chocolate" is an idiom used in Mexico referring to a person getting angry very easily because in Mexico hot chocolate is made with boiling water and not with milk. And feelings are definitely boiling in this book. So I thought it was an interesting fact to share with everybody.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Isabelle wrote: "Kristin wrote: "Liesl wrote: "Kristin wrote: "I am starting this one (again, for me, as it is a re-read). Has anyone else started it yet?"

I have started reading it. It is not very long so hopeful..."


Isabel, I missed this comment or would have responded sooner. Thank you!! I always wondered about the title and had no idea what it meant before you informed us.


message 8: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 2 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "I am starting this one (again, for me, as it is a re-read). Has anyone else started it yet?"

Just finished my RL book group read so picking this up now. Have avoided reading discussion so far to keep myself spoiler free but will join in soon!


message 9: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Jun 22, 2018 12:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
So, I've now finished it and I...did not like it very much. Rating it 2.5 stars. More than 'ok' but I wouldn't say I actually 'liked' it.

To the Question!

What do you think about what Pedro said about love? Anything else stick out from the first chapter?

This is when I knew for sure that I would not like Pedro at all. I don't like insta-love plots and I don't like pushy men who don't take no for an answer. Love at first sight is not a real thing and healthy love is always conditional (there should always always be some lines that you can't accept someone crossing). I do think that love is something there either is or there isn't in that you can't make yourself fall in love someone who you don't - but love requires actually knowing the person and love is not automatically forever.

This interaction is pretty much the first time he's ever spoken to her. It's gross, possesive and creepy.

So yeah, for me the story never really moved past this set up. It told me Pedro loved Tita, it told me Tita loved Pedro, but I never saw any evidence of them actually caring for each other or knowing anything about each other, as opposed to just being horny. And the book never bothered to give Pedro any interesting traits to make you understand why Tita would love him either, he's a selfish dickhead with no care at all for anyone's feelings but his own. Also (view spoiler)

I know the simplistic love at first sight and burning passion is part of the magical realism genre but without the character interaction or fleshed out characterisation to back it up it's just two poorly sketched horny people being horny. And that's boring.


Cendaquenta I unfortunately DNFed this after only a couple of chapters - didn't read it for weeks and had zero interest in resuming. Might start over from the beginning another time, but on this occasion it really wasn't for me.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
I have a slightly different question I've pondered about Laura Esquivel (not that she's alone in this challenge) for some time. I wonder what it's like to write a book that becomes as big as Like Water for Chocolate, in sales, readership, influence, and never hit paydirt again. To be in the one-hit wonder category of literature. I realize that she is an educator by training, and no doubt did well financially, in part because she was the screenwriter for the movie adaptation. Still, it must be difficult.


message 12: by Carol (last edited Jun 25, 2018 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
On a different topic that I don't think we tackled upthread, I found a great essay by undergrad, Toyin Ola, today about LWFC and its subversive feminism. (Food Preparation as a Mode of Feminist Expression). I admit that, notwithstanding my knowledge of female boom and post-boom authors, I never put Esquivel in either camp, and didn't think of LWFC as anything other than popular fiction. Bad on me.

Here's an excerpt, for those who don't want to click through:

Given that the kitchen is the stereotypical ideal place for a “proper” woman, it is curious that Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which is mainly set in the De la Garza kitchen and primarily models its structure after a cookbook, is sometimes considered a feminist novel. Writing after the boom of Spanish and Latin American literature in the 1960s and 1970s, Esquivel is often classified as a post-boom or boom femenino author. Unlike the boom narratives, which are often characterized by their “complex and inaccessible forms of writing” and “philosophizing,” post-boom authors “[gravitate] towards plot-centredness and chronological structure” in order to “provide greater accessibility than did the typical boom novel” (Finnegan 2). This lighter writing style has caused many “high-brow critics and the general reader alike” to dismiss Esquivel’s novel as cheap and commercialist (Finnegan 4). However, this is not the case. Esquivel has cleverly disguised her subversive message in what is typically thought of as the center of the female “cult of domesticity”: the kitchen. By centering the plot on a recognizably female space, Esquivel “[makes] the feminist discourse sensitive to a demographically diverse feminist readership while continuing to modify patriarchal systems” (Schneider 2). Therefore, by examining how the De la Garza women use the kitchen, as well as their relationships with food, it becomes clear that Esquivel’s kitchen-centered plot promotes a more accessible type of feminism in which cooking and use of the kitchen is not representative of passive femininity but a way to subvert female social norms.

Contrary to traditional beliefs about a woman’s place in the kitchen, Tita’s presence in the kitchen does not represent passive submission—her culinary creations literally cause action. ...


http://www.english.umd.edu/psr/4198

Thoughts?


Laurie | 11 comments Carol wrote: "I have a slightly different question I've pondered about Laura Esquivel (not that she's alone in this challenge) for some time. I wonder what it's like to write a book that becomes as big as Like W..."

It is so hard to have a successful novel in one's own country much less internationally as this one has been. Hopefully she sees that success as a crowning achievement that doesn't need to be matched. She is in good company with her one hit, but she is still writing so maybe she will write another. I read that LWFC was not well received critically in Mexico when it came out, but the critics embraced it after it became so popular elsewhere. Kind of the mentality that everyone loves a winner.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2315 comments Mod
Laurie wrote: "Carol wrote: "I have a slightly different question I've pondered about Laura Esquivel (not that she's alone in this challenge) for some time. I wonder what it's like to write a book that becomes as..."

Laurie, that’s really interesting about the critical reception she initially received in Mexico. Yes, don’t we all?


Liesl | 512 comments Carol wrote: "Isabelle wrote: "Kristin wrote: "Liesl wrote: "Kristin wrote: "I am starting this one (again, for me, as it is a re-read). Has anyone else started it yet?"

I have started reading it. It is not ver..."


I think understanding this idiom is really important to understanding the work itself. To me, the magical/ fantastic moments in the story result from Tita's anger or passionate response to things that have taken place. They become symbolic of the impact that emotion has upon the actions or decisions of people, and how those actions/decision have consequences for all the people around you.


Liesl | 512 comments Kristin wrote: "Isabelle wrote: "I've just read this book a while ago and like many, I loved the magical realism and personally, the fact that the writing is simple was quite appealing as the story is not that sim..."

Kristin as I was reading this I kept thinking about the way that Jane Austen illustrated the hypocrisies of the Aristocratic inheritance system in her novels. So I was really surprised to notice that this work was first published in 1989.

Initially I felt empathy for Tita when her mother (view spoiler). I did not find myself caught up in the love story. Nothing that unfolds throughout the story made me believe that (view spoiler). In fact, the way that everything unravels illustrates that love at first sight is irrational and allowing that irrationality to guide your actions/ decisions will lead to terrible outcomes.

Obviously I think the tradition that leads to these consequences is archaic and I was pleased to see (view spoiler). However, I did not like the convenient arrangement that evolves for Rosaurio, Pedro and Tita. Rosaurio is not really the villain in this story. She is equally a victim of this awful tradition because (view spoiler).


Cendaquenta Thought it might be helpful to note that Like Water For Chocolate just became a Kindle Monthly Deal on Amazon UK - 99p. Bit too late for this, but maybe if the discussion continues into July?


Liesl | 512 comments Louise wrote: "So, I've now finished it and I...did not like it very much. Rating it 2.5 stars. More than 'ok' but I wouldn't say I actually 'liked' it.

To the Question!

What do you think about what Pedro said ..."


Louise, I am so glad that you mentioned what is essentially a (view spoiler). I cannot equate these actions with love. The earlier scene involving Gertrudis is equally problematic, especially as she ends up (view spoiler).

I have started to question whether Esquivel was writing a love story. It seems more like she was illustrating the flaw with the fairytale view of love at first sight while also challenging the constrained, virginal role of women. Perhaps I am just trying to find a justification for this story.


message 19: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 2 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Liesl wrote: "Louise, I am so glad that you mentioned what is essentially a (view spoiler). I cannot equate these actions with love. The earlier scene involving Gertrudis is equally problematic, especially as she ends up (view spoiler). "

Thanks.

The Getrudis scene and immediate aftermath was also upsetting, I agree. I just didn't want to be too negative all at once!

I think that (view spoiler) can be a liberating choice for some people but the way Gertrudis ends up in that situation does not seem like a choice. She is essentially (view spoiler). When she comes back later in the book she's my favourite character, but it's not a good start to a female empowerment arc (if that is even what it's meant to be).


Liesl | 512 comments Louise wrote: "Liesl wrote: "Louise, I am so glad that you mentioned what is essentially a (view spoiler). I cannot equate these actions with love. The earlier scene involving Gertrudis is equally problematic, es..."

Yes that was my problem with the Gertrudis story as well. What happens to her is not her choice and I felt like (view spoiler) plays more into the conventional assumption of what happens to women who are not "pure".

Ultimately she handles her circumstances better than Tita does. Gertrudis did not choose her situation but she makes the most of it and ends up with a great life. In contrast, Tita does not move on after her mother makes that decision and her life is full of misery.


Liesl | 512 comments What I have been thinking about since I finished this novel is the what is says about the role of the mother. I found it interesting that this novel does not portray a positive bond between mother and child. Mama Elena is portrayed as a harsh and cruel mother with no maternal bond with Tita. In fact, Tita seems more like a servant than a daughter. I felt that the bond between Nacha and Tita was more maternal.

Rosaurio also seems to lack maternal characteristics. She seems like a new incarnation of Mama Elena. When she announces that Esperanza (view spoiler) it is obvious that she is oblivious to the suffering of her sister and cares more for her well-being than that of her daughter. The arguments that Tita uses later in the story to convince Rosaurio (view spoiler) also illustrate that Rosaurio only thinks of Esperanza as a means for her own happiness.

Any thoughts about these portrayals of motherhood?


message 22: by Rae (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rae Sengele (raesengele) | 15 comments I also thought the portrayals of mothers was interesting. It flies in the face of standard fairytale logic which depicts "natural/birth mothers" as good and "unnatural/step mothers" as evil. It also pairs well with the struggle between celebrating and denouncing tradition that is so prevalent through out the book.

I also did not like Pedro and didn't like the scene that keeps being brought up (I'm typing this on my phone and I haven't figured out how to format spoilers on the new app) or his agressive possessiveness of Tita. [SPOILER] I was really hoping that Tita would end up with John in the end and I think it would have fit better with the other elements of the story and challenging tradition if she had.[END SPOILER] It's not really an excuse for Pedro but, I know that in the Mexican culture the concept of machismo and what we now consider to be toxic masculinity has always been the ideal, so there is a possibility that (or at least I'm hoping there is) beneath the love story premise there was some sort of commentary on the concept of machismo. There's too much going on around me at the moment for my brain to really evaluate it more than that, but I think the foil of John's gentle nature to Pedro's machismo wasn't unintentional.


message 23: by Liesl (last edited Jul 03, 2018 02:10PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liesl | 512 comments Rae wrote: "I also thought the portrayals of mothers was interesting. It flies in the face of standard fairytale logic which depicts "natural/birth mothers" as good and "unnatural/step mothers" as evil. It als..."

Rae, that is a very interesting point about the contrast to fairytale depiction of mothers and evil stepmothers.

I also preferred John to Pedro. The ending of this novel really annoyed me and I am wondering whether Esquivel did that on purpose. So that the reader would see that this love at first sight idea is unrealistic and only leads to misery and tragic endings. As you mention, the contrast between the natures of John and Pedro cannot have been unintentional.


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