Like Water for Chocolate

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Romance, Food, Magic and betrayal.

As long as I can remember I have loved kitchens. It’s probably from sitting in our breakfast room as a child watching and listening to my mother cook dinner but something about being in the kitchen with the smells and sounds bubbling around me always puts me at ease. When I moved away from home I took some of my favourite recipes with me that she had taught me to make. Even now in an empty flat I can feel at home by baking brownies from that collection. They smell and taste divine but it’s a small reminder of past times.

“Like Water for Chocolate” is essentially a cookery book. Each chapter is named after a dish and the ingredients are all listed on a separate page to the methods. It is the method that we want to focus on though. Through it we hear the love story of Tia and Pedro. As the youngest daughter Tia is not allowed to get married and has to look after her mother. When she falls in love with Pedro they are told that the marriage will never happen. To be closer to the woman he loves Pedro marries Tia’s sister and they embark on a long journey of jealousy and unfulfilled longing.

OK, the bad part first. Who marries someone’s sister to be closer to them? At what point did that seem like a genuinely clever idea? The men in this book really aren’t the brightest tools in the shed and their ethics are truly awful. The two main loves in Tia’s life are Pedro and the Doctor from town. The Doctor proposes to her after she’s had a mental breakdown and Pedro has the sheer audacity to get jealous about it…whilst holding the child he had with Tia’s sister. The characters in general come out very poorly throughout this book and there’s probably only three I can have the slightest sympathy for.

That’s the bad stuff out of the way. I loved this book! It’s a beautiful read. In many ways it reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The main difference being that it wasn’t an overrated pile of claptrap that wasted a week of my life.  The style and the casual magic in the story however, were very reminiscent of Marquez’s book and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Laura Esquivel had studied the original novel in huge detail. It passes over the most amazing situations with a nonchalance that places you in the same sense of calm. It doesn’t faze you when all of the wedding guests disappear for mini orgies after eating the wedding feast or that someone’s skin can burn so hot it evaporates the water coming out of the shower. You accept it because the author does.

The main thing about this book for me was the language used. Every sentence seemed to be crafted perfectly. Instead of trying to explain it to you I’m just going to leave you with a quote from the book itself. Make up your own minds.

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches. For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it. Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul. That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”

So who should read this book? If you liked One Hundred Years of Solitude then I’d definitely recommend. If you are looking for a few steamier scenes to take away with you on holiday then this is a good one to read. Mainly this is one for people who, like me, have their favourite memories based on food and the joy it can bring to people. You won’t be able to read some of the descriptions of dishes in this without smiling and recalling large tables, lots of noise, good food, great wine and family. Enjoy.

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