Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye when some students were complaining about it as assigned reading in school. They posited that it might be more enjoyable if they hadn't been forced to read it, so I decided to test that. I can't say what made them not like this book, but I can say that I did like it, in a way I probably wouldn't have when I was in high school.

The novel is solidly in the magical realism genre, in which odd and impossible things happen, often without explanation. Had this book been my first exposure to it, I might have wasted most of the narrative waiting for the explanation, for the pieces to fall into place. But, freed from that distraction, I got to enjoy the story for the rich, lush romance it was.

The story follows the life of Tita, the narrator's great aunt, who left a book of recipes that serves as a kind of journal of her life. She falls in love, but is unable to act on it, because of a family tradition that calls for the youngest daughter to stay single so that she can take care of her mother in old age.

I liked the shades of grey even the "bad guys" were painted in. I liked that there were precious few easy choices, and no situations presented from only one side. Mama Elena is the biggest source of conflict in the book, but she's also painted as strong, competent, and having been influenced by past mistakes. Much as I sympathized with Tita, I admired and respected her mother.

The timeline of the book is hard to pin down. The chapters are named after months, but very few correspond to the months being relayed in the text. The chapter titles cover a year, but the events in the novel take place over 22 years. The timeline isn't clear until the end of the book, at which point I'd figured it out from context.

I greatly enjoyed this book. It did an excellent job of building sexual tension and depicting unconsummated passion without anything explicit. Perhaps some of the people who disliked this book wanted something more explicit. But, if it was, I can't see it being taught in schools.

I liked this book quite a bit. I don't know if I would've liked it as much as I did if it had been assigned reading. I'm glad I was able to discover it on my own, though.

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