I spent most of Christmas Day doing two things, reading and trying to sleep. Since I am not very good at the latter, the day was saved halfway by the former as I happened to pick up one of the most sumptuous books I’ve ever read, [tag]Like Water For Chocolate[/tag] by Mexican author [tag]Laura Esquivel[/tag].
Part mystical, part historical and part soap opera-ish the book is basically about the life of [tag]Tita[/tag] [tag]de la Garza[/tag], youngest of 3 daughters of [tag]Mama Elena[/tag] de la Garza, who ran a ranch in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. The young and beautiful Tita is a wonderful cook who is faced with the dreary future of serving her mother till her death, forsaking even marraige, as is the rule amongst Mexican families at the time. Sure enough, the handsome Pedro comes into her life, but his request for her hand is naturally rebuked by Mama Elena. To compensate, she offers instead her eldest daughter Rosaura, whom Pedro agrees to marry instead, secretly admitting to Tita that he is only doing so to be able to live close to Tita.
This to me, is the focal point of all goes wrong in the life of Tita from then and onwards in the story. Filipinos will be very familiar with the nuances and idiosyncracies of the typical Mexican family as it reflects much of ours till today. Pedro, in his undoubtable desire to be with Tita, prefers to live a lie in order to be with her. Romantic as the underlying reason is, it is still a lie, and like the proverbial saying goes, another lie is needed to cover it, and so forth and so on.
Much later into the story, she, along with most of the other characters in the story are in a royal mess. Rosaura is frustrated and jealous of both of them, Pedro is angry and conflicted by his duties to his family and his love for Tita, Dr. Brown, Tita’s suitor whom Tita owes a great deal to for helping her, is faced with the devastating news that she doesn’t want to marry him, and Tita herself is attacked from all sides with guilt, shame, remorse, and not to mention, the unrelenting spite of Mama Elena, who is the picture of hate and despise.
All because of an unwavering desire by Mama Elena to ‘maintain appearances’ of a normal, happy and functional family, whilst holding on to a self-serving and wholly unfair tradition.
Now tell me, does that sound familiar?
It is, of course, very soap opera-ish, with the exception of the fact that is delivered in some of the most ingenious, wonderful prose I have ever read. Mixed in with the drama are the exquisite recipes Tita cooks throughout her life, both indicating the hardships she has to go through, her love and genius at cooking, and incidentally, the kind of life there was at the time without electricity and the freezer. It was also a dangerous time, with bandits and rebels freely roaming the country doing as they please in the name of revolution.
And finally, it was a mystical, magical time, with many strange incidents mixed in with the ordinary, as if to say they were common occurrences. So there are Tita’s tears mixing in with her sister’s and Pedro’s wedding cake, making the wedding guests depressed and crying for their own lost loves. There is the ghost of Mama Elena, whose image magically gets smaller and less threatening as Tita’s courage starts to grow. There is the overwhelming passion Tita’s own wedding guests feel, when they try the food she herself prepares – a 20 course banquet nonetheless.
Mixed in with the food, the history and Tita’s strong willed character, Esquivel has weaved a magical book. I am sure not everyone will appreciate this, simple and simplistic as it sometimes is. But you have to enjoy it. Like you would imagine how it’d feel to taste [tag]Quail in Rose Petal sauce[/tag], one of the highlight recipes in the story, it is a story to be consumed as a whole, and not dissected by its ingredients.