Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Like Water For Chocolate

I picked this book off my shelf, and ended up reading it in a day. That being said, I came away from this novel with mixed feelings. I love Chicana literature, and the storytelling in this book was superb. Esquivel weaves the story around a twelve month cookbook, and you will be craving all kinds of flavors before the book is done. The connection between recipes and life is something I thought was fantastic--as different dishes really do conjure up specific memories for me. For example, homemade pickles reminds me of one summer my parents decided to try their hand at them in a house we lived on Logan St. in Portland when I was about twelve. Baked beans always remind me of my Grandmother Weatherspoon, as does Peppermint icecream . . . but back to the book. While the storytelling is beautiful, the language is rich, the characters believable . . . there is one reason that I have misgivings about the book. One of the main plot points has to do with infidelity. The main character is not allowed to marry her sweetheart, who then marries her sister just to be near her. Stupid plan if you ask me. They just should have eloped. But I didn't write the story. It isn't graphic, but the mere subject matter kind of made my stomache turn a bit.

One thing I did find very enjoyable and highly interesting was the matriarchy of the novel. Women dominate the book, and shape the comings and goings. It was interesting considering the machismo element of Mexican culture that the story comes completely from a woman-centered household. The main character first embraces, fights against, and ultimately reshapes this matriarchy, which is a very cool cycle. One reason this works is that the focul point of the text is the kitchen, which is one of the great symbols of domesticity.

Overall--I recommend the book. It isn't like Lolita where I felt that the author was a bit soulless . . . there is a moral center to the novel in spite of the infidelity. If you are a fan or a student of Chicana literature, you should definitely pick it up. I think there are some cultural mores that should be recognized going into the reading which make the book more enjoyable and worthwhile, especially as relating to machismo and Mexican Patriarchy. If you enjoy Sandra Cisneros, you would like this novel as well.
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