September Read-a-Thon: Like Water for Chocolate

I may have fantastically failed treesofreverie ‘s September Read-a-Thon and it may not be September anymore but book blogging must prevail so here is my third book review.

“Indecent.

But what is decent? To deny everything that you really want?”

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel:

Rating: ★★★★

Like Water For Chocolate is a Mexican novel originally written in Spanish, recommended to me by my Swedish corridor mate who knew of it because one of Common’s albums shares the same name. Not being a hip-hop aficionado in any sense, it intrigued me that a celebrated American rapper chose to name his album after a novel that must surely be completely unrelated. While I’m still unfamiliar with the album, I’ve come to learn that the title is actually a phrase – ‘like water for chocolate’ means the breaking point of patience, to feel like one is on the verge of boiling over.

In Malay we have an idiom ‘Sudah jatuh, ditimpa tangga’ which means not only have you fallen but you have also hit some stairs. I’ve read many books in which the protagonist is thrown many hardships and curve balls. Often it takes all the energy I can muster to not just jump into the story and flail my arms in protest of the author’s abuse against the main character. But reading this novel has been an all-new level of testing of my own patience. Esquivel’s protagonist Tita has not only fallen and hit some stairs but continues to roll down a hill made of broken glass while being shat on by birds, set on fire and is still expected to survive and thrive in a fresh, clean dress. Figuratively and literally speaking, at her lowest point in the novel, she actually is covered in dove poo.

Tita is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, in family tradition-speak this means she has no future other than looking after her mother for the rest of her life. While this doesn’t seem so bad, the extreme of this tradition is shown as early on as page 9 when it is set in stone that not only is she not allowed to marry anyone ever, her soulmate must now marry her older sister Rosaura. Pedro even complies to this, thinking it will allow him to be closer to her, not thinking of the awkward love triangle that ensues under the steely-eyed gaze of Mama Elena. With an overbearing, emotionally and verbally abusive mother, her only confidant dead by page 15, breast-feeding the child of her sister and her one true love, it’s a miracle that Tita only goes crazy once.

But it’s not just the calamities and catastrophes that befall Tita which makes this novel yank at your heartstrings like a yo-yo going around the world. It’s the emotive and pleading nature of Esquivel’s writing that makes this more than your average depressing book. Sometimes it feels like a disparaging mess with no way out but often it’s also hopeful enough that you haven’t completely given up on Tita just yet.

There’s a lot of vibrant and colourful imagery that allude to the impossible like when her sister is overcome by utter desire and rides off into the sunset with an unknown captain, the passion from their intertwined bodies burning their clothes off. Then that other time that TIta’s tears of longing fell into crockpot which caused every wedding guest to be overwhelmed by forlornness and violently throw up. A little ridiculous for vanilla readers but I enjoyed the fantastical writing which I think its passion is reminiscent of mysterious and alluring Spanish folklore and hallucinations from very, very spicy food. The way it played out in my head was like me looking at a surrealist painting of the Mexican countryside. And of course no book review on LWFC would be complete without mentioning how every chapter begins with a recipe and instruction list. It’s actually a pity that I read this off a dodgy PDF file where the recipes were for some reason just keyboard smash but I managed to appreciate the preparation paragraph anyway.

Like Water For Chocolate had me hook, line and sinker, so much that I actually ended up staying back at the office later than usual, engrossed and determined to finish another chapter. I recommend it, if not for its vibrance, its mouth-watering descriptions of food, then at the very least it should make you feel better about your life because at least you’re not covered in bird poo.

samanthawxlow

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