I have a serious love/hate relationship with Like Water For Chocolate; it was one of the ‘historical’ films in my Mexican Cinema A-level unit (aka: my favourite ever teaching thing) and I love its magical realism, which is subtle, and I love the main character Tita. What I can’t abide, though, is the choice she ultimately makes. And Pedro. Ugh, Pedro. But I guess this is my cross to bear.
As a novel, it’s great. Tita is the third daughter of Mama Elena, a matriarch with an iron fist, who declares that as the youngest daughter, it is Tita’s job to care for her mother until the day the latter dies. This means a life of servitude and abuse- and spending most of it in the kitchen, which suits Tita fine, as she is an excellent cook (each chapter comes with one of Tita’s recipes woven into the narrative.) This life is thrown into chaos when Pedro and Tita fall in love and he asks to marry her. Per her decision at Tita’s birth, Mama Elena refuses, but offers her other daughter Rosaura instead- AND PEDRO ACCEPTS AND MOVES INTO THE HOUSE.
The novel explores the different roles in a female-led family during the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), as well as the relationships between classes in Mexico during this time. It’s fascinating and funny and heartbreaking- and very, very honest. Like Water For Chocolate is often cited as a ‘magic realism book’, but it is so much more than that. To be honest, if someone said that to me, I’d expect all kinds of weird stuff, but it’s very subtle and sort of works; it reflects Tita’s state of mind and is more often than not transmitted through her cooking (Pedro and Rosaura’s wedding is a particular example of this.) The characters feel real, their emotions very present. Which is why I probably loathe Pedro so much. It’s also part historical novel and part romance, too- I found it very hard to categorise this according to genre in the end.
As an introduction to Mexican literature/culture/history/magic realism, this is probably the best place to begin. Come and talk to me when you’re finished.