Take several pounds of Caracas chocolate beans, roast them on a griddle, mash them into a paste with sugar and add some water. Sprinkle some longing over them, infuse the mixture with a little love and in the hands of the right woman, passion is decanted and magic -boil, cool, whip, boil, cool, beat- is distilled into the perfect dish. Such is life- it takes skills, sheer luck, enthusiasm, ache, loss, gain, enchanting the senses to create the right recipe. At least, this is the life of Tia and the story of her burning love.
Laura Esquivel's novel is well written and it has a rotund, circled structure. Each month opens with a recipe that instantly makes you mouth water and then proceeds with the details of both cooking and the love affair between Pedro and Tia. To some people, food and love go hand in hand and the passion one displays while merging into the secrets of cooking stems from the same source as love. There is something about the books that use food as an excuse to point at love or love as a pretext to have you first crave for the goodies then maybe grow a appetite for cooking. Or it might just be me reading this book on an empty stomach.
What I loved about Like water for chocolate is its simplicity, its unsophisticated language and that it feels like a soft old story weaving itself around your mind, taking you to a far away place and time. In short, the book belongs to the genre of magical realism. In order to shape magic and make alive amidst reality, one needs to set it against a historical landmark, such as the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 when people united forces to reclaim their Mexico for the every day person and out of the hands of the dictatorship. But then again, a personal approach to history filters all factual detail and turns it into an exquisite mixture of flavours and senses, of ghosts and happy thoughts, of passion and resilience. When love is kept at a distance for years, its strength burns places, people, hatred, boundaries and the fire it ignites spares nothing but the cookery book. Tia's book is much more than recipes- it is the wisdom she gathered through years of suffering and of living through cooking to survive the outside world.
Yet idea that cooking could save you or any passion for that matter is quite intriguing. How much truth lies behind it? Could a human being postpone feelings and desires and take shelter into something other than love that fulfils her/him? Cooking is an art here- the unprecedented act of creating not only a meaningful, satisfying dish to enchant the taste buds but also a medium for all emotions that are channelled into its making. Such commitment is soul-delivering yet, in Laura Esquivel's novel, one cannot escape fate and the course that life is bound to take from the moment an infant lays eyes on the sizzling pot and falls asleep in the beating rhythm of the spoons. In the world of magic where choices are never ours yet come from the inlaid heritage of our own veins, Tia and Pedro burn for love and turn to ashes all that is not made of love or through love- the remaining cookery book is proof of their story and the way spices come to shift the course of a life that owes its grace to the flavours rather than to those around.
Twelve recipes for twelve months, one man for two women, one wedding for all, two baptisms for one, an army for a woman, and a recipe book for the rest of us- we could do the math, multiply, divide, add or even substract. We will be left with the memory of a great love -that of Tia and Pedro- and the excellent book of transcending the senses.