So in preparation for a couple of weeks of commuting I managed to get 6 (because I couldn’t get any more) 220ish page books out at the weekend. I thought it would probably take a couple of days to read each of them but I got through Like Water for Chocolate in a day – it was so good I couldn’t put it down but I’m not sure if I’d ever heard of it before.
It’s the story of the Mexican, all female de la Garza family and its youngest daughter Tita, who is doomed to serve her mother until her (the mother’s) death – in a cruel family tradition – which means Tita is unable to marry her love Pedro who instead marries her eldest sister Rosaura to stay close to her (which I think is quite messed up). Each chapter begins with a recipe, which is fitting as Tita grew up helping Nacha (who I thought was her great aunt or something but is actually the family cook – but more of a mother to Tita than her real mother, Mama Elena) in the kitchen, and the recipe is made in the course of the chapter – for example, for Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding the recipe is for their wedding cake, to which Tita accidentally adds her tears and has the (comedic) effect of making all the wedding guests (save Tita herself) violently sick – so much so that Rosaura slips in it trying to find a discrete place to throw up and ends up covered in vomit, ruining her wedding dress. The novel is interlaced with magic realism such as this – although really to call it magic realism kind of down plays it. As evidenced by the recipes, food is a big part of the novel (as you would expect from a character who spends most of her time in the kitchen) – and Tita uses the meals she prepares to communicate her love to Pedro – incurring the wrath of her mother who is determined to keep them apart (despite them living in the same house).
I did try and read the recipe methods which are built into the narrative but ended up skimming them to get back to the main content of the chapters because the story itself is really good and although I’ve previously found magic realism (using it for want of a better word) a bit hit and miss I really enjoyed this. This also adds to the extreme minority of Spanish translations that I’ve read and I have to give credit to whoever did translate it (I have no idea) because they did a really good job – and I don’t mean that to sound condescending because of course different languages have different styles and traditions and they don’t always come across as well translated.