Saludos a todos,
As we wrap up the fall term and the 2017 calendar year, we’re looking forward to a lighthearted and memorable book group meeting focused on Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. We’ll meet at Red Door Brewing in downtown Abq to enjoy the book and share in a potluck meal inspired by the same. For the moment, though, we want to take this time to share a bit more about the author and her work.
A Mexican essayist, novelist, and playwright, Esquivel is, of course, best known for her magical realist-inspired novel, Like Water for Chocolate. It was first published in Spanish in 1989 under the full title Como agua para chocolate: novela de entregas mensuales, con recetas, amores y remedios caseros (Like Water for Chocolate: a novel in monthly installments with recipes, romances, and home remedies) and was followed shortly by the release of the feature film – with the novel adapted for the screen by Esquivel herself and her husband of the time, Alfonso Arau. The novel itself was a success in Mexico and was well-received by English-speaking audiences when translated, but it was truly the success of the film in 1992 that thrust Esquivel into the international spotlight.
Before becoming an award-winning novelist, Esquivel was first and foremost a teacher, beginning in the 1970s. She would go on to become a playwright, writing scripts for children’s television and theater. For her work on the film Chido One, she was nominated for the Ariel Award, Best Screenplay, by the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures in 1985.
Following Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel would go on to publish the novel La lay del amor in 1996, a book of essays titled Intimas suculencias in 2000, the novel Tan veloz como el deseo in 2000, Escribiendo la nueva historia: cómo dejar de ser víctima en 12 sesiones in 2014, and A Lupita le gustaba planchar in 2015. Most recently, she has returned with a crime thriller, Pierced by the Sun (2016). As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports in an interview with the author, “Now author Laura Esquivel is tackling crime and corruption in modern day Mexico. Her novel “Pierced by the Sun” – just out in English – has a female protagonist who battles crooked politicians, criminal gangs, as well as her own demons”
But of course it was with Like Water for Chocolate that Esquivel entered women’s hearts and homes across the world. In an essay examining how the novel represents women, particularly Latin American women, scholar María Elena de Valdés begins by pointing out that part of the novels’ success was due to how Esquivel parodied an already popular genre. Forgive me in advance for this a long quote, but I’m personally fascinated by the novel’s points of commonality with the genre: “The genre in question is the Mexican version of women’s fiction published in monthly installments together with recipes, home remedies, dressmaking patterns, short poems, moral exhortations, ideas on home decoration, and the calendar of church observances. In brief, this genre is the nineteenth-century forerunner of what is known throughout Europe and Americas as a women’s magazine.” De Valdés observes that “Como agua para chocolate is a parody of nineteenth-century women’s periodical fiction in the same way that Don Quijote is a parody of the novel of chivalry. Both genres were expressions of popular culture that created a unique space for a segment of the population.”
Whether we accept that Esquivel was parodying this informal genre (I do) or not, readers of the novel quickly learn that her novel elevates the act of cooking and the traditions associated with it. She effectively reclaims the space as one of power and authority – an act which no doubt resonates with many women in many countries. In an interview with the NYTimes in 1993, the author herself acknowledged that “As a very young girl, I understood that the interior activities of the home are as significant as the exterior activities of a society…food can change anything,’ she said.” She went on to explore this significance even further, writing two subsequent novels that build Como agua para chocolate into a trilogy: El diario de Tita and Mi negro pasado.
Amid the ongoing legacy and love surrounding Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel has continued to write and recently, even, undertaken a fourth career, becoming a politician serving in the Chamber of Deputies for the Morena Party in her hometown of Mexico City. We’ll all have to stay tuned to see where she takes life next.
p.s. special shout out to LAII graduate student, Jacob Sandler, for his help with writing this feature!
Image: Photograph of author reprinted from Goldey-Beacon College.