laura esquivel

My Monday: Like Water for Chocolate

O0, ah…

My choice this Monday, Like Water for Chocolate is my guiltiest pleasure. I’m no romantic, but this love story moved me and has stayed with me since first read.

I’m not sure if it was the magic, the mythology or the menu that drew me to this novel, but I found Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate completely irresistible.

“A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and in desperation he marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next 22 years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all odds.”

Constructed around a culinary calendar, this novel is as much recipe book as it is love story and for me, with a weakness for cookbooks, this was always going to be a favourite. Couple this with the fact that it is a fine piece of magic realism, with more than a dash of absurdity, and it is securely in place in my top ten.

Esquivel’s use of imagery is very unique, at once symbolic and also surprisingly literal:

“The way Nacha tells it, Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor. 

That afternoon, when the uproar had subsided and the water had been dried up by the sun, Nacha swept up the residue the tears had left of the red stone floor. There was enough salt to fill a ten-pound sack – it was used for cooking and lasted a long time.”

Similar to my last My Monday pick, Lessing’s The Memiors of a Survivor, the fantastic and starkly realistic are inseparable from each other. This makes Esquival’s novel a curiousity, a delightful mixture of myth and matter-of-fact.

The passion of the relationships in this book is intense. Readers are given a true sense of the hatred, the torment of desire. Tita’s love for Pedro is insurmountable, and the complexity of mother-daughter relationships is fascinating.

In short, this book gripped me. Even now, on re-reading the last three pages of the book for this review, it gave me chills, goose-bumps and a tickle of a tear.

What’s the most moving love story you’ve ever read?

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Malinche – a hard work read

I’ve been really lucky to be able to get through a few books over the last couple of weeks (Malinche, The Red Tent, The Midnight Zoo), so I’m pleased to say that I’ve got few reviews in the pipeline.

I’m busting to talk about all of them, but I wanted to start with Malinche, by Laura Esquivel because, to be blunt, I wanted very much to get it off my desk.

You see, I have to unhappily confess that I didn’t like it. Not one bit. This, despite my excitement when I first found it and eagerly began reading. I absolutely loved Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate and I think of it often. I’m not a big fan of romance, but Laura’s perchance for magic realism had me completely entranced by the tragic love story of Tita and Pedro.

And, by the blurb of Malinche I was expecting a somewhat similiar experience here:

When Malinalli, a member of the tribe conquered by the Aztec warrior, first meets the conquistador Hernan Cortes and becomes his interpreter, she – like many – believes him to be the reincarnated forefather god of her tribe. Naturally, she assumes she must welcome him, and help him destroy the Aztec empire and free her people. The two fall passionately in love, but Malinalli soon realizes that Cortes’s thirst for conquest is all too human, and that he is willing to destroy anyone, even his own men – even their own love.

Bursting with lyricism and vivid imagery, Malinche finally unveils the truth behind this legendary and tragic love affair.

Now, I’ll first up admit that I don’t know much about Mexican history. I didn’t know the story of Malinche before this novel, and many of the religious references went way above my head.

I did get the sense that this novel was about a time of great upheaval, when individuals, cultures and religions violently collided for both love and money. Cortes and his Spaniards enter as explorers, transform as conquistadors and stay on as owners. Malinche, who’s life had been one of spirit and sorrow even before the arrival of the Spaniards becomes involved and implicated in their mission, as both translator and confidant.

Interestingly, in history, Malinche is seen by many as a traitor to her people, although Esquival’s treatment of this deeply spiritual character was far more generous. I don’t feel we are meant to see her at fault in this tale.

I’ll admit, the deeper meanings of the relationships, regions and religions were a little lost on me and the style of storytelling did not really provide me with enough to grab hold of. But my disappointment in Malinche was about more than just the narrative or subject matter. I was most perturbed by the almost complete lack of love story in this novel, despite it’s synopsis.

This novel was about violence, about pillage and conquest. Malinche was not romanced, she was taken. She was assaulted and possessed as a slave, and only makes fleeting and unbelievable references to love or passion throughout the novel. I saw no romance here, only ownership.

To be fair, Esquival’s ability to construct beautiful, lyrical and visual prose is undeniable and I was never left wanting when it came to the ‘what’ of the story:

“First came the wind. Later, like a flash of lightning, like a silver tongue in the heavens over the Valley of Anahuac, a storm appeared that would wash the blood from the stones. After the sacrifice, the city darkened and thunderous eruptions were heard. Then, a silver serpent appeared in the sky, seen distinctly from many different places.”

It was as to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the story that I struggled. I’m not adverse to non-linear narrative but I really did feel that there were huge gaps in this novel. Some of this could have been due to translation, but I’m really not convinced that this was the problem in this case. I think it just tried to be a bit too esoteric for its own good and as a result come across as vague and clunky.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book. If you really enjoy highly spiritualised storytelling then maybe you’ll enjoy this, but overall this novel is very hard work with minimal reward.

I feel really bad about having not really ‘gotten’ this book, so I think to make up for it I might re-read Like Water for Chocolate soon – that’ll make me feel better…

Has anyone else read Malinche? What did you think of it? Am I right off track?

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One rainy school night…

When I was a kid, I really thought that ‘No, it’s a school night’ would stop applying once I was a grown-up. Only now am I starting to work out that this simply isn’t the case. More often than not, what gets done on a weeknight is almost as restricted as it was when my parents were calling the shots, only now it’s not so much because of the morning after (which I assume was my Mum’s concern) but rather due to the day that’s just happened.

Every now and then an offer of an outing on a weeknight comes up and I make best laid plans to get there. Often the engagement is missed; it’s too reliant on how much energy I’ve got left at the end of the day (which is getting better, but ain’t what it used to be – thanks Mr. Chemo), it depends on the kids (feeding time at the zoo, and a hose down before bed), and on whether or not hubby can get away from work in time to get back to wrangle the kids for me. In saying that, I am on a bit of a crusade to make sure that I make the time and effort to get out of the house and look at clever art, listen to smart people, and hear nice tunes. This is especially important to me at the moment, after my recent stint being an invalid, as I feel it’s really time to get this restless mind and body back out into the really real world.

Given the challenges (as I see them), I’m very pleased to say that I made it to the opening of Mt Zero Cabin 1 at the Grampians, the exhibition that I’ve been talking about over the last week or so. Although I didn’t commit to getting scrubbed up and dressed pretty until Matt got home, (because I didn’t quite believe I’d actually get out the door) all went to plan and we made it over to Armadale.

Artists Lisa Sewards and Sue Picot

The Firestation is a lovely venue, and the exhibition is intimate. It includes a wonderful blend of works on paper, rough and unrefined as well as beautifully framed and presented works reading for the hanging.

Art by: Lisa Sewards

The inks and watercolours were my personal favourites, but the variety of mediums including charcoals, pastels, etchings and oils makes for an interesting little exhibition.

As Lisa pointed out on the night, it was fascinating to see the work of five different artists all working in the same space, with the same subject, at the same time. All five; Lisa Sewards, Trudy Rice, Roz Rogers, Sue Picot, and Bern Olle present  a unique interpretation of the natural landscape of Mt Zero, and all present a place of beauty – sometimes rich, sometimes sparse, and always inviting.

If you’ve a spare half-an-hour, I’d really suggest popping by – you might also like to check out the studio’s printing facilities, which are for hire to artists.  All works in the show are for sale, and very affordable. The show is on until 22 May 2011.

Art by: Bern Olle

Reading Update
A little less highbrow, but certainly no less rich with talent, I’m reading Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice at the moment.  It’s very different to the novels I usually read, but I’m surprised by how easy I’m finding it to get into – very enjoyable so far.

Further, because Weapons of Choice is such a big book, I’ve also got a travelling-read too (my handbag is big, but it’s not that big).  When I’m on the go, I’m reading Malinche, by Laura Esquivel. Two quite contrasting reads.

Keep an eye out for a review of both in the not too distant future.

A little bit of luck, with a dash of guilt

I’ve got to admit…I feel a little bit dirty, at the very least, a little bit cheap.

I gave in to temptation today and went and had a look at one of those book clearance places, not really expecting to find myself anything of much interest. To my surprise, I walked out with a large armful of novels.

Most of these titles are a few years old now but I’ve not read any of them, so I’m happy to add them to the collection pretty cheaply.  I’m especially excited about Laura Esquivel’s novel (kisses and hugs in store I’m sure)  and the preface to Alex Garland’s Coma is pretty frightening. Overall, I think this is a pretty eclectic mix of titles, but I’m looking forward to each one.

Anyone want to pick which one I should read first?