Review: Like Water for Chocolates by Laura Esquivel

She realized that you can’t be weak when it comes to killing: you have to be strong or it just causes more sorrow. It occurred to her that she could use her mother’s strength right now. Mama Elena was merciless, killing with a single blow. But then again not always. For Tita she had made an exception; she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and she still hadn’t quite finished her off. Pedro and Rosaura’s marriage had left Tita broken in both heart and in mind, like the quail.

Like Water for Chocolates

Summary and Thoughts

In a style that is epic in scope yet intensely personal in focus, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate tells the story of Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. Through twelve chapters, each marked as a “monthly installment” and thus labeled with the months of the year, we learn of Tita’s struggle to pursue true love and claim her independence. Each installment features a recipe to begin each chapter. The structure of Like Water For Chocolate is wholly dependent on these recipes, as the main episodes of each chapter generally involve the preparation or consumption of the dishes that these recipes yield. The details of additional secondary recipes are woven throughout the narrative.

Like Water For Chocolate tells the story of Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. Tita’s love, Pedro Muzquiz, comes to the family’s ranch to ask for Tita’s hand in marriage. Because Tita is the youngest daughter she is forbidden by a family tradition upheld by her tyrannical mother, Mama Elena, to marry. Pedro marries Tita’s oldest sister, Rosaura, instead, but declares to his father that he has only married Rosaura to remain close to Tita. Rosaura and Pedro live on the family ranch, offering Pedro contact with Tita.


Esquivel’s famous novel combines a series of delicious recipes intertwined with a passionate, romantic tale of a cursed young woman, forbidden to marry and doomed to serve her mother until she dies. From the moment the reader engages with the first paragraph, they will be swept away with lush, detailed writing, a deep sense of magical realism (YES!), and skillfully managed pacing. As a result, the story breezes by and a sense of place, feeling, and, of course, food is expertly evoked. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the short length of the novel, I found the characters a bit lacking in carrying this narrative. Each person felt rather one-dimensional and as much as I can get on board with *dramatic passionate insta-love,* I found it harder and harder to sympathize with the characters as the story moved forward. By the end of the novel I felt ambivalent about the characters’ fates. For this reason, despite the enjoyable nature of the writing, I can’t give this tale anything more than 3.7 stars. I love magical realism, but a story can only go so far without well conceived, understandable characters.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

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