Even though I currently call Mexico home, I have to admit I have read very little of its literature. By very little I mean, in fact, I have read one book by a Mexican author. And a very good book that was;
Each chapter of screenwriter Esquivel’s utterly charming interpretation of life in turn-of-the-century Mexico begins with a recipe–not surprisingly, since so much of the action of this exquisite first novel (a bestseller in Mexico) centers around the kitchen, the heart and soul of a traditional Mexican family. The youngest daughter of a well-born rancher, Tita has always known her destiny: to remain single and care for her aging mother. When she falls in love, her mother quickly scotches the liaison and tyrannically dictates that Tita’s sister Rosaura must marry the luckless suitor, Pedro, in her place. But Tita has one weapon left–her cooking. Esquivel mischievously appropriates the techniques of magical realism to make Tita’s contact with food sensual, instinctual and often explosive. Forced to make the cake for her sister’s wedding, Tita pours her emotions into the task; each guest who samples a piece bursts into tears. Esquivel does a splendid job of describing the frustration, love and hope expressed through the most domestic and feminine of arts, family cooking, suggesting by implication the limited options available to Mexican women of this period. Tita’s unrequited love for Pedro survives the Mexican Revolution the births of Rosaura and Pedro’s children, even a proposal of marriage from an eligible doctor. In a poignant conclusion, Tita manages to break the bonds of tradition, if not for herself, then for future generations.
What I really liked about this novel is that it seems to capture the importance of food in the Mexican culture. That’s one thing that, as a Canadian, I couldn’t understand about this country until I experienced it first hand. The relationship between women and food here is more complicated than it might first appear. Food means both love and female subservience. The kitchen still remains in the realm of women. All this is connected to the Machismo which is dominant here.
But why don’t I read Mexican literature, or Latin American literature in general? Well, it’s just too darned political for my tastes. I’ve always preferred novels which focus more on the subtleties of human psychology. Saying that, I do love a bit of magic realism ;).