Laura Esquivel

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Laura Esquivel Biography

To Laura Esquivel, the kitchen is of utmost importance. She believes it is the heart of the house and a source of knowledge and understanding that ultimately serves to bring pleasure. Her highly regarded novel Like Water for Chocolate centers on that theme. The title refers to boiling water to make hot chocolate. The English translation of the book was published in 1993, the same year the film based on the novel arrived in theaters. The book and the movie were runaway successes and earned Esquivel a Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures Award along with the distinction of having one of the highest grossing foreign language films in the United States. She continues to write well-received books.

Facts and Trivia

  • Esquivel began her career writing plays for the kindergarten class she taught. She went on to write children’s television programs.
  • Mexico, Esquivel's home country, plays a central role in all of Esquivel’s books. She was born in Mexico City and often writes about Mexico’s culture and history.
  • Esquivel’s novel La Malinche, published in 2006, is about the real-life indigenous woman Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés used as a translator and eventually took as a lover.
  • Esquivel writes often about destiny and says, “It is a path you must follow, or travel, and it is up to you to decide how you are going to travel it.”
  • Esquivel has expressed frustration with the fact that some of the humor in her novels does not translate into English properly.

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The Mexican screenwriter and novelist Laura Esquivel (ehs-kee-VEHL), who became widely known for her first published novel, Like Water for Chocolate, was raised in a middle-class family in Mexico City. She received a teaching degree from the Escuela Normal de Maestros and spent eight years teaching before embarking on a career as a writer and director of children’s theater and as a screenwriter. In 1985 she and her husband, the film director, producer, and actor Alfonso Arau, collaborated on a film project, Chido One, for which she wrote the screenplay. For this work Esquivel won a nomination from the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures for the prestigious Ariel Award.

The novel Like Water for Chocolate was widely read both in Mexico and in the United States. Once again, collaborating with her husband, the author adapted the work for the screen several years later, a venture that was financially and critically successful. In fact, the internationally acclaimed film was one of the highest grossing foreign films in the United States. Among the ten Ariel awards the film received, one was for Esquivel’s screenplay.

Set in Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century, Like Water for Chocolate chronicles the life of the De la Garza family, which is headed by the domineering matriarch Mamá Elena. A cruel family tradition ordains that Tita, the youngest of three daughters, is forced to care for her mother to the end of her days and thus never marry. Relegated to the kitchen, Tita learns the secrets both of food and of love from the devoted family cook, Nacha, in a relationship that evokes the author’s childhood memories of her grandmother’s kitchen. Indeed, as this tale unfolds, the scenery changes from that of northern Mexico to that of San Antonio, which is reminiscent of Esquivel’s own childhood, when she often traveled with her family to visit relatives in her mother’s hometown of Piedras Negras and in San Antonio.

As the title suggests, Like Water for Chocolate is written in cookbook style. Each chapter begins with a monthly recipe for an authentic Mexican dish; all the recipes, purported to be from the author’s own family collection, are interwoven in the text of the book. Often compared with Gabriel García Márquez, Esquivel imbues her story with the quality of a fairy tale that is populated with spirits, extraordinary events, and exaggerated plot lines. Food is an especially magical force, through which the repressed passions of Tita and other main characters are revealed as they live their lives “like water for chocolate,” seething under the surface with sexual desire and rage.

In the foreword to the cookbook An Appetite for Passion, Esquivel comments, “I wrote my first novel with the intention of giving the transferring of love in the kitchen the appreciation it deserves. I am convinced, just as Tita is in my novel, that we can impregnate food with emotion, just as we can every other activity we engage in. When this affective charge is powerful, it is impossible for it to pass unnoticed. Others feel it, touch it, enjoy it. I find confirmation of that each day that passes.”

After their collaboration on Like Water for Chocolate Esquivel completed two other screenplays for Alfonso Arau, from whom she was later divorced. The first, Little Ocean Star, was written for children. The second, unproduced one was based on Antonio Velasco Piña’s 1987 novel Regina, about a female Christ. In the 1990’s Esquivel began work on the novel The Law of Love , the screenplay of which she was commissioned to prepare for...

(This entire section contains 787 words.)

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a film project with Robert Redford. Esquivel also agreed to do an original screenplay for the filmmaker Sydney Pollack.

The Law of Love appeared in 1996, a combination of science fiction and Magical Realism that relates the picaresque adventures of a twenty-third century “astroanalyst” searching her past lives for her lover and encountering Montezuma and a diabolical Mother Teresa along the way; the novel was accompanied by a music CD and full-color illustrations by Miguelano Prado in an at times incoherent but nevertheless bold attempt to fuse narrative with other media. In 2001, Esquivel returned to the novel proper with another magical story, a tribute to her dead father, Swift as Desire, which attempts to uncover the mystery of why the author-persona’s parents, once deeply in love, eventually stopped communicating. Making this silence all the more poignant is the novel’s protagonist, Julio (who is to become Esquivel’s father), born with a gift for interpreting both the natural world and people’s hearts. Esquivel traces his life from his miraculous childhood to his deathbed, where the daughter finally is able to communicate with him.


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