Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel
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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497

When Como agua para chocolate: novela de entregas mensuales con recetas, arores, y remedies caserns by Laura Esquivel was published by Editorial Planeta Mexicana in Mexico in 1989, it quickly became a best seller. The 1991 English version. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies, translated by Carol and Thomas Christensen, also gained commercial success. The novel has been translated into several other languages.

Critical reception has been generally positive, especially when noting Esquivel's imaginative narrative structure. Karen Stabiner states in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the novel is a "wondrous, romantic tale, fueled by mystery and superstition, as well as by the recipes that introduce each chapter." James Polk, in his review in the Chicago Tribune, describes the work as an "inventive and mischievous romp—part cookbook, part novel." Marisa Januzzi similarly notes in her assessment in the Review of Contemporary Fiction that "this short novel's got more heat and light and imaginative spice than the American literary diet usually provides."

Few scholarly articles, however, have been published on the novel. Molly O'Neill, in her interview with Esquivel in the New York Times, notes that American critics often consign the novel to the "charming but aren't we moderns above it ghetto of magical realism." Scholars also may have avoided the novel because of what some consider its melodramatic tone. In a mixed review for the Nation, Ilan Stavans finds a "convoluted sentimentality" in the novel.

The articles that have been published praise the novel's cultural focus. Dan Stavans, in the same Nation review, observes that the novel accurately "map[s] the trajectory of feminist history in Mexican society." Maria Elena de Valdes, in her article in World Literature Today, argues that the novel contains an intricate structure that serves as an effective parody of Mexican women's fiction. She also praises its main theme: "a woman's creation of space that is hers in a hostile world." Victor Zamudio-Taylor insists the work is one of those that "reactualize tradition, make different women's voices heard, and revitalize identity—both personal and collective—as a social and national cultural construction."

Esquivel's screenplay of Like Water for Chocolate, along with her husband Alfonso Arau's direction, helped the film become one of the most successful foreign films of the past few decades. Esquivel has also written the screenplay for the popular Mexican film Chido One. Her most recent novel, The Law of Love, again focuses on the importance of love and incorporates the technique of magic realism. Reviews of the novel have been mixed. Barbara Hoffert argues in her Library Journal review that the novel "is at once wildly inventive and slightly silly, and energetic." Lilian Pizzichini, however, writes in her review in the Times Literary Supplement: "Esquivel dresses her ancient story in a collision of literary styles that confirm her wit and ingenuity. She sets herself a mission to explore the redemptive powers of love and art and displays boundless enthusiasm for parody."

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