This (mostly) delightful little book had languished in my reading queue for quite a while. Time to move it on up and tick that box.
This was the writer's debut novel, first published in 1989, and it has enjoyed continuing popularity over the years.
The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Mexico. Rebellion and revolution are abroad in the land. Pancho Villa and his army of followers have captured the imagination of many, while the government's army pushes back against them.
The Garza family with its three daughters, Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Tita, live quietly on their ancestral lands outside a small village near the border with the U.S. The daughters pursue their own paths in life, but as we and they learn Tita's path has been preordained for her. The family tradition is that the youngest daughter is not allowed to marry and that she must devote herself to caring for her parents in their old age. In this case, there is only one parent, Mama Elena, since the father had died years before. Mama Elena is the family dictator, a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Inevitably, Tita falls in love with a young man named Pedro and he asks for her hand in marriage. He is informed that Tita cannot marry because of her destiny as caretaker of her mother. He is instead offered the sister Rosaura as a wife. In the end, Pedro agrees to that marriage because he believes it will at least allow him to be close to his beloved.
Tita is a gifted cook, and, learning that she will not be able to marry, she immerses herself in the art of cooking. Cooking eases her emotional pain.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, but the months occur over a period of some twenty years. The passage of time is not always evident at first - only on a deeper reading of the chapter. Each chapter begins with one of Tita's unique recipes and her discussion of how to prepare it. My daughter told me when she read this book she was seized throughout with the urge to cook.
In the fullness of time, running water and electricity arrive in the area. Children are born and grow. People move on or die. Tita's mood changes affect the food she prepares, sometimes to the detriment of those who consume it. She continues to suffer emotionally and eventually has a kind of breakdown. Then, she meets a wonderful man, a widowed doctor, who wants to marry her. But her heart still belongs to Pedro, who by this time has proved himself to be something of a jerk, in my opinion.
Esquivel's employment of magical realism in the telling of this story adds to the charm and the interest of what could otherwise have been a rather ordinary romance novel. She mixes the ingredients of her novel as a cook would mix the ingredients in a recipe and the result is a tasty dish.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars