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Archive for the ‘Magical Realism’ Category

In which I find recipes for love as well as quail in rose sauce

Title: Like Water for Chocolate

Author: Laura Esquivel

What it’s about: A beautiful story about love, family, and food, Like Water for Chocolate mixes actual recipes with the story of a family in early twentieth-century Mexico. Tita is the youngest of three daughters and grows up in the kitchen under the tutelage of the elderly cook Nacha. When Tita meets her true love, Pedro, she discovers that her mother will never allow her to marry–not Pedro or any other man–as she is expected to stay home all her life to care for her mother. Tita is devastated and her sorrow only deepens when Pedro agrees to marry her sister Rosaura. He swears to Tita that he is motivated only by a desire to be close to her always. Thus begins their lifelong love affair, at first only desire from afar and later stolen caresses complicated by the watchful eyes of Mama Elena and the cold presence of Rosaura. Tita pours her turbulent emotions into her wonderful cooking, with sometimes mystical results. Her sister’s wedding cake, mixed with Tita’s bitter tears, causes all the guests to become violently ill, while her quail in rose petal sauce, made with the flowers Pedro gave her, causes unbridled lust in all who eat it.

The book is a great romance and a very easy read, perfect for those looking for a summer beach read. Esquivel has obviously been influenced by the magical realism style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (see my review for One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of my favorite books!). But the book also reminded me of the more recent Chocolat for its focus on food and culture. Both books also made excellent films. The recipes also sound amazing. The techniques aren’t overly difficult, but some of the ingredients are out of the ordinary and might be hard to find. My book club had planned to try some recipes out of the book, but we all fell back on our own Mexican favorites for lack of various Mexican chilies or oxtail at our local grocery store. I would like to try the quail dish some day (although I hope the results aren’t quite as strong as Tita’s . . .), perhaps substituting game hens or even chicken thighs (I think white chicken meat would be too different in flavor to substitute). I think I could find extract of rose, but the pitaya might actually be the hardest ingredient! I’ve included the recipe below for those who are curious or have suggestions for substitutions! (more…)

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In which yellow flowers fall like rain and I find a new favorite book

Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Author: Gabriel García Márquez

What it‘s about: Let’s start out by saying that there is a lot of debate over whether One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great book. Critics almost unanimously say it’s a masterpiece; after all, it did win the Nobel Prize. But many average readers I’ve spoken with find it boring, or give up several chapters in. I’m in the first category, though I understand why some people not might be moved by the book. It’s an acquired taste, a different type of literature than we’re used to. To me, Márquez is a modern Dickens. The appeal of his story lies in the characters, and just as in Dickens, his story is complex and spans huge amounts of time. Not everyone has a taste for Dickens; his books require a commitment on the part of the reader, and Márquez’s masterwork is no different. That said, I am officially moving this book into my Top 10 of All Time, a coveted position that I do not give away lightly.

Here’s why I loved One Hundred Years: It’s like reading a beautiful and sad dream. It’s extremely atmospheric, simply written yet emotionally complex. The breadth of the story is astounding, following the lives, loves, and deaths of six generations of the Buendía family and the town of Macondo, founded by the family’s patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendía. At first the most prominent family in town, over time the Buendías fall into decay until their great history is all but forgotten. It would be almost impossible to describe the twists and turns that the narrative takes, but the story is utterly captivating. It’s also one of the greatest examples of magical realism, which is what gives the story its dreamlike quality. Yellow flowers fall like rain, a woman ascends body and soul into heaven, rain falls for four years, a man is followed everywhere by swarms of butterflies, and men die from the intoxicating scent of the most beautiful woman in the world, but these are facts, not fantasy. It’s all part of life in Macondo and no one there would recognize these events as any more fantastic than sweeping the front porch.

To really get a feel for the book, you have to see a little of the language. Here’s one of my favorite passages, describing the death of the patriarch. (more…)

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