Around the World in Eighty Books

In which I read and reflect on eighty books from around the world.

Archive for the tag “magical realism”

Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera

by: Gabriel García Márquez

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Look at that sweet face. Isn’t Sr. Márquez just the best??

There are several reasons why it was hard for me to get into this book. I think I would have understood it better if I had had more time and energy to analyze the complex motifs, and if I had not been so preoccupied with other thoughts (this week was especially stressful for me, for various reasons). I definitely understand why it won Márquez a Nobel Prize; his challenges to society’s perceptions of love are quite astute. However, it was hard for me to really identify with most of the characters, which made it difficult for me to enjoy the story, even as I appreciated his skill at story-telling and social critique.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Márquez does an excellent job of complicating different misconceptions of love. These range from perfect love, as in Fermina’s marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino, to depraved love, as in Ariza’s sexual relationship with his fourteen year old charge, América Vicuña. The love between Fermina and Dr. Urbino is perceived by society as perfect, but it is actually marred by infidelity and stubborn pride, so that neither of them know how to compromise or resolve an argument. In fact, Fermina continues to berate her husband for his betrayal even after he dies. Meanwhile, Ariza is plagued not by his incestuous relationship with América but by the fear that society, and especially Fermina, might discover their love. And when Ariza ends their affair, he does not suspect that América would become so depressed that she kills herself, rather he is only thinking about his pursuit of Fermina. While Ariza is depraved for beginning the relationship with this young woman in the first place, he is selfish for ending the relationship so abruptly without considering her feelings.

There are times when I want characters to do something that defies the story that the author is trying to tell, and this is definitely one of those times. I loathe Ariza, and I wanted him to be out of the picture entirely, but instead he stuck around, pining pitifully for Fermina, even when she eventually married and made her own life without him. Fermina and Ariza eventually become lovers in their seventies after her husband dies. I think I understand why she chooses him (nostalgia, compassion, loneliness) but she could do better, and it bothers me that they end up together. Márquez seems to be saying that finding new love in one’s “golden years” should not be so reviled as it is by society. If you, dear reader, have any idea what else he is suggesting with this ending, please let me know. Wikipedia has not yet sated my desire to understand this book.

According to the Wikipedia page on Love in the Time of Cholera, the title has double meanings. The story does take place during a severe cholera epidemic in Colombia and other parts of the Caribbean. However, the term for cholera in Spanish, cólera, can also mean hatred or ire, which refers both to Ariza’s anger with Fermina’s marriage and the civil wars and societal upheaval that provide the setting for this story.

I’ve read three books for this blog so far from Latin America, admittedly a very small sample, but nevertheless I’m intrigued that I picked three stories focused on themes of romantic love, set amid turbulent times of bloody conflict. This post is my homage to the father of magical realism, and I intend to read many more stories that follow a similar style.

P.S. I’ve been trying to update every Wednesday, but this post has been a little late. I appreciate your patience, dear reader. I will try to get another one up next Wednesday about The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.

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Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

Like Water For Chocolate

Prepared by: Laura Esquivel

Translated from the Spanish by: Carol and Thomas Christensen

Ingredients:

1/3 cup Mexican Revolution

A pinch of magic

1 cup romantic love

A heart full of dreams, finely crushed

1/2 cup feminism

1 controlling mother

3 daughters

1 cup filial piety

1 cup independence

Preparation:

Stir ingredients together well over high heat, until concoction comes to a roaring boil. Continuing stirring for 241 pages. You can read immediately or wait as long as you wish, since it will never spoil with age.

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Above is my version of the “recipe” that Laura Esquivel might have used to create this lovely tale, modeled after the recipes that she describes throughout this book. I have a wise librarian to thank for this particular gem of a novel. When I told her I was looking for books by influential Mexican authors, she immediately directed me to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. This novel covers the beginning of feminism in Mexico and the Mexican Revolution by depicting the life and struggles of one controlling, traditional widow and her three daughters (Wikipedia). The characters can be interpreted as allegories, with Tita representing the new ideas fighting for dominance during the Mexican Revolution, including women’s rights, and her mother representing the old, traditional ways. I have been very interested in finding authors who employ magical realism to tell their stories, so I was naturally drawn to Esquivel. (You may see a fair number of magical realist stories in this blog; for example, I am currently searching for House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende so that I can read it for my entry about Peru).

The story is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, with a recipe at the beginning of each that is fully incorporated into life of the main character, Tita de la Garza. This story is a richly sensual experience, with authentic, mouth-watering Mexican dishes prepared at the beginning of each chapter that often provoke strong emotional reactions – such as passion, heartache, or rage – when eaten by the characters in the story. During these experiences, the author incorporates magical elements as natural occurrences. For example, after one meal, Tita’s sister Gertrudis runs naked out of the shower because she is so aroused that the water droplets melt when they touch her skin and cause the wooden shower enclosure to burst into flames (Esquivel 50).

I deeply empathize with Tita, who is forbidden from marrying the love of her life, Pedro, by her cold, authoritarian mother. Her sweet, nurturing nature and constant struggle to reconcile filial duty with romantic love makes the reader hurt for her as she experiences heartbreak time and again.

I really like the title of this novel because it fits so perfectly.  The title is the English translation of the saying in Spanish, Como aqua para chocolate, which refers to the boiling water used to make hot chocolate. The saying is a simile for describing strong emotions, usually sexual passion or anger (Wikipedia).

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Next week: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. See you then!

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