Celebrating the 30th anniversary of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’

Grace Barnes

Laura Esquivel is a Mexican novelist, screenwriter and politician. Her first novel, “Como agua para chocolate,” which translates to “Like Water for Chocolate,” was published in 1989 and became a bestseller in Mexico and the United States. 

“Like Water for Chocolate” was later adapted into a film of the same name, receiving dozens of awards and nominations, including 10 Ariel awards — the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Awards — and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. 

The story follows a young girl named Tita, who, according to family tradition must remain single and care for her mother until she dies. When Tita falls in love with a boy named Pedro, her mother swiftly marries off her older sister to Pedro to ensure the preservation of tradition, but Tita and Pedro’s love endures. Structured like an old-style women’s magazine, each chapter begins with decadent recipes, heart-wrenching love stories and home remedies.   

The Daily Texan spoke to Esquivel about this special anniversary of her bestselling novel and its continuing success. The interview was translated by her nephew and illustrator Jordi Castells. 

The Daily Texan: What does it mean to you to have your first novel be something so personal and to get the reception it did and continues to get today? 

Laura Esquivel: When the book was first published, it started getting translated into other languages really quickly. Within six months, I had it translated into three different languages. I was very surprised. People would ask me why I had so much success and I had no answer. The novel and I have walked a long path together, but I’m the only one who got gray hair. The book is still widely read everywhere. Next year it will be adapted into a Broadway musical, and also a ballet for the Royal Ballet. 

DT: Even though it was published 30 years ago, “Like Water for Chocolate” is still widely read and loved. What is it about this novel that has allowed it to endure for so many years? 

LE: A few years ago, I started noticing at events that young people would come to get their book signed, people (were) young enough that they hadn’t been born when “Like Water for Chocolate” was published. I had to wonder, “What was it about this story that I wrote 30 years ago, that takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century that was so interesting to young people?” One of the answers that I found was that the youth are identifying with the protagonist, Tita. When the story starts, she is just an object of her mother’s desires. As the story develops, she becomes the subject who is the master of her own destiny. What do the youth see (in Tita) that they identify with? Who is their castrating mother? I think young people today are in a similar position to Tita. They may not necessarily have a mother who oppresses them, but they do live in a system that oppresses them, that doesn’t give them the option to decide their own destiny. I think this idea of Tita escaping that prison and achieving her freedom is appealing to them and moves them; it touches their hearts.