Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Publisher/Year: Books on Tape, 1993
Length: 5 hours, 56 minutes
Narrated by: Kate Reading
What it is: Set on a Mexican ranch at the turn of the century, Mama Elena keeps a tight leash on her daughters. Tita has it the worst; she is expected to spend the rest of her life cooking and caring for her cruel mother. When her chance at happiness arrives and she falls in love with a man named Pedro, her mother refuses to consent to their marriage, and instead arranges for another of her daughters to marry Pedro. As a skilled chef, Tita infuses magical realism into the story, pouring her emotions into the food she prepares, including the wedding food she is forced to prepare for her sister and Pedro.
Why I listened to it: It’s a classic, and I felt like the last person on the planet who had not read this book. This book was also banned in Tucson.
What I thought: I feel like a bad Mexican for saying this, and I know I’m in a very small minority, but I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like Esquivel’s writing. At all. It started a couple of years ago when I read Malinche (which I deemed one of my worst reads of 2010), but since that was my only encounter with Esquivel, I chalked it up to the book. But no, it’s Esquivel. I can see why people like her epic-style storytelling; her writing has a sweeping grandness to it. And I wanted to like Esquivel for writing about some of the problematic gender expectations in Mexican culture. But I just could not get on board with the message. The rest of this part is one big spoiler, so highlight the text to read it: Tita pines away for Pedro for her entire adult life, even though he marries her sister and royally screws her over. When they finally get a chance to be together, he dies (from happiness. UGH, what a douche.)…at which point, her life is no longer worth living, so she goes out with a bang. Please no.
Chicano! the History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by Francisco A. Rosales
Publisher/Year: Arte Publico Press, 1997
What it is: A history textbook published to accompany a 1996 PBS documentary of the same name. The book focuses on the history of the U.S. – Mexico border, especially the important moments for Mexican Americans in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The book then builds up to the activism of the Chicano movement in the 1960s through the mid-1970s.
Why I read it: This is one of the books that was banned in Tucson, Arizona, and I’m on a mission to read entire list of banned books.
What I thought: The book is very interesting, and I’d love to watch the documentary to see how the two complement each other. I already knew some of the things that Rosales covered, but there was a lot I didn’t know. I also loved getting to learn a little more about south Texas history, and think of some of the stories my grandfather used to tell me about his childhood and school experiences in the context of the book (like being punished for speaking Spanish).
From time to time, I know we all come across books we don’t care for. They can’t all be awesome, right? I can usually find a couple of redeeming factors in a book, even if I end up hating it. These books? One of which I actually own? I don’t even want to donate it to the library because that would mean inflicting it on some poor unknowing soul. That bad.
Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski [review]
What it is: A collection of about 40 short stories
Major offenses: Several stories were racist or homophobic. ALL were misogynistic. The whole “drunk dude beating up women and using them for sex, but it’s okay because he’s a struggling writer who had an abusive relationship with his father” thing is total B.S.
Additional commentary: Bukowski sucks. Never again.
What it is: A form of revisionist historical fiction in which Malintzin falls in love with Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
Major offenses: Disjointed and completely devoid of reality. Requires reader to believe that a slave would immediately fall madly in love with her captor after being raped by him.
Additional commentary: Esquivel should know better.
Women Unbound was one of my favorite challenges this year. The goal was to read women’s studies-related fiction and nonfiction (a very broad term), and the the number you had to read depended on the level you signed up for. Even though I started the challenge late, I’m a women’s history nerd and went for level 3; I had to read 8 books, 3 of which had to be nonfiction. I’m not going to list them all again (you can see the full list here), but I ended up reading more than twice that amount!
What a great book. I listened to it on audiobook, and I couldn’t wait to get in my car and drive to work every day just to I could hear how the book turned out.
Favorite Nonfiction: Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany M. Gill [review]
I lovedlovedloved this book. I reviewed it for Elevate Difference earlier this year, and I could not put it down. It’s my nonfiction book of the year.
Favorite Memoir: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker [review]
A couple of my friends had been telling me to read this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally did. After I finished, I promptly had my sister read it too (she loved it).
Ever felt like throwing a book across the room in anger? Because that’s all I felt while reading Malinche. It’s an awful book.
Are you one of those people who keeps reading books even though they don’t like them? I am. I had a feeling I’d hate Laura Esquivel’s Malinche by about page 8. By about page 30, I knew I hated it. But I kept reading anyway. (After reading Eva’s recent post on abandoned books, I’m going to seriously have to rethink this tendency.)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with conquistador history, Malintzin/Malinalli was an indigenous slave who was given to Hernán Cortés when the Spaniards landed in Mexico; she eventually became his interpreter. Malinche, as she is more commonly known, has been a controversial figure in history. Some revere her, some pity her, and some consider her a traitor to her people.
Now, it doesn’t really bother me that much when people take some artistic license with historical events. When I saw The Patriot, I was fine with the way the American Revolution was portrayed, so long as I could keep seeing Heath Ledger. So long as the filmmaker/writer is not injecting fiction into a documentary or actual history book, I can accept that stuff’s going to get changed to make it more appealing to the masses.
But come on, Laura Esquivel.
Malinche tells the story of the “passionate love affair” between Malinalli and Cortés. Malinalli gets sold into slavery at age 5, continuing to get shifted around to different owners until her adolescence, when she’s given to the Spaniards. She starts out by working for one of Cortés’s men, and as her gift with languages becomes clear, she moves up in status to become the Spaniards’ interpreter. By then she has caught Cortés’s eye, and the two develop a secret attraction to one another; [trigger warning] taking advantage of the situation one day when he sees her bathing alone in a lake, Cortés rapes Malinalli, then reassigns her to be his woman.
This is one of the many major disconnects in the story. She falls in love with him, though they have a tempestuous “relationship” (I say “relationship” because it is clear throughout the book that she is still his slave, and he is still the one with all the power). After bearing witness to his thirst for power and the brutal slaughter of thousands of people, Malinalli is left trying to reconcile her love for this man and her horror at his actions, as well as the role she has played in helping him. There is no believable love story here; it’s all about rape, abuse, control, and victimization.