Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate


 

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel | LibraryThing

*1001 Books Book

Esquivel, L. (1992). Like water for chocolate: a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies. New York: Doubleday. 9780385420167

            When I began my ill-fated study of Spanish in high school, my awesome Spanish teacher suggested we watch movies or TV shows in Spanish. Soon after, I stumbled upon the movie version of Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. For the prudish sophomore I was, this was both eye opening and jaw dropping.

A couple of years later, some of my college friends raved about the book. The numerous recommendations and the accolade of being a 1001 Books book reinitiated my interest in reading Like Water for Chocolate.

A grandniece tells us the story of the protagonist – Tita de la Garza. Tita is the youngest of three daughters who live in early twentieth century Mexico, close to Texas. Mama Elena de la Garza has a ranch and rests easy in the knowledge that her spirited youngest daughter, Tita, will take care of her. This is tradition – the youngest daughter cares for her mother until death.

When Tita and a young man named Pedro fall in love, Mama Elena bars it and foists her second eldest daughter, Rosaura, on Pedro. In a world of pain, Tita’s only release is cooking. Tita cooks with all of her heart and this can be experienced by the consumers of the food. Similar to the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy. . .” Tita’s emotions become the eater of Tita’s food.

Perhaps it’s the magical realism but I sensed this to be a fairy tale. I liked Tita’s expression and use of the little control she has in her life. She’s no slouch.

Also, I liked that the book offered recipes – sort of going along with something Francis Ford Coppola said about making the first Godfather movie. Originally, the book was published in a magazine over a twelve month period. I considered myself fortunate to have all the stories and recipes condensed to one book.

Still, I did feel some sympathy for Rosaura; I don’t know if Esquivel had that in mind. She seemed to be in the way of everyone and used as a weapon against Tita and Pedro.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Places: Mexico, Texas

 

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


This is cover of the 1999 edition.

This is cover of the 1999 edition.

* 1001 Books Book

Eugenides, J. (1994). The virgin suicides. New York: Warner Books.

Thanks to Oprah, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides this past summer. Amazed by Eugenides, I looked to see when the movie would be coming. Well, that has not happened yet for Middlesex but there was Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, a movie adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ first novel by the same name. Quickly, I put my name on the waiting list for the movie. After I saw the movie, I requested the book. Both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex are among the 1001 Books of 2006. Now, I even own a copy of The Virgin Suicides.

Narrated by a group of middle-aged men looking upon items and memories, The Virgin Suicides takes the reader through that fateful “year of the suicides.” These guys were the teenage neighbors of the Catholic Lisbon family. Mr. Lisbon teaches high school math while the strict Mrs. Lisbon makes a home for her five lovely daughters. They are the “brainy Therese (17), fastidious Mary (16), ascetic Bonnie (15), libertine Lux (14), and pale, saintly Cecilia (13),” (Eugenides).

Cecilia attempts suicide and seemingly stuns all, including her older sisters. In order to cheer the glum Cecilia, the Lisbons throw a party in their basement. Cecilia excuses herself and jumps from her bedroom window, successfully taking her own life. Becoming the talk of the Grosse Pointe community, the remaining Lisbon girls grow more isolated from other kids and the grist for the rumor mill.

Again, Eugenides impressed and held me spellbound by his writing. I found myself wishing that Eugenides, not King, had written Carrie. The seamless movement of his group of narrators through interviews and attempts of understanding what has come to pass in neighborhood would have smoothed the multitude of wrinkles in Carrie. I wish my high school group projects/papers had gone so well!

Eugenides captures the dementia of obsession and elusiveness of crushes with painful poignancy. In their telling of the Lisbon girls, these guys have beautified these sisters, particularly the dazzling Lux. Memory and aura protect these girls from the scrutiny attempted by the quixotic group of men. They are still haunted by the Lisbons.

Allegorical or not, I was enthralled by the descriptions and views of the Lisbon girls. Due to rubber necking and disbelief, I could not stop reading this book. In their endeavor to solve the mystery, I learned much about the narrator. Coming away from my reading, I felt I knew much more about the telescope than the stars. Of course, people tend to tell on themselves. This is how life goes.

I give The Virgin Suicides Four and Three quarters Pearls.

Places: Grosse Pointe, Michigan;  Detroit, Michigan

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The Infinite Possibility of Life of Pi


 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel | LibraryThing

* 1001 Books Book

Martel, Y., & Woodman, J. (2002). Life of pi a novel. Minneapolis, MN: HighBridge. 9781565117792

I remember when Good Morning America announced it’s next book club read was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Life of Pi is a novel in three parts with one hundred chapters Since then, I have seen Life of Pi repeatedly listed among my friends’ favorite books. I decided I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about and I was in for a treat. I checked out the audiobook version of Life of Pi (it’s citation is provided above) and enjoyed it immensely.

Part One begins with a wandering author in search of a story. While in Pondicherry, the capital of what was French India, the unnamed writer meets the elderly Francis Adirubasamy. Adirubasamy mentions the great story of Pi Patel. This is one that “will make you believe in God.” The author says that only Pi can tell this story. On the audio, there are two voices: the one of the author and that of Pi.

We first meet Piscene “Pi” Molitor Patel as a middle-aged man living with his family in Canada. He double-majored in Religion and Zoology. He voices the question that this is such an odd pairing. From there, the audience discovers that Pi was the son of a weary zoo keeper and a follower of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. His affinity for both animals and loving God is expressed fervently by Pi. He’s also quite witty; forming the nickname of Pi so he deals less with classmates destroying his given name. All of this is in the midst of the Indian period called “The Emergency.” Due to political instability experienced in 1977 India, Pi’s father makes the hard decision to sell the zoo and its animals and immigrate with his family to Canada.

So, the Patels and numerous animals who once resided at the Pondicherry Zoo, sail upon a Japanese cargo ship to Canada. Part Two presents the sinking ship. Jumping into the water, Pi pulls himself into a lifeboat. Soon, he finds himself on board with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan called Orange Juice, and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. As the back cover mentions, it takes Pi’s knowledge of animals and his faith to survive. When he does, can anyone really believe that he managed within such a menagerie?

I have learned much from this book. I learned all kinds of things about animals such as tigers can make a sound referred to as  “prusten” which means no harm. Another thing I found within Pi’s ordeal was that it would take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith not only to survive but to believe.  Allegorical or not,  Life of Pi is now one of my favorite books, too.

Places: India, Pacific Ocean, Mexico, Canada

4  1/2 Pearls.



 

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die



Several months ago, one of my best friends asked me, “How many of them have you read?” These were the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I was sad that I had read less than 3% of the books listed. Some of these books were ones I had not even finished. I asked myself “Who came up with this?”

Since the time I first received the list, I found out there was a whole book on this. After checking it out from HCPL and scanning it, I have gone to work on this list. As described on the 43 Things Site:

Each work of literature listed here is a seminal work key to understanding and appreciating the written word. These works have been handpicked by a team of international critics and literary luminaries, including Derek Attridge (world expert on James Joyce), Cedric Watts (renowned authority on Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene), Laura Marcus (noted Virginia Woolf expert), and David Mariott (poet and expert on African-American literature), among some twenty others. (Description from Amazon.com)

I doubt that I will ever read all of these. In fact, I nearly refuse to read some of these works. Yet, it’s a nice diversion and I find it interesting that a group of people could meet some sort of consensus on what was best. I even found a terrific Excel spreadsheet on the Arukiyomi site specifically for this book list. There are book reviews, too. Several of the books I will review will be on the 1001 Books list. I hope you enjoy my latest selections. Comments are encouraged!

~ Jorie

In the Grips of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro | LibraryThing

* 1001 Books Book (2006)

Ishiguro, K. (2005). Never let me go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9781400043392

Going in reverse chronological order, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is Number 1 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Finding it on the shelf at the library where I work, I pulled the book, started reading, and found myself in Chapter 2 by the end of lunch. Ishiguro, born in Japan, moved to England with his family at the age of five. I read somewhere Kazuo Ishiguro was the only one in his family who spoke English. I felt his isolation in Never Let Me Go. The author has written numerous novels, including The Remains of the Day.

Never Let Me Go begins with the introduction of the narrator, thirty-one year old Kathy H. She has been a carer for eleven years. Carers watch over donors and Kathy takes pride easing the burdens of her charges. Kathy H. lives in her native England sometime in the late 1990s. She grew up at the prestigious Hailsham boarding school. Hailsham almost seems idyllic in it’s nurturing the learning and creativity of its students. Hailsham also placed an emphasis on poetry and art.

Two of Kathy’s closest friends from Hailsham were Tommy and Ruth. Eventually, Tommy and Ruth become donors and Kathy becomes the carer for both. Together, they ponder what Hailsham is all about and their place in the equation. However, when they uncover the answers, they do not solve the problem.

The title, Never Let Me Go, comes from a song by fictitious American singer Judy Bridgewater. In the song, Bridgewater expresses how she does not want to be separated from the one she loves. Kathy also does not want to be “let go.”

This novel is what one of my professors would have called a Platonic novel. Like “Allegory of the Cave,” the characters and the reader learn things that alter them and things they cannot unlearn. It took me sometime to shake how the book made me feel. If nothing else, this book is provocative. While numerous book reviews and Wikipedia tell you what happens, I will let you find out for yourself. However, I will say it made me very sad.

At first, I wondered why kids like Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy didn’t ever hear from their families. In addition, I questioned the definitions of “carer” and “donor.” I had all sorts of theories from museum employees to school endowment workers. Ultimately, Ishiguro pulled the rug out from under all of us when we found the true nature of the students’ “uniqueness.”

Yet, when the reader discovers why Hailsham exists, there is no fight or flight attempted by Kathy, Ruth, or Tommy. I would have liked to have seen Kathy attempt at least one of these things. Since she did not, I was very disappointed. By the end of the book, I did not feel she had or would gain any peace, either.

Based purely on the questions this book raises, I give it three and a half out of five pearls. On the end of the book, I give it one and a half pearls.

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