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In the kitchen – Alison Wong’s As the Earth turns Silver

December 17, 2012

Just chomping through old notes and articles again…

One of the things that struck me about As the Earth Turns Silver was the way politics were filtered through the domesticity not only of Katherine, but also of Yung and other characters… the presence of the kitchen in this novel reminded me in some ways of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. The politics of the kitchen collide with the politics of nation formation in both novels…. Anyway, I just found an old article on exactly that feature of Esquivel’s novel …

Some time ago, Tony Spanos wrote: In Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate twelve recipes for traditional and delicious Mexican dishes make up the narrative flow, during which the protagonist, Tita de la Garza, learns and shares the secrets, struggles and beauties of life in the kitchen. Even though some critics dismiss this type of Mexican narrative frame – in particular the use of recipes – as completely lacking in literary value and attempting only to be different – I find Esquivel’s novel to be extraordinarily original, totally different from what any other Latin American woman writer has done, until now. That is, it seems to me, she wrote Like water for chocolate as from a second uterus, which is the kitchen and it becomes different conflicting metaphors throughout the novel. / Although this type of novelty may appear highly incompatible to many feminist critics, other women writers and women in general whose message is to reject patriarchal dominion and to move beyond the confines of domestic life, Esquivel reclaims the kitchen as a very serious domestic sphere which is the most sacred place in the house, and from which the protagonist controls her destiny through her recipes.” (p.30)like water for chocolate

What Esquivel does in Like Water for Chocolate is to reclaim the kitchen as a place or space of artistic and creative power and not just a place of mere confinement and oppression.” (p.32)

This reclamation fits within a trend, or movement, that Spanos refers to, writing (in 1995, BTW): “Even though, on the one hand, there is a literary precedent of domestic imprisonment of women in the kitchen and what this domesticity implies, on the other hand there are Latin American women writers who have proclaimed the importance of the kitchen in their works during the past ten years or so. In a conference that took place in 1982 on Latin American writers at Mt. Holyoke College, several of the participants and writers spoke about the importance of the kitchen in their presentations. The conference proceedings were published in 1984 under the title La sarten por el mango, The Frying Pan by the Handle, with editor Patricia Elena Gonzalez’s metaphorical challenge to return to the kitchen and start writing.” (p.31)

The kitchen changes from a place of drudgery to an apprenticeship in an artisan’s shop. Like an artist she records the recipes, along with their accompanying anecdotes and her own story. Now she understands the direct relationship and association between the recipes and the expressions they communicate about life while they are being prepared. Esquivel appears to be offering and recommending different recipes, codes and expression to describe and establish other references about knowledge and identity.” (p.33)

“In Like Water for Chocolate repressive societal traditions at times control and dominate Tita’s destiny. But Esquivel bestows on Tita the transformative power as an artist in the kitchen, by having her express and share her creative and magical recipes into a powerful and beautiful narrative. The author also celebrates the creative force and importance of the kitchen as a place providing a liberating voice….” (p.35)

Ref: Tony Spanos (1995) ‘The paradoxical Metaphors of the Kitchen in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for ChocolateLetras Femeninas XXI, No.s 1-2, pp. 29-36

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