Saturday, October 17, 2015

Happy Chocolate Week from The Writer’s Center

By Claire Handscombe

If there’s one thing we at The Writer’s Center love (maybe even more than books), it’s chocolate. So, is there a more fitting way to celebrate Chocolate Week than by reading about it? Okay, eating it also seems like a good plan, and drinking it too, but there’s no reason we can’t do all of these, possibly simultaneously.

Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza family, can never marry. Her destiny is to care for her mother, the somewhat tyrannical Maria Elena, until her death. So when she meets Pedro as a young teenager, we know their love is doomed. He marries her older sister, Rosaura, instead, so that he can stay close to Tita. What could possibly go wrong? 

I love impossible love and heartbreaking romance, so this would be enough to get me reading, but this novel has so much more. Published in 1990, this novel was a huge success in Mexico, where it was an international best-seller, and with good reason. Food has magical powers in this book, as do tears and sexual attraction. This story is a delight. It will surprise you at every turn. And the ending is unpredictable and perfect.

Now for something more chaste and socially conscious. 

Cadbury’s chocolate is an institution in the UK. It’s the chocolate we all grew up with, but it’s so much more than that: from the beginning, Cadbury’s was a company with a social conscience. They were pioneers. "As soon as they were able," Deborah Cadbury says in an NPR interview, "they were doing things like raising the wages of their workforce, introducing Saturdays off, introducing pensions, introducing unemployment benefits and sickness benefits, and even free doctors, free dentists, and vitamin pills for staff." Even the origin of hot chocolate is virtuous: the Cadburys, who were Quakers, were trying to find a nutritious drink that would supplement alcohol for, in particular, people living in poverty. There’s plenty to celebrate here besides the delicious taste of chocolate.

Odds are you’ve seen the movie, but have you read the book? 

Vianne Rocher arrives in a small French town with her young daughter and opens a chocolate shop. But the timing is bad—it’s the beginning of lent. Father Reynaud is not amused, and he predicts her shop’s demise. But the lure of the forbidden and the warmth of Vianne’s personality soon win customers over, and… Well, read it and see. 

Joanne Harris has explained the origin of the novel. After her husband made the comment that "chocoalte is to women what football is to men," she started pondering the magical powers of chocolate. "People have these conflicting feelings about chocolate, and that a lot of people who have very little else in common relate to chocolate in more or less the same kind of way. It became a kind of challenge to see exactly how much of a story I could get which was uniquely centered around chocolate." I'd say she met that challenge admirably well. But judge for yourselves. 

Still hungry from more chocolate-themed reading? Check out this Goodreads list.

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