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Laura Esquivel | Biography

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Cooking, family, and spirituality have always been important parts of Laura Esquivel's life, just as they were for her most famous heroine, Tita De la Garza in Like Water for Chocolate. Born in Mexico City on September 30, 1950, Laura Esquivel was the third of four children. Her parents were Julio Caesar Esquivel, a telegraph operator, and his wife, Josephina. Esquivel grew up in a modern home in a nice neighborhood, but her grandmother lived across the street in an older house. At the time churches were illegal in Mexico, but her grandmother had a chapel in her home near her kitchen. Esquivel says the smells of food mixed with the smells of the chapel, and her grandmother's healing herbs became entwined in Esquivel's mind. Eventually, she says, she came to understand that "the interior activities of the home are as significant as the exterior activities of society." In other words the maintenance of the home, the preparation of food, family traditions, and family dynamics have as great an impact on individuals as the rules and conventions of society and religion as a whole. The kitchen and cooking, in particular, quickly became Esquivel's favorite metaphors for life in general and for the relationships between people in particular.

Esquivel attended Escuela Normal de Maestros, the national teacher's college, and a few years later she married Alfonso Arau, a Mexican director whose film Mojado Power was Mexico's nominee for the 1982 Oscar for best foreign film. Esquivel began writing while working as a kindergarten teacher. She wrote plays for her students and for the Mexico City theater workshop and also created programming for Spanish public television during the 1970s and 1980s.

The idea for her first novel, Like Water for Chocolate, came to Esquivel while she was cooking the recipes of her mother and grandmother: "The smells," she said, "took me back to their cooking and the wonderful chats we had." Esquivel also used an episode from her own family history to write her book. She had a great-aunt named Tita, who was forbidden to wed and never did anything but care for her own mother. Soon after her mother died, so did Tita. This story became the thread on which her novel is based, but the fictional Tita's story ends very differently.

The novel was a great success and was eventually made into a movie directed by Esquivel's husband. It won 11 Ariel awards from the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures and became the largest-grossing foreign film ever released in the United States. Unfortunately, Esquivel's marriage to Arau ended after 12 years. But as her lawyer helped her with some of the resulting legal issues, he asked if she would read some stories written by his brother, Javier Valdes—a dentist. Esquivel agreed out of politeness. As she read the stories, though, she began to fall in love with the author, who wrote about women with great empathy and regard. In fact he reminded her of the character John Brown in Like Water for Chocolate. A year after she began reading his stories, they were married.

Although Like Water for Chocolate has been her most famous book, Esquivel has written several other novels as well. All of them explore themes of love, and often hunger, while focusing on the relationships between men and women. All of them also depart from traditional literary genres in some way, containing elements of magic realism, science fiction, or mythology. Esquivel also authored a collection of essays, Between Two Fires (1995), which features musings on life, love, and food.

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