I've decided that I like magical realism when it is done well. It adds that wonderful zip to the story that allows your imagine to take each situation to the next level. Of course it creates improbable and fantastical situations but magical realism can make a good story rise to the level of wonderful.
Esquivel, who is Mexican, depicts the amazing and sometimes irrational traditions that make up our culture. I can completely relate to the idea that in this family the youngest daughter is to be the matriarch's caregiver and is destined to never marry. It's not really rational, but in a Mexican family it can make perfect sense.
She also focuses on traditional foods as a mechanism for telling the story, certainly tempting me as a reader to attempt a session for mole and Christmas rolls making.
Unfortunately there is a serious issue within the De La Garza family in that Tita, the youngest daughter, won't bend to the tradition of being a spinster and is intent on being with her true love. Compounding the problem is that the matriarch (and the one dependent on her in the future), Mama Eleana, forbids Tita from marrying. Tita's true love, Pedro then marries Tita's older sister, Rosaura in order to be close to her. Poor Rosaura, she can never fill her younger sister's shoes. This leads to some pretty wicked cooking and fantastical recipes as Tita takes out her frustration; she also brings on the seduction through her food.
I was wow'd by the narrator's voice and wicked fun that comes from this intense cooking. There is much more to the story and the middle sister is probably the most mysterious and interesting of the three. She is not a primary character but demonstrates the double standard of female/male relationships, especially in a culture of machismo. Her path in life leaves a lot to think about.
If you are a foodie or even a person who loves a good meal, you will relate to the emotions and connections to life that happen through Tita's kitchen. It's also a great story and most beautifully done. I did watch the movie first but it was well worth it to listen to Esquivel's words through a wonderful narrator.