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Saturday, April 2

Desire for chocolate by Care Santos or how we live by our passions

A friend and I were talking about the few books written on chocolate as compared to the huge amounts of chocolate we openly or secretly allow ourselves to eat. According to Karen Coates, anthropologist and food lover, If ever a single ingredient epitomized human nature, it must be chocolate.  It stands one flavor that tore down cultural barriers and came to define civilizations and desires. We crave for chocolate like there is no tomorrow, mainly because we associate it with love, passion, old civilizations, refined taste, joy, and well being. 

From an economic point of view, chocolate consumption is a mark of how well people are doing and we marvel at measuring the kilos certain nations devour in comparisons to others. Then, as in any other situations when an inherent sense of balance must be struck, we associate chocolate production with child slavery practices and we are supposed to boycott large companies by not buying their products or at least, foster a sense of remorse or civic engagement. We don't. We covet it too much to give it up. We stand by our addictions.

Back to my American days, I experienced such a sugar intoxication that my body refused to get closer to chocolate. To anything remotely desert like no matter how hard I tried and how many new things I experienced. I came back, full of stories to share, one passion minus. And, the same friend told me it was a fleeting thing, a sort of readjusting to that particular reality and then slipping back into familiar shoes. But much as I hoped to fall back into love with Lindt, it turned out my American experience cured me of a gut bacteria that gave me the chocolate cravings. 

I might have cut down on chocolate consumption but I still feel drawn to the sight of it in shops, recipes, people and books. Especially in books such as Desire for chocolate by Care Santos, a novel I read among the first since it hit bookshop shelves a couple of weeks ago. What makes it exceptional it is not the chocolate subject itself but the way the author weaves it around the three stories of exceptional women. Here they are: three women sharing a common passion and its object of desire: a porcelain chocolate pot. The book depicts the story behind the birth of such an object and its journey into and out of the lives of women that feel absorbed by it, one way or another. 

Sara, Aurora and Mariana are drawn to the magical pot beyond their control and the stories get carried away in time along with the miraculous drink and their Russian doll nested passions. Apart from chocolate and the pot, there is Barcelona, a place rich in history that binds their destinies across time. If you have never visited the city, the book will offer you a free ride and act like an incentive for taste and mind alike. Books blending food, history and passion are meant to be an instant success or at least to draw readers into the layers of the story that unfolds in reverse chronology under different themes: gender roles, love, adultery, longing, loss, all under the same narrative arc.

From the point of view used to tell the story, the novel uses different person narrations. First, there is the second person that reveals the modern Sara keeping under control every aspect of her life, except her heart. The second part is set in the nineteenth century and reads like a mixture of first person narration and an alter ego. Aurora, the maidservant, is bound to give in to the magical powers of the chocolate pot that draws her into its presence, beyond control. The third part of the novel is a letter/play that renders the unfolding of events through a man's eyes. Together, they take you for a ride in Barcelona, across history and ages, promising no spectacular language display, no exceptional plot twists, no depth of characters, yet somehow manage to leave you, the reader, craving for chocolate if not more. In a word, it is a undemanding, quiet, elegant story that flows beautifully from one end to the other.

The friend I shared the book with, admitted to enjoying the second part of the story the most because it felt the closest to her heart. Indeed, the second story is given more detail and lyrical shape. It is meant to appeal to the sensitive side of the reader and elegantly manipulate feelings of empathy towards Aurora. I, as a modern woman, feel closer to Sara and her story, because not long ago, she was the chocolatiere I wanted to be especially since I was given the chance to make my own chocolate, bean to bar and enjoyed the process beyond words. 

Mentally speaking, I am still in love with chocolate and I like to think of it as a kind of mature love. The crazy, young days of chocolate binging are long gone and I have come to appreciate stronger darker flavors and far-fetched combinations and look deeper for the satisfaction of my peculiar taste buds. I might catch again that bug that ruins gut balance and messes with both body and mind; meanwhile reading about chocolate makes the best surrogate kind of love. 

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