The Discovery of Chocolate
Humor and endearing candor ring through the narrative voice of Diego de Godoy. Notary to Cortés, the conquistador, he falls in love with the Mayan lady who prepares chocolatl. “You must not be afraid of death,” Ignacia tells him. “One day you will know that we only come to dream; we only come to sleep.” They pledge undying love, and she slips him the elixir of life.
Like Orlando, he is fated to return. A century slips by. His trusty dog Pedro has hardly aged a day. Each time Diego segues between places, it’s disorienting, and one has to learn a new cast of characters. At times it’s a spoof as he puts the Marquis de Sade in his place, and discusses philosophy with Dr. Freud. He extends the fantasy when he meets Dr. Hershey of a certain confectionery.
Runcie excels at descriptive prose. “The green of the trees stretched out before us as if an artist had laid them out on a palette: lime, verdigris, and Prussian green; emerald, pine, and terre verte.” Despite his frothy style, he makes profound observations: “So much of a parent’s duty lies in the presentation of a mood or emotion to the rest of the family — whether it be authority, cheerfulness, or patience — which its owner does not, in fact, possess. I have noticed that this often creates both tension and distress.”
The novel is a paean to love that never tires, as life-enhancing as chocolate. We learn along with Diego the wisdom to value the important things in life.