The Discovery of Chocolate

James Runcie, Author
James Runcie, Author HarperCollins $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-018481-0
Paperback - 264 pages - 978-0-06-095943-2
Hardcover - 249 pages - 978-0-00-710782-7
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In a series of vignettes that span four centuries and are linked by their focus on chocolate, immortal protagonist Diego de Godoy presides over the discovery and refinement of the divine confection--but his concomitant reflections on life and love, too often trite, leave the reader hungering for more satisfying fare. In 1518, Diego, a young Spaniard anxious to prove his devotion to the lady Isabella, joins a ship of conquistadors bound for the Americas under the leadership of Cort s. His devotion to Isabella wanes, however, when, as a guest of Montezuma in Mexico, he meets the lovely Ignacia and tastes the smooth, bittersweet drink she serves him--cacahuatl, or chocolate. Diego and Ignacia spend an idyllic week together before his fellow Spaniards turn on Montezuma and raze his land. The lovers are forced to part, but not before Ignacia serves Diego a magical drink that makes him immortal and able to travel though time. In the centuries that follow, Diego charms Spanish nobility with his mole sauce, prepares chocolate creams with the Marquis de Sade in the Bastille, invents the Sacher torte, undergoes analysis with Sigmund Freud in Vienna and helps Hershey invent the Kiss--though he longs all the while for his Ignacia and resents the curse of his protracted existence. While Runcie, a BBC filmmaker, offers a clever conceit and meticulous, enticing descriptions of chocolate-making, Diego's philosophizing falls short by comparison, and the plot relies to heavily upon contrivance and coincidence. Still, those willing to suspend disbelief and simply go along for the ride will be beguiled by Diego's fanciful, sensual journey. Author tour. (Feb.)
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