The Discovery of Chocolate
James Runcie
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The Discovery of Chocolate
James Runcie
272 pages
January 2002
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie is a deliciously sweet fable about a man, a woman, and chocolate. Imagine Forrest Gump meets Pilgrim meets Orlando, and you'll have a rough idea what Runcie has brought together in this wonderful little novel. If you are looking for a quick weekend read or a fun book for that special chocoholic in your life, this is it.

Curled Up With a Good BookThe story begins in 1518 and spans 500 years (in only 264 pages!). A young man named Diego de Godoy sets sail with Cortez and his conquistadors they end up in Mexico and begin plundering and pillaging. Diego falls madly in love with Ignacia, a beautiful young woman who offers him a drink called chocolatl. Alas, Cortez is on a tight schedule and has other lands to pillage, so Diego must leave Ignacia. On the day of Diego’s departure she gives him a special spicy brew of chocolatl and says: “If you are alive then I am alive. Never cease in your search of me.” She tells him she will drink her chocolatl after he has set sail. Romantic - yes? Diego returns to Spain and he realizes that he truly loves Ignacia. He returns to Mexico to search for his love. As time passes he becomes aware that he ages one year for every ten and so does his trusty greyhound Pedro.

Diego is delightfully naïve, and his slow metabolism apparently affects his mental processes as well. This is a running gag throughout the story. It takes Diego over 200 years to realize that his longevity is due to the special chocolatl, and another 100 years before it dawns on him that Ignacia must be still alive. He begins his search for her again. While crisscrossing Europe Diego meets many famous people: Franz Sacher (yes, Sacher torte), Mr. Fry, (Fry’s Cocoa Powder), Alice B. Toklas (illicit brownies) and of course Mr. Hershey himself, who creates a chocolate tribute to Pedro (Hershey’s Kiss, anyone?). However, the most fun is the passage with the Marquis de Sade. His conversations with Diego are filled with more puns than a pakery. I could not keep a smile off my face -- or was that a leer?

This story is really a good old-fashioned “man on a quest” with chocolate playing a prominent role. Runcie puts together a story as sweet and as pleasurable as chocolate itself, light and satisfying.  Runcie’s delight in word play and the comedic one-two set-up and punchline are not to be missed. This novel could easily be turned into a movie, a nice fluffy romantic comedy (think Mike Myers as Diego). And in case you’re not the kind of reader who reads the acknowledgements at the end of a book, I’ll spill the beans there really was a Diego de Godoy in Cortez’ party.

This novel has passion, sex, and chocolate; what is there not to love? The Discovery of Chocolate isn’t great literature. It’s great fun, and couldn’t we all use a lot more of that?

© 2002 by Laura Merrill Miller for Curled Up With a Good Book

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