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Thread: Mistress of Spices Discussion

  1. #1
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    Mistress of Spices Discussion

    I looked through the website listing questions for this book, and didn't know where to start. So, I just picked one. Here goes....


    "What do the spices take from Tilo? What do they give her? Is it a fair exchange?"

    I thought the role of the spices is what made this book interesting and unique. The whole premise of giving your life over to be a mistress of spices and have the ability to "heal" (not sure that's the right word) others is so cool. Tilo clearly struggled with the life she had to give up, though, and she struggled with being captive in a different body.

    I had a problem with the end, though. I thought it was weak to have the spices decide not to punish Tilo personally in the end. They said that her willingness to give up everything was enough. While I liked the way she ultimately and unselfishly went back to SF to help after the quake, it wasn't believable that the spices would not punish her.

    Did anyone else feel that way about the ending??

  2. #2
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    The spices give her/take away from her the freedom/punishment of not using human emotion to cloud her job.

    The spices give her the ability to help those in need, and to see into people souls, and answer their unspoken prayers/wishes.

    SusanMac- I enjoyed the end, and thought that the the spices were correct in granting her peace in the end. Their job is to restore order from chaos. Tilo's world had been chaotic from the start. Also, she was selfish in every act she undertook. Their goal was to teach her humility and selflessness. She learned that lesson by wanting to go back and help the quake victims. They did their job.
    Last edited by Julia1Pin; 07-09-2001 at 05:03 PM.

  3. #3
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    I definitely liked the beginning and middle of the story better than the end. I was dissappointed with Tilo for choosing to stay with Raven. I couldn't put my finger directly on the reason, but I really didn't like Raven (I think I found him very needy and egotistical). Anyway, here's my answer to the question.

    The spices take from Tilo her ability to let anyone truly know who she is. They in essence take away who she truly is. In return, they give her the ability to cause great good and harm to those around her in an attempt to help the Indian population of Oakland. As for the question of whether it is a fair exchange, some people would think so, but in the end I donít think Tilo did. Perhaps if she had never known what it was like to have a real life, even though hers was not normal, I donít think she would have minded so much. (Perhaps like a person born blind or deaf who does not miss those senses nearly as much as someone who was born with those senses and then loses them in adulthood.)

  4. #4
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    Re: Mistress of Spices Discussion

    Originally posted by SusanMac
    I looked through the website listing questions for this book, and didn't know where to start. So, I just picked one. Here goes....


    "What do the spices take from Tilo? What do they give her? Is it a fair exchange?"

    I thought the role of the spices is what made this book interesting and unique. The whole premise of giving your life over to be a mistress of spices and have the ability to "heal" (not sure that's the right word) others is so cool. Tilo clearly struggled with the life she had to give up, though, and she struggled with being captive in a different body.

    I had a problem with the end, though. I thought it was weak to have the spices decide not to punish Tilo personally in the end. They said that her willingness to give up everything was enough. While I liked the way she ultimately and unselfishly went back to SF to help after the quake, it wasn't believable that the spices would not punish her.

    Did anyone else feel that way about the ending??
    Initially, I saw the spices as simultaneously offering everything to Tilo--power to change the world--and also telling her that she couldn't use them to their fullest. Kind of a frustrating tease, really. But then, I got to thinking of her relationship with Raven, and how it was almost entirely dependent on exoticism--each one's fascination with the other's culture. Her relationship to the spices was a lot like that. She saw their potential, or did she? I think she was so absorbed by the mysticism of what the spices offered that she often failed to take human interaction into account, with disasterous consequences. Perhaps what the author was getting at is how images--of each other, of the spices' powers--prevent us from real interaction.
    "Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it's my responsibility to make it better."-Tom McCall (Oregon governor from 1967-1975)

  5. #5
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    I saw the Spices as a metaphor for the "old world", for those traditions, customs, and the idea of a pre-determined destiny, that bind us to believing and behaving in certain ways. Tilo was the vessel through which the Spices acted and she followed their commands in all ways, until the two worlds- the old of India and the new of the United States-drew closer and close and ultimately collided.

    I felt that she didn't have a choice in being Mistress of Spices, and coming from a place where women often do not have a say over the direction of their lives, she did not think to question until she came to a place where the choices of behavior, lifestyle, partners, possibilities were overwhelming.

    Tilo gave up the security and beauty of tradition that the Spices held and chose to seek her own way, which brought her both tremendous pain and exquisite joy.

    I, too, was disappointed by the ending. It seemed too pat, too easily come by- as if the author got tired of fighting the Spices, wearied of her own story, and went for the easy way out. It's not that I wanted to see Tilo punished, but riding off into the sunset with Raven was syrupy.

    By choosing to make her own way over the power given by the Spices, she will no longer be the woman who so enchanted Raven. Will he want this newly liberated Tilo in the time to come?
    Last edited by KValley; 07-09-2001 at 06:20 PM.

  6. #6
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    Hm. It's interesting to read people's take on what the spices and Tilo's relationship to them means. I thought that the world of the spices represented narcissistic power (I'm using narcissitic almost in a clinical psychological sense--the world revolves around my power to create and to destroy), and Raven represented a world in which that illusion is given up in order to truly connect to other humans. The spices give Tilo the power to see into people's lives and try to help them (it doesn't always work so well, remember the kid that joins a gang after she tries to help him make friends) and takes away her ability to truly experience human love and connection.

    However, I have to admit that I have not been able to get into this book, and I haven't finished it so my analysis might be off in relationship to the rest of the book (I'm right at the part where she's at Haroun's house after she goes out to the ocean with Raven and Haroun has been beaten up). I actually feel that it is a little too romance novelish for me (mysterious man swoops in and helps independent woman see what she's really missing). I also think I had trouble with the language--I found the poetic nature of it rather self-conscious and cumbersome. I'd love it if anyone can convince me that I'm wrong and show me what they really enjoyed about the book--just like the Great Food board does with recipes, book groups can sometimes turn your opinion about a book around. Any thoughts?

  7. #7
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    I thought it was very sad that Tilo seemed to have so little free choice. It was as though everything in her life was decided for her, or predetermined as the normal course of events. It could be argued that she chose to go with the pirates and she chose to go to the island, but I don't think these were conscious decisions.

    The Spices represent just one more way that Tilo was stripped of free will. The first real choice she ever made was to give up the spices and go off with Raven.

    I also found the beginning of the book hard to get into, and the ending disappointing. But the middle more than made up for it. Once I got used to it, I loved the language and the tone. I kept imagining swirling scarves as I was reading.

  8. #8
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    I have to say that I was very disappointed in the way the book ended. Throughout the book we are given the impression that the spices have a certain power not only over the people she dispenses them to but to her as well. She chose the path of being a mistress and knew her life. Then because some man comes along somehow the spices no longer are what they were portrayed to be. It just seemed completely inconsistent with what was going on during the first 2/3 of the book. That being said I am glad I read it; I never would have read this on my own and it is good to expand my horizons.

  9. #9
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    I totally agree with Laura. The end seemed like such a cop-out. I think some one earlier said they thought the author got tired of the story and just needed an easy way to end the story. I think they're on the right track. The end just seemed so inconsistent. Deciding to leave the life the spices gave to her isn't so inconsistent, but leaving it to be with Raven, it just doesn't seem to fit her character. Maybe I'm just being cynical.

    But, like the other's I'm glad to have read it because I wouldn't have picked it up on my own.

    For anyone who liked the book but was a bit disappointed in the ending, I would suggest books by Isabel Allende (any of them) or Like Water for Chocolate. LWFC definitely deals more with food and their magical powers, but I think that Allende's works (although not food centered) are fantastic and deal heavily with magical realism.

  10. #10
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    It's taken me two days to find the book again!

    I was also disappointed with the ending. I felt like it didn't fit and seemed so weak in comparison to the rest of the story. With the spices being portrayed as such powerful entities, it seemed rather lame/sappy to have a mere man sweep her away with desire and come to her rescue in the end. I really wanted her to stand on her own after the spices allowed her to leave them!

    Her life as a Mistress with the spices seemed so facinating! They gave her power but in a limited sense. I liked the varied ideas that others wrote about the spices on this thread. Time to go ponder them...

  11. #11
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    I guess I'm really a romantic, because I liked the fact that Tilo ended up with Raven in the end. I also was glad she wasn't "punished" more by the spices, but I did think the explanation for that was rather shallow. While reading, I was actually thinking one of the people Tilo cared about was going to be killed or something as Tilo's punishment, and she would have to live with the guilt.

    I would agree with the person who suggested the book Like Water for Chocolate -- I was actually reminded of it a lot while reading this one, and I thought that one ended much better, and the main character remained much stronger through the entire book.

    I have more thoughts, but I've got to sign off. I'll be back!

  12. #12
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    Ok, it has been a few weeks since I finished this book, plus, I am not an english type so bear with me if what I write is not good.

    First of all, I did like this book and I didn't have a hard time getting into it. Just when I was reading it I kept having to put it down and think about it because it was so different then was I was expecting. As I got used to it, I really embraced it.

    Now that you mention it, the ending was weak. I didn't mind the fact that Tilo ran off with Raven, but the whole thing with the earthquake and the choice to go back, it borderlined on what I call "cheesiness". I could accept the fact that there was this strange girl who swam to a secret island to learn about magic spices and then was sent to Oakland, but I didn't feel the ending was believable. Does that make sense?

    I think the spices had the role of keeping disapline. After her first life, Tilo definately needed someone to keep her in line. In my opinion, this is what the spices tried to do.

    Do I pass?

  13. #13
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    I'd say you pass with flying colors, Kerri. I agree with you about the ending not being "believable". We were sort of set up to suspend our disbelief to go in one direction, and then had to switch gears at the end. I think the comparison/contrast to Like Water for Chocolate is very fitting here. In that book, the ending is outrageously unbelievable, but we accept it because it is completely in line with the previous events in the story. In Mistress of Spices , on the other hand, the ending is not in keeping with the rest of the book.

    I feel like I'm back in high school English. Wish I'd known then what I know now. This is fun!

  14. #14
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    Not being familiar with the literary process, I wonder if the ending was the result of some editorial input. Perhaps, the editor thought the ending needed to end on a positive note.

  15. #15
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    Kerri, I definitely think you passed.

    And if the ending was some sort of editorial decision, I strongly suggest the author gets a new editor!

    Anyway, back to Harry Potter...

  16. #16
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    Well I guess its about time I waded into the discussion since I am the one who suggested this book. I read her second book Sister of My Heart and loved it! Not so with this one I 'm afraid (at least it had a food theme). From beginning to end I just couldn't get into it. The writing was very lyrical at times, like poetry but in other instances it just too cheesy for me. I agree with Julie that the spices were a metaphor for the old world values and customs and Tilo's conflict between the two cultures. The book really peetered out at the end- but by that point I was glad it was over. I know I sound harsh and I am glad many of you enjoyed it. It does seem rather ironic that I seem to have disliked it the most. Do try Sister of My Heart- completely different and a "can't put down " book.
    So what do we read next?

  17. #17
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    Originally posted by kima
    The writing was very lyrical at times, like poetry but in other instances it just too cheesy for me. I agree with Julie that the spices were a metaphor for the old world values and customs and Tilo's conflict between the two cultures. The book really peetered out at the end- but by that point I was glad it was over. I know I sound harsh and I am glad many of you enjoyed it. It does seem rather ironic that I seem to have disliked it the most. Do try Sister of My Heart- completely different and a "can't put down " book.
    So what do we read next?
    I totally agree. Also wanted to respond that I think we said we would read the Living Simply book (is that what it's called) next and discuss it at the end of this month. I plan on getting it this weekend. Then Mansfield Park in August.

  18. #18
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    I am all for reading the The Simple Living Guide next. Judging from the response to my balance question it is a relevant topic for most of us!
    Sorry to be so hard on The Mistress of Spices- I guess if I don't like something I really don't like it!!

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