A. Scott Cardwell
The Law of Love, Laura Esquivel's much-anticipated follow-up to 1993's sensational Like Water for Chocolate shows off, once again, Ms. Esquivel's romanticism, playfulness and bold ambition. This time, instead of recipes and burning love, we are treated to an 11-song CD of Puccini arias and Mexican danzones, 48 pages of full color illustrations by Spanish artist Miguelano Prado, and an 800-year story that starts with the fall of Montezuma and climaxes in the 23rd century. And what's at risk is not the filling of one woman's heart of stomach, but universal peace. No modest vision. Whether this ambitious architecture succeeds is, of course, another question.
Woven through this elaborate structure is the tale of Azucena, a 23rd-century astroanalyst, or therapist to the "karmically challenged." Azucena's world is inhabited by human beings seeking spiritual evolution and their "Twin Souls" (or eternal true loves). She has attained a high enough rung on the karmic ladder that the center for Astral Ascension (a department of the Consumer Protection Agency) puts her in touch with her Twin Soul, Rodrigo, and "as soon as his eyes fixed upon hers, the most marvelous of all encounters began: the meeting of twin souls, where physical features play a minor role." But after one night of ultimate passion, Rodrigo vanishes. The rest of the novel follows Azucena's search for him through her past lives, a primitive space colony and 23rd century Mexico City. Along the way souls change bodies, demons and guardian angels spout philosophy, geriatrics have divine sex and an evil soul bent on world domination pretends to be the reincarnation of Mother Teresa.
Do the songs and illustrations add meaning or are they just gimmicks? Azucena uses music in her past life regressions, but the Puccini seems arbitrary -- neither Puccini, Italy, nor opera are ever mentioned in the novel. The danzones work as a cultural soundtrack -- the ones by Liliana Felipe are brilliant but never directly tied to the story. On the other hand, Miguelano Prado's illustrations are powerful complements to the text. The images are fragments of memories both brutal and beautiful, spanning the centuries and the depths of the human character, perhaps even deeper than the accompanying words.
Laura Esquivel has conceived a grand vision but executed a bit less -- this recipe needs a few more taste trials and perhaps more time in the oven. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This followup to Esquivel's bestselling Like Water for Chocolate is propelled by the same jolly, reckless storytelling energy that has won the Mexican author so many fans, but skimpy character development and a breathlessly byzantine plot keep bringing the novel up short. Composed in a tantalizing style of New Age-sci-fi-magical realism, the tale is set in the year 2200, when astroanalyst Azucena Martinez, who lives in Mexico City, has been permitted at last to meet her twin soul, Rodrigo Snchez, the man with whom she is to experience the ecstasy of perfect romantic union. And not a moment too soon; not only is Azucena terribly lonely, but she has finally paid off all the karmic debts accumulated in her 14,000 past lives. Alas for her, Rodrigo is not as karmically pure, and the day after their night of bliss, he is framed for murder and deported to the penal planet of Korma. As it turns out, this is all part of a divine plan: Azucena's quest to be reunited with her lover sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to the restoration of the law of Love on planet Earth. Esquivel punctuates her narrative with full-color "graphic novel" segments (by Spanish artist Miguelanxo Prado). The book also includes an 11-track CD of Puccini arias that figure in the plot and some remarkable Mexican "danzones," billed in the text as "Intervals for Dancing." In Azucena, Esquivel has created a delightfully feisty, unpretentious character; it is the reader's loss that neither she nor Rodrigo are ever fully developed, and that their love story is repeatedly upstaged by a fantastical setting and long-winded metaphysical discourse.
In Esquivel's brave new world, people are fully aware of the burdens of past incarnations as they work them out, the memories objects retain of what they have witnessed can be retrieved, and viritual reality is, well, a reality. But there's romance in the life of astroanalyst Azucena, albeit of the New Age variety; she is trying to get in contact with Rodrigo, her twin soul. When Azucena returns home one day via aerophone, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery -- there's a dead body in her apartment -- and soon she's on the run from powerful forces that want her dead. She manages a body transplant and enlists the help of a neighbor -- a non-Evo, it's true, but some issues are above class -- and eventually discovers a tragic connection to a stop-at-nothing candidate for Planetary President named Isabel. In the end, even Isabel is conquered by love. Throughout, in a page torn from the graphic novels popular in Esquivel's native Mexico, illustrations clarify the proceedings (including rape and murder), and an accompanying CD provides appropriate music. Esquivel's follow-up to the best-selling Like Water for Chocolate (LJ 9/1/92) mixes bits of every genre imaginable, and the result is at once wildly inventive and slightly silly, energetic and clichd. Thoughtful readers will be troubled by the implications of Esquivel's philosophizingeverything that happens may happen for a reason, but here it feels not like the Divine Love Esquivel promotes but a rationalization of evil. Still, Chocolate fans will eat this up. For most collections.Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
An exuberant, hectic, ultimately exhausting novel about (among other things) time travel, true love, and reincarnation, by the author of the hugely best-selling Like Water for Chocolate (1992).
Set in Mexico City in the 23rd century, Esquivel's latest focuses on the determined and increasingly frantic attempts of Azucena, an "astroanalyst" (a therapist who helps people come to grips with the unfinished business of their past lives), to track down Rodrigo, her "twin soul." (After a soul has died and been reincarnated thousands of times, it seems, it finally attains sufficient wisdom to locate its true companion, the missing half of its true and essential being.) Rodrigo and Azucena have been abruptly, inexplicably parted after just one night of supreme love, during which they have formed a single being that "danced through space to the rhythm of the music of the spheres." It turns out that they have been swept into a bloody conspiracy by a deeply evil spirit to corrupt the largely blissful world of the future. Rodrigo has been dumped onto a hellish planet, and faces an unpleasant death unless Azucena can rescue him. After a series of increasingly broad and sketchy adventures (in which Azucena's guardian spirit, a variety of gods, and some truly weird technology are brought into play), all comes right. Whenever Esquivel is celebrating "the hidden order of the world," the salvational possibilities of love, she's engaging and persuasive. But the novel, which comes with a CD featuring arias and Mexican danzones (presumably to foster the right mood in the reader), and which includes several gaudy, comic- book-like sections illustrated by the artist Miguelanxo Prado, finally seems too anxious to overwhelm, too determined to entertain at any cost.
There's enough here to demonstrate that Esquivel can write, and that she possesses considerable originality. Next time out, though, she needs to try a little less hard to astonish.
Read an Excerpt
The Law of Love - Excerpt
When do the dead die? When they are forgotten. When does a city disappear? When it no longer exists in the memory of those who lived there. And when does love cease? When one begins to love anew. Of this there is no doubt.
That is why Hernán Cortés decided to construct a new city upon the ruins of the ancient Tenochtitlán. The time it took him to size up the situation was the same that it takes a firmly gripped sword to pierce the skin of the chest and reach the center of the heart: one second. But in time of battle, a split second can mean escaping the sword or being run through by it.
During the conquest of Mexico, only those who could react in an instant survived, those who so feared death that they placed all their instincts, all their reflexes, all their senses, at the service of that fear. Terror became the command center for all their actions. Located just behind the navel, it received before the brain all the sensations perceived by smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste. These were processed in milliseconds and forwarded to the brain, along with a precise course of action. All this lasted no more than the one second essential for survival.
As rapidly as the Conquistadors' bodies were acquiring the ability to react, new senses were also evolving. They learned to anticipate an attack from the rear, smell blood before it was spilled, sense a betrayal before the first word was uttered, and, above all, to see into the future as well as the keenest oracle. This was why, on the very day Cortés saw an Indian sounding a conch in front of the remains of an ancient pyramid, he knew he could notleave the city in ruins. It would have been like leaving a monument to the grandeur of the Aztecs. Sooner or later, nostalgia would have prompted the Indians to regroup in an attempt to regain their city. There was no time to lose. He had to obliterate all trace of the great Tenochtitlán from Aztec memory. He had to construct a new city before it was too late.
What Cortés did not take into account was that stones contain a truth beyond what the eye manages to see. They possess a force of their own that is not seen but felt, a force that cannot be constrained by a house or church. None of Cortés's newly acquired senses was fine-tuned enough to perceive this force. It was too subtle. Invisibility granted it absolute mobility, allowing it to swirl silently about the heights of the pyramids without being noticed. Some were aware of its effects, but didn't know what to attribute them to. The most severe case was that of Rodrigo Díaz, one of Cortés's valiant captains. As he and his companions proceeded to demolish the pyramids, he could never have imagined the consequences of his fateful contact with the stones. Even if someone had warned Rodrigo that those stones were powerful enough to change his life, he would not have believed it, for his beliefs never went beyond what he could grasp with his hands. When he was told there was one pyramid where the Indians used to conduct pagan ceremonies honoring some sort of goddess of love, he laughed. Not for a moment did he allow that any such goddess could exist, let alone that the pyramid could have a sacred function. Everyone agreed with him; they decided it was not even worth bothering to erect a church there. Without further thought, Cortés offered Rodrigo the site where the pyramid stood, so that he could build his house upon it.
Rodrigo was a happy man. He had earned the right to this parcel of land by his achievements on the battlefield and by his fierceness in hacking off arms, noses, ears, and heads. By his own hand he had dispatched approximately two hundred Indians, so he did not have to wait long for his reward: a generous tract of land bordering one of the four canals running through the city, the one that in time would become the road to Tacuba. Rodrigo's ambition made him dream of erecting his house in a grander spot -even on the ruins of the Great Temple- but he was forced to content himself with this more modest site since there were already plans to build a cathedral where that temple once stood. However, as compensation for his plot not being located within the select circle of houses the captains were building in the center of the city as witness to the birth of New Spain, he was granted an encomienda; that is, along with the land, ownership of fifty Indians, among whom was Citlali.
Citlali was descended from a noble family of Tenochtitlán. From childhood she had received a privileged upbringing, so her bearing reflected no trace of submission but, rather, great pride verging on defiance. The graceful swaying of her broad hips charged the atmosphere with sensuality, spreading ripples of air in widening circles. This energy displacement was much like the waves generated when a stone is dropped suddenly into a calm lake.
Rodrigo sensed Citlali's approach at a hundred yards. He had survived the Conquest for good reason: he possessed an acute ability to detect movements outside the ordinary. Interrupting his activity, he tried to pinpoint the danger. From the heights of the pyramid he commanded a view of everything in its vicinity. Immediately he focused on the line of Indians approaching his property. In the lead came Citlali. Rodrigo instantly realized that the movement that had so disturbed him emanated from Citlali's hips. He was completely disarmed. This was a challenge he did not know how to confront, and so he fell captive to the spell of her hips. All this happened as his hands were engaged in the effort of moving the stone that had formed the apex of the Pyramid of Love. But before he could do so there was a moment for the powerful energy generated by the pyramid to circulate through his veins. It was a lightning current, a blinding flash that made him see Citlali not as the simple Indian servant that she appeared to be, but rather, as the Goddess of Love herself.