"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.