Mexican author Laura Esquivel is best known for her gastronomic delight of a novel, Like Water For Chocolate (English translation 1992), set at the turn of the 20th century Mexico. Her follow-up novels, The Law Of Love (translation 1996), Swift As Desire (translation 2002) and Malinche (translation 2008) – are set in contemporary, post-war and prehistoric Mexico, respectively.
It comes as no surprise, then, that her fifth offering, Pierced By The Sun (translation July 2016), is set in modern day Mexico, against the backdrop of drug and human trafficking, drug lords and crooked politicians, and rampant government corruption.
Though the protagonist, Lupita (short for Guadalupe), works with the police, she comes with lots of emotional baggage and dark secrets. For one thing, Esquivel reveals that Lupita feels responsible for the death of her young son, which later leads to more secrets that seem logical once you think of the consequences: Lupita is an alcoholic and drug addict, she was beaten up by her ex-husband and robbed of her childhood when she was molested and raped by her stepfather.
All this is juxtaposed with ironic chapter titles, like the opening one, “Lupita Liked To Iron” – all chapters are titled after a mundane activity that Lupita likes, that help her de-stress.
Although she has had the sort of difficult life that would usually elicit sympathy, Esquivel seems to have purposely made Lupita a slightly unsympathetic and difficult character.
The main plot revolves around Lupita and her struggles to overcome her addictions (which usually get the better of her) and her work on the police force. There is also a subplot about a prominent politician getting shot while Lupita is on duty and for which she is blamed.
While the subplot is supposed to offer the suspense that drives the story, I found Lupita’s struggles to become a better person far more engaging – they are, arguably, the heart of the novel.
As Lupita tries to dry out, we learn how she uses her position as a police officer to identify Mexico City’s drug dealers just so she can get her drugs from them. Through her, Esquivel is perhaps demonstrating how individuals who are in positions of power and who have supposedly dedicated their lives to eradicating society’s criminals can be the very people who are maintaining the status quo.
The translation from the original Spanish has produced language that is easy to follow, with a dash of the fantastical and some New Age references thrown in for good measure – which is typical of Esquivel’s work.
At just over 200 pages and divided into 17 chapters, Pierced By The Sun is an easy read. Readers who are not familiar with Esquivel’s whimsicalities and other-worldly references may be put off, but those who have been following her work would be interested in her latest offering.
While this work may not live up to the standard of Like Water For Chocolate, Pierced By The Sun is a new (and welcome) direction in Esquivel’s oeuvre and works well as a novel in its own right. An interesting read.
Pierced By The Sun
Author: Laura Esquivel
Translator (Spanish to English): Jordi Castells
Publisher: AmazonCrossing, fiction