Laura Esquivel,
The Law of Love
(Three Rivers Press, 1996)

I've always been a fan of pushing the boundaries of the accepted in art. Whether that's a Web page that includes revolutionary interactivity, a play that incorporates the audience, or a painting that plays music ... there's something that grabs me about a piece of art that takes the preconceived notions of what "a painting" or "a book" or "a play" should be.

This is what initially attracted me about Laura Esquivel's newest work, The Law Of Love. The blurb on the back cover (as blurbs often do), made the story sound contrived and not at all what I'd be looking for in a read, but then I noticed -- not only are you buying the novel, but a graphic novel contained inside it, and a music CD with tracks corresponding to an icon in the book's text so you're hearing what the characters are hearing.

To use a Web designer's phrase, it's a fully-integrated, multimedia "experience."

So I had to buy it, if only for the way it pushed those preconceived notions of what a book "should" be right out the window.

Much like her previous novel, Like Water For Chocolate, The Law of Love has a decidedly fantastic bent, while remaining rooted in concepts that are true in the here-and-now. With her own style, she tackles the issues of universal reciprocity, karma and destiny without turning them into unattainable concepts or losing sight of the story she's weaving underneath it all.

In the book, Azucena Martinez is an "astroanalyst" -- one who makes her living by regressing people to their past lives in order to heal the damage they find there. The world has evolved to the point where they are aware of such things, and are aware that each person in the universe has a "twin soul" -- someone who is exactly the complement to the other and who completes the partner. Azucena, through much bureaucratic red tape, has been allowed to meet her twin soul early (for in Esquivel's mythology, each soul must evolve through 14,000 lifetimes in order to meet its twin). Through a plot based in one of the many past lives, Rodrigo, Azucena's twin, is lost to her again and she sets out on a course to find him, aided by guardian angels and a motley crew of characters.

No amount of explanation can accurately give the reader an idea of exactly how complex the plot actually is. From the first pages, the story is like a maze, always taking the reader around an unexpected bend, even when the way seems clear. Characters change or hidden motives become evident, and once the whole thing seems clear, it twists again, taking the reader down another path that is totally unexpected.

Through it all, scenes of past lives have been illustrated by noted graphic novel artist, Miguelanxo Prado, whose illustrations are syndicated throughout Europe and Mexico. Sometimes disappointing, the visual aspect of the book isn't nearly as impressive as the soundtrack, which features Puccini arias performed by the Orquesta de Baja California.

This is an incredible work. The writing is a bit preachy in places, the artwork sometimes lacks necessary detailing, the music isn't something I'd listen to on its own; however, put together, they make for a completely new entity, something far beyond the value of the sum of its parts.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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