Laura Esquivel: 1951 (?)—: Novelist - Attracted To 1960s Counterculture
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Attracted to Counterculture (1960s)
Attending the Escuela Normal de Maestros in Mexico City, a teachers' college, Esquivel worked toward a career in early childhood education. The student counterculture of the late 1960s, which affected Mexico as strongly as it did the United States, left its mark on Esquivel. "I was pretty much a hippie," she told Southwest Review. "I was a vegetarian, gypsy-like. I liked to meditate, and it's curious because I was very much attracted to the possibility of change." After college Esquivel became a kindergarten teacher. Her own creative potential was reawakened when she resolved to stage plays with her young students and discovered that few plays in Spanish for young children were available. She solved the problem by writing new ones herself.
Esquivel married a young filmmaker, Alfonso Arau, from whom she took a screenwriting course. Growing more and more interested in drama and film herself, Esquivel wrote scripts for children's television programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She penned the screenplay for a film directed by Arau, Chido One, El taco de oro, and was nominated for an Ariel award, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar, for best screenplay in 1985. Esquivel then began work on the novel Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate), which was published in 1989.
Like Water for Chocolate (in Spanish the title connotes a state of approaching the boiling point, of restless ferment or sexual arousal) traces the story of a young woman named Tita de la Garza who has been forbidden by her mother to marry the man she loves, who is betrothed to her older sister. Tita is forced to prepare the wedding cake, and discovers that her tears, which have fallen into the batter, have magical powers—they cause everyone at the wedding party to begin weeping uncontrollably over their own failed love affairs. Food plays a role in all the novel's important plot junctures, and each chapter contains a recipe that both applies to the situation at hand and carries rich overtones of folklore. The Times Literary Supplement noted approvingly that the reader could enjoy "two books for the price of one: a cookery book and a love story, with a distinctive Hispanic flavour."
Esquivel's novel became a bestseller in Mexico. It was well received after its translation into English and publication in the United States in 1990, but really gained momentum after the 1992 release of the film version, adapted for the screen by Esquivel herself and directed by Arau. The film, which garnered several awards both inside and outside Mexico, spurred sales of the novel that resulted in its translation into more than 30 languages; more than three million copies of the book have been printed worldwide. The film, Esquivel told Entertainment Weekly, was a "labor of love between [herself and Arau], like a child almost." Soon after the film's release, however, Esquivel and Arau were divorced. Esquivel later married a dentist, Javier Valdez, whom she has called her twin soul.
Fortified by her regime of meditation (Esquivel was raised Catholic but holds to a blend of indigenous and New Age beliefs) and rising every morning at 5:30 a.m. to write, Esquivel has been prolific in the years since Like Water for Chocolate was published. She continued to write film screenplays, and her second novel, The Law of Love (La ley del amor), was released in the United States in 1996. Less suited to cinematic treatment than Like Water for Chocolate, it was equally innovative formally: the book came packaged with a CD of music that ranged from Italian opera to Mexican danzón and included a series of 48 cartoon-like illustrations. The novel's plot moved between pre-Columbian Mexico and the 23rd century, depicting a romance and incorporating science-fiction and New Age ideas.