Archive Book Nook News: Vol I, Issue 2, June 1997

The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel (author of Like Water for Chocolate)
The story of a passion that survives from the fall of Montezuma's empire to the Mexico City of the 23rd Century. Azucena is an "astroanalyst," a sort of a highly evolved psychotherapist, who ministers to the karmically challenged.  As an enlightened soul, Azucena has finally caught the brass ring of reincarnation: she is allowed to meet her twin soul, her true love,Rodrigo.  But after one night of supreme passion, the lovers are separated, and Azucena must search for Rodrigo across the galaxy and through 14,000 lives.
The concept of this book is quite interesting – it’s meant to be a multi-media experience.  The secret to the past-life therapy is through music.  The book comes with a CD, and at certain points in the book, you are prompted to play the CD and experience the music as the character experiences his or her past lives.
Because of the CD accompaniment, this isn’t the most convenient book to read on-the-go, as I always am.  But I taped the music and took my Walkman along and it worked out just fine.  I’m not a huge fan of futuristic science fiction, but being tied in with past-life regression and reincarnation and Laura Esquivel’s zany sense of humor, I found it easy to follow her vision of the 23rd century and I really enjoyed the story, the music and the illustrations.  I liked that the book touched so many of my senses, one of the big attractions I found in Like Water for Chocolate (food does not play such a major role in Law of Love, however!). 
I can believe in the philosophy of paying off your karmic debts, of repeatedly coming in contact with the souls you have hated in past lives until you learn to contact them in love, all with ultimate goal of finding your true soulmate.  I also hope there will be such things as aerophones and crime-free societies.
And if you end up not really liking the book, you still get a nice CD of music…
Arranged Marriage by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Divakaruni's book of short stories, Arranged Marriage, focuses on family-arranged matches, a centuries-old tradition in India. These stories about Indian immigrants to the U.S. show how the dislocations of immigration are making this tradition problematic.
I wouldn’t say that these are happy stories.  They are beautifully written and they evoke strong images, but the overlying feeling between the pages, to me, was of such sadness and despair and frustration for these women who exist solely for their husbands.  Women who from the day they are born are looked on as a burden, a dowry price, until finally they are married and subsequently the property of their husbands and in-laws.
Yet there remains a sense of pride, strength and courage in these women, and with some of the stories I felt hopeful at the end.  The woman whose husband is murdered decides not to go back to India, but rather to stay in the U.S. and find her own way.  Another woman is determined to sponsor and see her dearest friend safely to America, for the latter is being encouraged by her in-laws to terminate her pregnancy because she is carrying a female, not a suitable sex for a first child.
Arranged Marriage provoked many of the same emotions I had when reading Mists of Avalon, the utter inability to comprehend a culture or religion that is so unfair to women.  But the women each have a story to tell and I was glad to read them all.  And I hoped they would be all right.
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. 
A magic realism tale on Tilo, a woman from India who is given immortality by the gods as long as she remains chaste. In her old age Tilo ends up California, running a spice shop and helping immigrants. One day enters Raven, a handsome American and Tilo transforms herself into a beautiful woman for a night of love. Now she must pay the price.
There is nothing like a story written by someone who really  knows her stuff.  In the same way the Passion Dream Book made me want to be an artist, or Like Water for Chocolate made me hungry, or the Sixteen Pleasures made me long to go to Italy and experience the art of Florence first hand, The Mistress of Spices got me itching to learn more about this mysterious Indian art, and delve back into my books on herbology and aromatherapy.
There’s such a wonderful duality to Tilo, the Mistress, because she is sage and wise and magical, but at the same time there is a poignancy to the sacrifices she has made to her powers.  Not only must she remain chaste in a sexual sense, but she must remain always detached, emotionally, to the people who come to seek her help.  She must never leave the store, never reveal that she immediately and instinctively knows their troubling situations; it is the people who must come to her and voice their problems, never the other way around.  Tilo’s conflict is not only with Raven, the American Indian with whom she falls in love, but to Lalali, the battered wife, Haroun the troubled chauffeur, Jagjit the young boy falling in with the dangerous gangs of Oakland, the falling-out between Ramu and his daughter Geegit because Geegit is in love with a Hispanic.  As Tilo is drawn deeper and deeper into the lives of these people, the spices speak to her less and less, and she is forced to take stock of her life and choose between her powers as the immortal Mistress of Spices, or to forsake all to be a normal woman in love, an ordinary woman with friends and a home.
I loved it.  Divakaruni writes so beautifully, with such simple words weaving together plot and characters.  She tells a wonderful story.
The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme. 
Picking this up was truly a whim.  I had just seen the movie with Audrey Hepburn and loved it, and was curious as to how closely it followed the book.
If you are a reader who gets annoyed or distracted by side stories or tangents, this is a book for you.  Hulme writes briskly, sticking to the subject, moving things along…it’s as if she is using her simple, concise language as a metaphor for the nun’s life, because within the unadorned narrative is a rich, complex, emotional and bewildering tale…much like the character of Sister Luke.
It’s a very revealing peek into life in the convent, into the training of the Brides of Christ, and raises some very interesting questions and choices a nun must make.  Absolute selflessness, and Sister Luke’s own nemesis, absolute obedience.  Her desire to do good cannot be kept within the context of her vows; she cannot reconcile the nurse within her and the nun within her.
I thought it was a very engaging, powerful story, but again, it’s a matter of taste.  I just thought I’d throw it out there.
Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
I know at least 2 of you on my distro list will say it’s about time I got around to Peter Mayle, and I stand thoroughly chastised (thanks, Linda, for making me take it off your bookshelves).  I can’t believe I didn’t read this sooner.  In keeping with my books-about-food theme, this story is a feast.  I only wish it were called “Decade in Provence”.
This book made me so happy!  It was delightfully, wittily written, much like the style of Robert Fulghum, whom I love.  The plot isn’t complex, in fact it centers around day-to-day life, but the settings and characters and situations involved are described in such a way that you end up with a very in-depth look at Provencal culture.  And the food is out of this world.