Pierced by the Sun by Laura Esquivel, translated by Jordi Castells, is as character-centered a narrative as a compilation of the diary entries of teen-aged girls the night before prom might be. I mean that in a good way – this is a beautifully written book. Lupita, the protagonist, is featured on every page, through every chapter (17 of them, all titled Lupita Likes to… with the remainder filled in beginning with Iron, ending with Make Love). The only exception to this inventory of Lupita’s likes is the final, unique chapter, titled Before Mexico. This is, in short, a book about Lupita.
I’m not to one to pick on translations – the beautiful ones aren’t true, and the true ones… but the given title of the book is A Lupita le gusta planchar, if I remember anything from high-school, is Lupita Likes to Iron. How does Lupita Likes to Iron become Pierced by the Sun? Does the translator object to Lupita’s desire to iron? What?
So, who is this Lupita anyway? And, what does she see in ironing??
Lupita is named for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She’s 4’9”, and weighs 160 lbs. She’s a police woman who witnesses the assassination of a low-level government official in the first chapter and reacts by peeing in her pants. In short, she’s not your typical heroine. I don’t recall a heroine doing the peeing in the pants bit. Anybody got one?
As unlikely a heroine as one might find – did I mention alcoholic, self-obsessed, other flaws? – by the end of reading the litany of what Lupita likes, I was in love with her. Go figure. I take my hat off to Laura Esquivel. I loved Water Like Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate – You see? Translation doesn’t have to be so intrusive), and was thinking about re-reading it, and then decided to find another of Esquivel’s works instead. Pierced by the Sun is more recent (2016), and takes on the question of corruption in Mexican government. What’s not to like?
I don’t have an answer to that, but do to the converse. What I liked most about Pierced by the Sun was the match between the narrative voice (and especially the frantic pace of that voice) and the main character’s (sorry, should be MAIN CHARACTER’S) inner thoughts. This isn’t stream of consciousness, nor even first person point of view, but it is exceptionally intimate telling of a character’s story in a way that reveals her perspective and inner thoughts. Esquivel achieves what many writers hope to achieve through stream-of-consciousness narrative voice or first-person point of view, an intimate connection between the narrative and the character, or, what amounts to the same thing, between the reader and the character. Yes, I fell in love with a short, fat, Mexican policewoman who pees in her pants. Read this novel and you will too.