DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's catch up with a writer best known for her tale of forbidden love and sensual Mexican cooking. The novel, "Like Water For Chocolate," was popularized as an art house movie back in the 1900s. Now author Laura Esquivel is tackling crime and corruption in modern day Mexico. Her novel "Pierced By The Sun" - just out in English - has a female protagonist who battles crooked politicians, criminal gangs, as well as her own demons. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, Esquivel wants redemption for her character and her country.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: "Pierced By The Sun" opens with a murder. The victim is a corrupt politician. The witness is Lupita, a policewoman caught up in the violence of one of Mexico City's poorest neighborhoods, says writer Laura Esquivel.
LAURA ESQUIVEL: In this moment, everything is so corrupt, so dangerous. And now the narcos and the narco politicians are ruling society.
KAHN: In Lupita, Esquivel personifies Mexico's troubles - the crime, corruption and drugs. But despite her self-destructive ways, she's strong, fighting cultural stereotypes and traditions, not unlike Esquivel's most famous leading lady, the last girl born to a traditional family in 1900s Mexico.
(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)
KAHN: Tita is the suffering heroine in Esquivel's breakout novel, later made into a movie, "Like Water For Chocolate."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Spanish).
KAHN: In this scene, the tyrannical matriarch declares her daughter will never marry, dooming her to serve her mother until death. Tita, denied her true love, finds solace in the kitchen and in knitting. In "Pierced By The Sun," Lupita is a knitter too and, not surprisingly, so is writer Esquivel, as well as an avid crafter. Every room in her stunning Mexico City home is filled with projects.
Oh, my God, this is so beautiful.
In the back patio, she's building a mosaic floor made from recycled materials. On the top floor, a huge hutch with 90 drawers fills the entire wall.
ESQUIVEL: And I have of course my crystals (laughter) and I love to work. Now I don't have enough time, but I love to do it.
KAHN: At 65, Esquivel just finished the second in a trilogy she's writing continuing the saga of Tita in "Like Water For Chocolate." And since last year, she's become a politician, appointed to a congressional seat for the upstart leftist party Morena. Like the characters in her book, she mixes politics, protest and knitting.
ESQUIVEL: I started knitting in the Congress, and it was an scandal - like big scandal.
KAHN: Nightly news showed pictures of Esquivel knitting during congressional debates and critics crying she wasn't paying attention.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: On social media, she was dubbed the lady knitter. Not one to back down, Esquivel put up a sign in front of her seat in Congress declaring she was reconstructing the fabric of society. And in her new political activism, as in her latest novel "Pierced By The Sun," Esquivel says society is torn apart by corruption and crime.
ESQUIVEL: The only way to find peace is when you are not separated, when you are not fighting, when you part of the whole.
KAHN: Lupita, "Pierced By The Sun's" ultimate heroine, finds that whole and peace too. In the end, she fights the crime and corruption, gives up her addicted self-destructive ways and reconnects with the past, something Esquivel hopes modern Mexico will also do. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.