BookBrowse Reviews Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Eat, Pray, Love

One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 352 pages

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A candid, and eloquent account of one woman's pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life.

From the book jacket: Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.

To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.

An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.

Comment: "Finding oneself" is arguably the most difficult subject to write well about, and most certainly the easiest genre of writing to criticize! If you're too intense people will send you up for taking yourself too seriously; but dip towards the lighthearted and you risk being written off as trite. Many critics feel Gilbert has got her tone spot on, but some feel that she has fallen into the latter category by being a little too lighthearted. Whatever the critics might think, Eat, Pray, Love has proven a hit with readers and has already been published in over twenty languages. It is also a shoe-in for a movie sometime soon (rights have already been optioned by Paramount).

Escaping from a nasty divorce, Gilbert decides she needs a year of healing. Stopping long enough to agree an advance on the book she plans to write (a feat made possible because she is an established writer having published many articles, a collection of short stories, a novel and a biography) she heads for Italy where she absorbs the local language and culture in order to explore "the art of pleasure". Many pounds heavier she moves on to India to explore the art of devotion in an Asram. It was there, while meditating, that she hit upon the idea for book's form which is structured using the concept of japa mala*. Each japa mala has 108 beads, which neatly divide into 3 groups of 36; so each section of Eat, Pray, Love has 36 sections (which was also, conveniently, Gilbert's age at the time).

Her last stop is the Hindu island of Bali in Southern Indonesia, where she planned to explore the art of balancing pleasure and devotion. However, feeling that she had already found this balance, Indonesia became the place where she moved from inner exploration to outer action. First, she helped others by raising $18,000 to buy a house for a Balinese woman, then she found romance in the form of Felipe, a Brazilian gentleman 18 years her senior - which all leads up, in Gilbert's own words, to the "almost ludicrously fairy-tale ending to this story," but one she is quick to point out was in her hands: "I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue." Incidentally, two years later the pseudonymous Felipe and Gilbert are still together (update: they married in early March 2007).

Gilbert's journey takes two parts - the inner and the outer journey. For someone as well traveled as her, the physical places she chooses to visit are a little prosaic. However, for the average reader, who rarely manages to leave the shores of their home country for more than a couple of weeks at the most, her destinations will be achievably adventurous.

With regard to her "inner journey", some reviewers feel that her need to "escape from the world" is not sufficiently explored, instead she navigates around the moments of inner turmoil with a light-hearted sidestep. As one reviewer puts it, "her crisis remains a shadowy thing, a mere platform for the actions she takes to alleviate it." Another criticism made by some is that everything seems to fall into place just a little too easily; where is the hardship, the hard decisions, the near misses, that lead to eventual fulfillment? It's not even as if she stays away from home for all that long (in between the Italian and Indian legs of her journey she returns home for the holidays). Perhaps the point is that one doesn't have to quest to the ends of the earth to find answers. In fact, in a recent interview, Gilbert touches on this saying:

"I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” – a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: 'If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you.' Or so I’ve come to believe. I can’t help but believe it, given my experience."

*Japa mala are pray beads used in Hinduism and Buddism. A japa is the spiritual discipline of meditatively repeating a mantra, mala simply means garland or necklace. Similar aids to prayer can be found in other religions. Orthodox Christians use prayer ropes to track how many times they have repeated a prayer, Catholics use a rosary, and Muslims a Tasbih. Visitors to Greece will see Komboloi (often called worry beads) sold widely but, apparently, these do not have religious connotations and are simply used as relaxation devices.

This review is from the February 7, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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