Gilbert’s not a saint or a guru, great teacher or wise woman. She’s simply an engaging writer with an open heart, and EAT PRAY LOVE has quickly become one of my favorite books. It’s certainly my favorite memoir.
Struggling with the rocky end of a marriage (been there), Gilbert decides to travel for a year, carefully planning her intinerary to focus on finding out who she is–rather than who she is/was/could be inside a relationship. Specifically, she wanted to turn inward, connecting with and nurturing her spiritual side. It’s clear to anyone reading her memoir, however, that turning inward is not all that easy for her: she is an extreme extrovert, making friends wherever she goes. Still, she gives new meaning to the concept of learning something new from every person you meet–especially when that something new is about yourself.
She divided her year (financed by a book advance) into thirds. The first four months she spent in Italy (eating, as well as studying Italian). The second four months were at an ashram in India where she spent much of her time in meditation. Anyone who has practiced–or tried to practice–meditation will surely relate to her struggle to master the skill, if not to her euphoria when she eventually succeeds. Finally, she spent four months in Indonesia, studying on the porch of a medicine man, befriending a healer, and falling in love. (To those of us who lack the means, interest or time to travel, Gilbert points out on her website that travel is not a necessity in a search for meaning. But it certainly made for an entertaining story).
What makes EAT PRAY LOVE so special to me is Elizabeth Gilbert’s humanness, which shines through on every page. Even if you can’t picture yourself traveling as confidently as she does and even if you don’t give a hoot about meditation or healers, you’ll probably be able to relate to her emotions and reactions.
Gilbert espouses no one religion in her memoir, although I believe this book spoke to me so strongly because my own sense of the divine is akin to hers. I’m curious to know how readers coming to the book from other belief systems feel about it. I like to think that, even if she had a very different take on spirituality from my own, I’d still enjoy reading about her own spiritual journey. But maybe not. . . It’s hard to say.
The only thing that bothered me about the book was that everything fit together so neatly. That’s what makes a good memoir, though: it reads like a story, with a beginning, middle and end. If this were a novel, it would have really irked me that she fell in love at the end. I wanted her to stick to her original decision to remain celibate for the entire year, and she did give it a good try. But falling for the sensuous Brazilian ex-pat and living happily ever after felt so contrived. Yet it’s a memoir, and it’s hard to take issue with reality.
You can get a taste of Gilbert’s voice on her website where she answers questions about EAT PRAY LOVE and also shares her thoughts on writing. As for me, I’ve bought a second copy to share. I’m holding on to my own.