Eat, Pray, Love: A memoir not to be missed . . .

h1 August 1st, 2006 by jules

Dorothy Allison once wrote, “Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I would rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.” These sage words are ones that I think Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (2006), would appreciate.

The sub-title of this engaging memoir is “One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.” Gilbert finds herself prostrate on her bathroom floor one evening, whispering in prayer to a God she’s not ever really prayed to before about her misery over her seemingly-perfect life — big house in suburbia, successful husband, the American Dream, the expectation that she and her hubbie will soon be starting a family. The little ‘ol glitch here is that she no longer wants any of this and isn’t truly fulfilled.

After a messy divorce and subsequent emotionally-tumultuous relationship with another man, her soul is left bedraggled, to say the least. She embarks on a year-long journey to three “I” countries (though this geographical alliteration is not on purpose — at least not consciously on her part) in an attempt to heal her spirit. Her goal in Italy is to immerse herself in pleasure — via mostly lots of the delectable pasta and wine and cappuccinos and gelato that Italy does so well — as well as total submersion in Italian, a language with which she is fascinated. Her goal in India, where she studies and meditates at a sacred ashram, is to immerse herself in prayer and the spartan life of holiness. Her goal in Indonesia, where she had earlier befriended a medicine man whom she seeks out again, is to learn how to balance these two — pleasure and asceticism.

My oh my did I love reading about her stay in Italy (I blame the astrological sign I was born under; we Taureans love a good, rich red wine and/or sumptuous meal). One moment I was crying tears of laughter over her love affair with a pizzeria in Naples and, the next moment, tears of sympathy for a woman who writes with such candor about the end of a relationship that she doesn’t quite want to let go of. Gilbert is a brave writer, not afraid to speak the truth about her botched attempts at love. She is also a fun tour guide, and, I’m tellin’ you, you just want her to be your friend. She’s smart, a keen observer, funny, not afraid to get out there and face the world. She left for Italy as a little slip of a thing, ravaged physically and emotionally from almost-unyielding divorce proceedings, but when she leaves Rome (approximately thirty pounds heavier), she writes: ” . . . {W}hen you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt — this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.” Amen and damn skippy! That makes me wanna do a little jump for joy.

In India, Gilbert studies with her Guru and meets a diverse cast of characters also seeking the ascetic life, including Richard from Texas, who has enough down-home, breezy, cheeky one-liners to make you think he’s fiction, but, nope, these people all really exist (I trust she’s not pullin’ a James Frey on us here). And my very favorite piece of her writing comes in this section. As someone who thinks way too much — as in, to a fault — about religion and who is not so good at the leaps involved in leaps of faith, this one almost took my breath away:

“If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be . . . a prudent insurance policy. I’m not interested in the insurance industry. I’m tired of being a skeptic. I’m irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate. I don’t want to hear it anymore. I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances. I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.”

Whew, jump back. The girl can write.

But then I got a bit bored with her Indonesian stay. I think Gilbert’s great strength is that she never takes herself too seriously. Her self-deprecating wit is what keeps us from rolling our eyes at what could be seen as a flaky, new-consciousness, New-Age, tree-huggin’ adventure (though there is some tree-hugging in India. Fret not; it’s actually quite moving). However, in Indonesia there was a bit of self-absorption that did have me rolling my eyes. And that may not be the best way to put it — and I do so with great apology, ’cause I think Gilbert is a great writer, I loved this memoir, and I would love her to be my neighbor and have coffee with me every morning so that I could pick her brain (Eisha and I also want Haven Kimmel to be our neighbor, but I digress). But towards the end we read about her lying on a remote Indonesian island with her Brazilian lover and talking about the great inner peace she feels. On that morning, in particular, as my emerging-toddler and my toddler were screaming at me simultaneously, I would have found it more impressive to read about someone who could accomplish that by overcoming much more dire circumstances.

Overall, though, Gilbert did pay a huge emotional price for what she earns, and she is someone who aims to deliberately “cultivate gratitude” . . . so, it was only during this tiny portion of the memoir that I felt this slight exasperation. All in all, I would recommend this memoir with much enthusiasm to just about everyone I know. Gilbert is a writer I will follow with, dare I say it, faithfulness.

3 comments to “Eat, Pray, Love: A memoir not to be missed . . .”

  1. Does this post lack comments?! No, not any more! 🙂 Happy anniversary, e&j!

  2. Ha ha — it just FIGURES, doesn’t it, that if anyone would have left a comment here it would be LW???

    Happy anniversary!

  3. Aw, thanks. It would take us one year to get a comment, huh?

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