tagReviews & EssaysEat, Pray, Love: A Review

Eat, Pray, Love: A Review


Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: one woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. Penguin Books: New York, 2006.

Though this memoir begins with depression, it is truly a joyful book. Each little story is a pearl of wit and wisdom strung into a form intended to reflect that of the prayer beads of India, a japa mala, which consists of one hundred and eight beads with the one hundred and ninth bead represented by the introduction to the book. The format is at once interesting in its own right, and also makes the stories very accessible to readers.

The book is broken up into three sections covering the three locations where the author spent a year; reveling in pleasure in Italy for four months, wrestling with the spiritual in India for the next four months and spreading her wings to balance like a bird on the air currents of Indonesia (specifically Bali) for the final four months. It is further broken down into thirty-six vignettes, just a few pages each, reflecting the prayer beads. The independence of each little story, though built on the last, makes it easy to read just one at a time, take something from it and come back to the book later for more. Personally, I couldn't stop at just one very many times but the times I needed to it was very helpful.

The thing that I love most about this book is the humor with which the author tells her story. Her ability to see the humor in the situations and then to relate it with perfect timing, had me laughing out loud all through the book, whether she was pursuing pleasure in Italy, the divine in India or balance in Bali.

Like a good artist choosing her perspective, medium and brushstrokes, the author chooses her stories and the details with great precision. She doesn't try to show us all of each country she spends a four-month segment in, but rather to show us a representative sample of that which surrounds her and influences her story. She works in specifics instead of generalities, making her picture concrete.

In Italy, she relates how the men go out for cream puffs instead of a beer after a particularly nasty defeat in a soccer match. In India, she laughs at herself and the mysterious ways of the divine as she takes a personal vow of silence and then is immediately made the official greeter of newcomers. When she arrives in Bali and really begins to learn about the place and its people, she pokes fun at her own misconceptions about Bali.

Her voice is unique and yet easy to relate to. She doesn't hold back with her truth in order to make the book more palatable to the masses and in sharing it all, she reaches more of us and reaches more deeply into us. She shares her deepest depression, a clear sign of her deep discontent. She is careful to point out that it isn't a result of a bad marriage. She loved her husband and was very sad that in order to be true to herself she had to leave the marriage. But the depression served as an internal discontent, telling her she wasn't in the right space for her.

She recounts even her deepest depression with humor, as she is on the bathroom floor for the forty-seventh night in a row, at three am, crying in desperation. She compares what happened next to a mysterious astronomical event that realigns a planet in outer space. "What happened next was that I started to pray. You know - like, to God."

She had what many would love to have, a beautiful house and a good husband, but she had the courage to walk away from all the successful trappings that weren't right for her personally. She shows us how it was when she learned to trust herself, her inner voice, and move outside that sphere that things began to turn around for her.

In the end, she shows us how one can have a true marriage of spirituality and love of the worldly, that balance can be achieved.

The four months in Italy gave the author time to fill herself up physically. (She was underweight when she went and ended up overtaking that deficit.) In India, she cleansed away her pain and filled herself up spiritually. When she reached Bali, she found the balance that leads to contentment as she continued her spiritual practices but also went out dancing and took a lover.

You could wait until the movie starring Julia Roberts comes out. I'm sure it will be wonderful, but I can almost guarantee it will lose some of the rich flavor as it's filtered through all the people who work on a movie; directors, actors, producers, etc. Read the book first. Give yourself that gift in the new year.

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