Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia has been making the rounds lately, and I ended up picking it up on a whim one rainy day. Readers of my reviews probably know that I have a soft spot for travel narratives written by interesting women, and this book seemed to fit the bill.
EPL was not what I was expecting, but it did “fit the bill.” For one thing, I was unprepared for the level of attention given to spirituality in the book. (In retrospect, I think I may have found my copy in the religious books section of the shop.) Gilbert’s journey is a spiritual one, touching on four nations as she tries to redefine herself and her new relationship with the Divine.
In Italy, Gilbert focuses on healing herself after a truncated marriage and failed love affair. She takes time to do the ridiculous things she has always wanted to do: eat carelessly, learn Italian, flirt with espresso-eyed young men, forget schedules. Once emotionally healthy again, she takes off to India to study meditation in an ashram. (I read this at about the same time as the previews for The Love Guru began airing, and have been having a difficult/amusing time reconciling the ashram of EPL with Mike Meyer’s re-imagining.) Having given her casual relationship with God some discipline and structure – and received some much-needed tough love/advice – Gilbert moves on to Indonesia to study a more holistic and tropical form of religious study. It is here that she makes a return to her self and permits herself to attempt falling in love again.
Many reviews describe EPL as self-indulgent, and… it is. My impression of this book, however, was that it was honest. I don’t want to read a memoir where the author edits out unpleasant reflections and traits – a memoir is the writer. Gilbert takes her readers right into her mind and heart, and we are there while she struggles to come to terms with herself and her spirituality. She is not always wholly likeable. She is not always wholly interesting. But she is sincere and open, and her fascination with her own journey translates to her readers.
A year in Italy, India, and Indonesia would cost quite a lot of money. A paperback copy of EPL costs $9, and you finish it having felt as if you have seen at least some small part of these countries and their unique flavors. It might even help you better understand something about yourself.