Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted by Simcha 5:06 PM, under | 5 comments

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want- husband, country home, successful career- but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled she felt consumed by panic and confusion.
This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place.

Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
I really didn't know anything about this book before I read it, other than it's a best-seller and it involves a woman's year-long journey to three different countries. And since I love reading about people's travels and their experiences in other countries I thought this might be a book I would enjoy.

Eat, Pray Love is divided into three sections. In the first part Gilbert travels to Italy where she immerses herself in the culture, makes new friends and tries to put behind her the difficulties of her recent divorce. The second section finds Gilbert traveling to India where she remains in an Ashram searching for G-d and spirituality. In the final section of the book Gilbert arrives in Bali in order to reconnect with a Guru that she has met there two years ago, because he had predicted her return.

My feelings about Eat, Pray Love are mixed. I really enjoyed the first section where Gilbert describes her time in Italy, the people that she befriends there and her delight in the Italian cuisine, which she lovingly describes. But interspersed throughout, Gilbert reflects
in a more sober tone about the broken life she left behind, the depression that she is trying to escape from and her hopes for the future. And while I wouldn't say that I'm at all similar to Gilbert some of what she said did resonate with me and I frequently found myself lost in thought due to some comment or observation that she made.

Not all of these thoughts were particularly deep though.

One of Gilbert's favorite ways of finding a place to eat in a foreign country is to randomly stop a stranger and ask them what eatery they would recommend. And without fail Gilbert would end up in some little shack somewhere eating the best food of her life. This gave me a bit of a mental panic since I have no idea what I would say if a stranger came up to me in Jerusalem and asked me for a restaurant recommendation. I would probably end up sending them to some mediocre falafel stand where they would determine that Israeli food is unimpressive. I came away from these first chapters with a determination to find out what the best place to eat is in Jerusalem, in case I ever am in the position to offer an on-the-spot recommendation to a tourist.

After Italy, Gilbert flies to India to reconnect with her spiritual side. And to be honest, Gilbert lost me almost as soon as she entered the Ashram. I pretty much skimmed through the whole second section of the book since it's full of overlong descriptions about meditation and Yoga and whole passages of Gilbert's silent conversations with herself (which I totally didn't get). Her triumphs of finally meditating successfully or of properly chanting certain songs held no meaning for me and I was relieved when Gilbert finally left the Ashram for Bali. That's not to say that there wasn't anything within these hundred pages that I found worth reading, as she does meet some colorful characters there, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the previous section.

In Bali Gilbert tracks down the Guru that she had met two years ago in order to take him up on his offer of having him move in with his family. Unfortunately though, when she does find him he has no idea who she is. Gilbert overcomes this unexpected hurdle and quickly settles into life in Bali, renting for herself a cottage and making new friends. This final section of the book has elements of both the previous sections and entertainment-wise, I judged it to be in-between the two. It had the kind of descriptions that I like about the local culture and populace but there was also quite a bit of the meditation and yoga stuff that I could have done without.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the interesting people that Gilbert meets in Bali and I really appreciated the excellent job she does in bringing them to life for readers. I came to like Gilbert's Guru a lot more than I had expected to and I loved Gilbert's description of how the Guru's distrustful wife slowly warms up to her. And I easily felt Gilbert's sympathy and pain for her friend who wants more than anything to return to his life in NY which he was forced to abandon due to new immigration laws.

Eat, Pray, Love
was a different kind of book than I was hoping for but there was certainly here a lot that I liked. I really enjoyed Gilbert's clever and humorous writing style and if she ever writes a travelogue I would definitely buy it.

As I previously mentioned, Gilbert did go on a bit too much for my taste about her meditation and spiritual quest, as well as about her broken marriage, which she frequently rehashes but only partially explains. But I probably would have been better prepared for this if I had bothered to find out more about the book before I read it. So while there were parts of the book that I really liked there were others that I skipped completely, which is unusual for me, and for this reason I ended up glad that I had borrowed the book rather than bought it.

So in conclusion, while Eat, Pray Love was not the kind of book I was hoping it would be I did still enjoy it, largely because of the way I chose to read it. I didn't pass any judgment on Gilbert and the decisions that she made and I chose to read the sections that I enjoyed and skip those that I didn't. I could see how this could be a meaningful book, though, to anyone who has experienced some of the difficulties that Gilbert has, and to them it might offer some relief and hope.

5 comments:, I will just rent the DVD :)

Yeah, she lost me during the ashram part too. I loved Italy the best; write well about food and I am easily pleased. But she does have a funny, observant writing style that makes up for the parts that lag.

I enjoyed your review but I think I'll skip the book. :)

I like the part in the ashrams, but partly because I have the hardest time meditating. I liked it when she complained that she had a hard time maintaining focus, and the monk said it was a shame that she was the only person who had ever had that problem in the whole history of the world. :p

Blodeuedd: I just want to see the movie b/c I like Julia Roberts. I don't know if I would watch it otherwise.

StephanieD: Me too, for some reason I love reading people's descriptions of food. And I did enjoy her writing style.

WonderBunny: Yeah, this isn't a book for everyone. I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did considering how much I skipped altogether.

Jenny: I figured the India section would be more meaningful to those who are into meditation and Buddhism. I've never even tried meditating so it was all beyond me.

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