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Book Review: Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search For Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

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One expectation of literature is that it transport the reader. It must have the ability to relocate the reader from his limited domestic bliss to an inflated universe of ideas filled with people, places and things that he will probably never meet or visit except for the book that he holds in two hands. By this visa Gilbert's already bestseller, Eat Pray Love, enters the realm of a well-written, transporting, memoir. A memoir that she fills with herself and invites the reader to share in the feast.

It is one book divided into three distinct parts, carefully painted by the title Eat Pray Love. The first two parts are as delicious as their settings — Italy and India. Gilbert is determined to live in Italy because she is obsessed with learning Italian. It is the most beautiful language in the world. And Rome, the city, embodies beauty and most of all "sex." I enjoyed the tales of Italy, but was anxious to get to Love, the last section of the book. Who would Elizabeth Gilbert love?  So, I forced myself not to skip meals or day trips on my way there. I also kept in mind a virtual Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert, whom she will portray in the film based on the book.

I read this book, at first, in a curious and sanguine sort of way. Then I found myself with emotion and bursting into tears. I am not sure if it was because I realized that I was suddenly within one hour of completing the book and arriving at my destination where I would have to part with author Elizabeth Gilbert. Or because I read a sad truism Gilbert wrote of love — let go of the control in your life in order to allow love's unbalance to abide there.

That clarity comes near the end of the memoir. However, it does not take away from the fact that Ms. Gilbert begins her journey as a whining white woman whose privileged life is falling apart. That's a problem.

It is a problem for her and for many readers who find this book to be a selfish exercise in spiritual confusion. But let's give her a chance to explain herself and her purpose for writing Eat Pray Love. She writes it for one simple reason — to share the journey, day-by-day with the world. Her dreams tell her that she will be successful. She follows her bliss no matter how painful or absurd. She asks the reader to buy that in one short year with a multitude of help and "gurus" she has arrived — spiritually.

But despite her claims of arriving on peaceful, spiritual planes of beings — the reader remains unconvinced. Elizabeth Gilbert begins and ends her journey as a "seeker." Also known as spiritual kindergarden according to Eastern mysticism. And by definition seekers are in a state of perpetual confusion while seeking their inner path. Even those familiar with New Age writing and Indian gurus would find it difficult to follow the thread of her spiritual awakening. The only recognizable tenet is a meditation practice she describes that sounds a bit like Buddhism and of entering the mysterious "void" in the early stages of meditation. I got it. But her reason for traveling to India I did not get. Gilbert makes a common mistake many Westerners make — they go too soon. They think they are ready and that "the master has appeared," but, really, it is mere fantasy.

I was advised to wait, and I heeded that advice. Therefore, that difference in approach seems the source of conflict and confusion in this memoir. We are never certain where her loyalty lies. And with only her feeble inner voice as guide, she's off to three countries to "search for everything"!

Therefore, it is not surprising that she changes gurus like a person changing planes because they need to catch a connecting flight. That is the spiritual dilemma I read into this book. Exactly how did she become the (inner) master, at the end of the journey, without first finding the (outer) guru?

The problem with Gilbert is that as hard as she tries to run from men — she continues to attract them and struggle with giving in to them. However, Gilbert temporarily learns one thing — she needs to give her sexuality a rest. In spite of her hard-headed approach she does meet one man in India, Richard from Texas, who becomes her spiritual advisor. Richard, a really cool guy, serves as one of her temporary gurus who calls her by a sticky name: "Groceries," because she eats every damn thing in sight. She does not know why or how this physical hunger has engulfed her life. But Groceries is an open book to Richard, and he reminds her daily that she has to let go of her attachment to a husband who no longer wants her. And above all, she must let go of her whining — that, he tells her, is the real source of her hunger.

At first it seems that the author's emotional selfishness will overcome the reader. Why is this woman writing about herself and her problems? It reminds one of the public anger felt toward Princess Diana when she first warned the world that she was not happy being a princess nor living with a prince! Give us poor folks a break. Yet, despite the sad eyes, the world came to love Diana and eventually agreed with her sense of angst and pain — since it is part of who she was.

The same might be said of the readers' evolution along with the author, who grows page after page into a woman who is less selfish and more bearable in the end. She tolerates herself and continues to meditate. The reader also comes to tolerate Gilbert and her many vacillations.

My review of this book was somewhat mixed. I could not accept nor understand her spiritual practice. It made no sense to me. But I could understand her seeking a soul mate. That part of the book resonated with me. This is not a compelling book, but it is a good read. And it does have something to teach us. And what exactly do we learn from Eat Pray Love? I think we learn that the idiom  "follow your bliss" could easily be mistaken for "follow your guru."

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