I have been trying to write a review of Eat Pray Love for a few days now. Each time I come back to the draft, I keep deleting paragraphs and wanting to start from scratch. My opinion of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, and her adventures in Italy, India and Indonesia just keeps changing. My first book review here at Prairie Journals, and I’m not even sure what I want to say.
Gilbert reminds me of me: she was 34 at the end of the story (I’m 34); she ran away from home to travel the world at an age when most women are bogged down with babies and responsibilities (I’ve run away to live overseas twice since turning 30); she makes consistent efforts to improve her life while sort of being consistently dragged back down by old, hard to break habits (hate to own up to that too, but there it is). What doesn’t remind me of me is the impetus for her journey. Gilbert was living the American well-to-do dream with her husband when she realised she didn’t actually want any of it, throwing herself not into her work or friends but straight into another difficult relationship, the disintegration of which propelled her right to the edge of an emotional breakdown. Thankfully, Ms Gilbert recognised that perhaps there are better ways to mend the soul than shagging one bloke after another, and she packed her bags and headed off on a journey of inspiration and healing.
First stop was Italy, to immerse herself in Italian language and culinary delights. This section is an arm-chair traveller’s dream, with tales of world-class pizza and gelato plus mind-bogglingly handsome men as far as the eye can see. Luckily Gilbert has begun a period of self-imposed celibacy at this time, thereby avoiding further emotional entanglements. From her description it sounded like this was no mean feat.
In India, Gilbert swaps olive oil and carbs for wholesome vegetarian fair as she grapples with the rigorous ways of an Indian yogic Ashram. I need to come clean here and say that I did not read all of this section. I have completed my yoga teacher training and just didn’t agree with most of what Gilbert was saying. She struck me as someone that couldn’t leave her thoughts about herself at the door and put in the commitment required to improved her life through yogic practices. You need to have faith that these practices, which are thousands of years old, might just be worth doing properly rather than fighting it the whole time. I’ve got news for you Elizabeth: everyone finds meditation hard, it takes discipline. It’s not all bells and whistles, visions and pretty lights. Why fly so far to try so little? Like I said, I didn’t finish this section so she may in fact have gotten over herself and achieved enlightenment. I’ll never know.
Next stop was my favourite part of the ride, Indonesia. Bali, to be specific. Here, Gilbert meets up with the Balinese medicine man who first planted the seed for this journey two years earlier when she was there on a work junket. Gilbert observes him as he patiently helps patients from all walks of life, putting in very long hours for very little renumeration and smiling all the while. Bali introduces us to an assortment of other interesting characters, too. There is Yudhi, a Javanese man who married a New Yorker but was deported from the U.S. after 9/11. There is Wayan, a female healer who has done the unthinkable by Balinese standards and left her abusive husband. And then there is Felipe, handsome Brazilian man and lover extraordinaire. For those like myself who have not visited Bali, it is fascinating to read about the different customs which take up many of the waking hours of regular Balinese folk. I do however think there is a lot more to be told about the Balinese way of life than what is described here. Gilbert says the custom of living in rigid family compounds produces the most “sane, protected, calm, happy and balanced” people in the world, yet the Balinese characters she meets are generally few, if any, of these things. They are products of an economically unstable, patriarchal society that punishes anyone who does not conform. We meet a pair of orphans who have been pimped out to beg on the streets. The healer, Wayan, discusses how women are beaten or divorced by their husbands if they cannot produce a child, even if it is the man is infertile. Hmm, doesn’t sound happy or balanced to me.
I’ve been pretty hard on Elizabeth Gilbert, I know, but I did enjoy the book overall. Eat Pray Love is not just a book; it is a publishing phenomenon. I was working in a bookstore at the time of its release, and it was impossible to keep any copies on the shelf. If there was such a thing as ‘most-recommended book of all time’ I’m sure this would be a strong contender. Most of the popularity is not about the story itself, as the three countries examined are by no means unchartered territory. It is Gilbert’s unwavering engagingness, if that’s a word, that hooks people in and keeps them reading. She is just so likeable. Gilbert herself is aware of this, describing how she has just always been surrounded by people; this is one of the reasons she had the confidence to travel the world alone, as she knew she would just make friends wherever she went. This of course has been somewhat of an obstacle for her because she has never spent enough time by herself to know what she wants, or that sometimes it’s healthy and ok to be alone.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, with the warning that sensible people might find Elizabeth Gilbert to be on the slightly flaky side.
My rating: 3 out of 5