“That’s me in the corner, in other words. That’s me in the spotlight. Choosing my religion.”
My Rating: ★★★★
Genre(s): Nonfiction, Memoir, Travel
Reading Challenge: 23 out of 35
Eat, Pray, Love is seen more today as a gimmick than a literary publication.
Even when I searched up the book online to link it to this review, I found about a dozen books about Eat Pray Love before I came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s book - cookbooks and lifestyle books based on Gilbert’s journey, and even books that had nothing to do with the original book except for the title which they used to grab attention. “Eat Pray Love for Vegetarianism,” was one of these books. It was years before I allowed myself to put Eat Pray Love on my TBR, and even then, it took me several more years to buy it. There was some sort of cultural stigma around this book which really can only be honestly described as snobbery - I can’t read that book, it’s popular. So many times, readers - myself included - look down on books that have garnered what we deem ‘too much’ hype. The book can’t possibly be good because a lot of people read and/or liked it. The whole thing is nonsensical but hey, c’est la vie.
Even as I finally sat down to start reading, I couldn’t get the image of Julia Roberts eating pasta out of my head.
Thankfully, I pushed past my bias and got to the good stuff - the authentic, indulgent, and beautiful journey that is Eat Pray Love.
Gilbert’s path to self-discovery through enjoying the pleasures of life and through meditation and faith was poignant and inspiring. On the surface, however, it might be easy to make judgement. After a quick scroll through the reviews on Goodreads, it’s evident that a lot of Gilbert’s readers have. The criticism is boiled down to a few themes: her divorce, her solo journey, and her indulgence. The fact that a woman would have the audacity to leave a marriage that makes her not unhappy, but miserable, and to travel overseas for a year while eating copious amounts of pasta is too hard a pill to swallow for most people. I, on the other hand, was unbothered by any of that. I fully commend women - and men, for that matter - who have the courage to make major life changes in spite of all the risks involved, solely for the purpose of making their lives better.
We only get one life, we’d better not waste it - and I think that’s an important message to take away from this novel.
Gilbert sectioned her travels off into three categories, each in a different place: Italy (the eating), India (the praying), and Bali, Indonesia (the loving). Each section came with its own lessons as well as cultural insights. I have never been to India or Bali, and based on my current travel anxiety, I may never get there. I’ve been to Italy, but I was 6 months old - not really conducive to making memorable experiences. So this book fulfilled the wanderlust in my soul. Gilbert’s imagery was so breath-taking, I really felt like I was there.
I found Gilbert’s story inspirational in the way that the everyday person’s story is inspirational. She’s not necessarily the most interesting person in the whole world. However, she’s someone who started to slip underwater, but found her way to the surface. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression in the past, her story felt very personal to me and it touched me deeply. Above all, it made me want to venture outside of my comfort zone, and maybe learn to speak Italian (I’ve tried before, trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds).
The structure of her novel was effective and easy to follow. Of course, she organized her experiences chronologically by each location. However, what I really found interesting about how she structured the novel was the decision to separate her journey into 108 anecdotes, the same number of beads on a Buddhist prayer-bead string. The stories were for the most part concise, powerful, and at times, definitely humorous. While I couldn’t connect with her stories about spirituality and faith, I did appreciate them all the same.
The one part of this novel I didn’t particularly fancy was the bit about meeting and falling in love with Felipe (actually named Jose, FYI). This might be just the fault of hindsight - since Gilbert wrote and published this book, she married and then divorced Felipe/Jose. So seeing their relationship play out in the book just didn’t feel romantic to me. I was sort of just waiting for the shoe to drop which it obviously didn’t until after the events of the book. But still. I almost wished that she had stuck to the early promise she made to herself to not enter any relationships during her year of travelling. Then again, the novel is called Eat Pray Love, so I should have seen it coming.
Disclaimer: If you are considering reading this book, do NOT watch the film first. Conversely, if you’ve seen the film and didn’t care for it, still give the book a try. I watched the film after reading the book and I was very underwhelmed. As much as I love Julia Roberts’ acting, I’m sad to say that not even she could save it.
Let’s chat! If you could travel to any three places in the world, where would you go?
Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.
To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.
An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.