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This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the ...
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali. By turns rapturous and rueful, this wise and funny author (whom Booklist calls “Anne Lamott’s hip, yoga- practicing, footloose younger sister”) is poised to garner yet more adoring fans.
Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible.—The New York Times Book Review
An engaging, intelligent, and highly entertaining memoir.—Time
A meditation on love in its many forms—love of food, language, humanity, God, and most meaningful for Gilbert, love of self.—Los Angeles Times
This insightful, funny account of her travels reads like a mix of Susan Orlean and Frances Mayes.—Entertainment Weekly
Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and-like most Italian guys in their twenties-he still lives with his mother. These facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce, followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in sickening heartbreak. This loss upon loss has left me feeling sad and brittle and about seven thousand years old. Purely as a matter of principle I wouldn't inflict my sorry, busted-up old self on the lovely, unsullied Giovanni. Not to mention that I have finally arrived at that age where a woman starts to question whether the wisest way to get over the loss of one beautiful brown-eyed young man is indeed to promptly invite another one into her bed. This is why I have been alone for many months now. This is why, in fact, I have decided to spend this entire year in celibacy.
To which the savvy observer might inquire: "Then why did you come to Italy?"
To which I can only reply-especially when looking across the table at handsome Giovanni-"Excellent question."
Giovanni is my Tandem Exchange Partner. That sounds like an innuendo, but unfortunately it's not. All it really means is that we meeta few evenings a week here in Rome to practice each other's languages. We speak first in Italian, and he is patient with me; then we speak in English, and I am patient with him. I discovered Giovanni a few weeks after I'd arrived in Rome, thanks to that big Internet cafe at the Piazza Barbarini, across the street from that fountain with the sculpture of that sexy merman blowing into his conch shell. He (Giovanni, that is-not the merman) had posted a flier on the bulletin board explaining that a native Italian speaker was seeking a native English speaker for conversational language practice. Right beside his appeal was another flier with the same request, word-for-word identical in every way, right down to the typeface. The only difference was the contact information. One flier listed an e-mail address for somebody named Giovanni; the other introduced somebody named Dario. But even the home phone number was the same.
Using my keen intuitive powers, I e-mailed both men at the same time, asking in Italian, "Are you perhaps brothers?"
It was Giovanni who wrote back this very provocativo message: "Even better. Twins!"
Yes-much better. Tall, dark and handsome identical twenty-five-year-old twins, as it turned out, with those giant brown liquid-center Italian eyes that just unstitch me. After meeting the boys in person, I began to wonder if perhaps I should adjust my rule somewhat about remaining celibate this year. For instance, perhaps I could remain totally celibate except for keeping a pair of handsome twenty-five-year-old Italian twin brothers as lovers. Which was slightly reminiscent of a friend of mine who is vegetarian except for bacon, but nonetheless ... I was already composing my letter to Penthouse:
In the flickering, candlelit shadows of the Roman cafe, it was impossible to tell whose hands were caress-But, no.
No and no.
I chopped the fantasy off in mid-word. This was not my moment to be seeking romance and (as day follows night) to further complicate my already knotty life. This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude.
Anyway, by now, by the middle of November, the shy, studious Giovanni and I have become dear buddies. As for Dario-the more razzle-dazzle swinger brother of the two-I have introduced him to my adorable little Swedish friend Sofie, and how they've been sharing their evenings in Rome is another kind of Tandem Exchange altogether. But Giovanni and I, we only talk. Well, we eat and we talk. We have been eating and talking for many pleasant weeks now, sharing pizzas and gentle grammatical corrections, and tonight has been no exception. A lovely evening of new idioms and fresh mozzarella.
Now it is midnight and foggy, and Giovanni is walking me home to my apartment through these back streets of Rome, which meander organically around the ancient buildings like bayou streams snaking around shadowy clumps of cypress groves. Now we are at my door. We face each other. He gives me a warm hug. This is an improvement; for the first few weeks, he would only shake my hand. I think if I were to stay in Italy for another three years, he might actually get up the juice to kiss me. On the other hand, he might just kiss me right now, tonight, right here by my door ... there's still a chance ... I mean we're pressed up against each other's bodies beneath this moonlight ... and of course it would be a terrible mistake ... but it's still such a wonderful possibility that he might actually do it right now ... that he might just bend down ... and ... and ... Nope.
He separates himself from the embrace.
"Good night, my dear Liz," he says.
"Buona notte, caro mio," I reply.
I walk up the stairs to my fourth-floor apartment, all alone. I let myself into my tiny little studio, all alone. I shut the door behind me. Another solitary bedtime in Rome. Another long night's sleep ahead of me, with nobody and nothing in my bed except a pile of Italian phrasebooks and dictionaries.
I am alone, I am all alone, I am completely alone.
Grasping this reality, I let go of my bag, drop to my knees and press my forehead against the floor. There, I offer up to the universe a fervent prayer of thanks.
First in English.
Then in Italian.
And then-just to get the point across-in Sanskrit.
Everything else about the three-years-ago scene was different, though. That time, I was not in Rome but in the upstairs bathroom of the big house in the suburbs of New York which I'd recently purchased with my husband. It was a cold November, around three o'clock in the morning. My husband was sleeping in our bed. I was hiding in the bathroom for something like the forty-seventh consecutive night, and-just as during all those nights before-I was sobbing. Sobbing so hard, in fact, that a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior (if you will) of all my shame and fear and confusion and grief.
I don't want to be married anymore.
I was trying so hard not to know this, but the truth kept insisting itself to me.
I don't want to be married anymore. I don't want to live in this big house. I don't want to have a baby.
But I was supposed to want to have a baby. I was thirty-one years old. My husband and I-who had been together for eight years, married for six-had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after passing the doddering old age of thirty, I would want to settle down and have children. By then, we mutually anticipated, I would have grown weary of traveling and would be happy to live in a big, busy household full of children and homemade quilts, with a garden in the backyard and a cozy stew bubbling on the stovetop. (The fact that this was a fairly accurate portrait of my own mother is a quick indicator of how difficult it once was for me to tell the difference between myself and the powerful woman who had raised me.) But I didn't-as I was appalled to be finding out-want any of these things. Instead, as my twenties had come to a close, that deadline of THIRTY had loomed over me like a death sentence, and I discovered that I did not want to be pregnant. I kept waiting to want to have a baby, but it didn't happen. And I know what it feels like to want something, believe me. I well know what desire feels like. But it wasn't there. Moreover, I couldn't stop thinking about what my sister had said to me once, as she was breast-feeding her firstborn: "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit."
How could I turn back now, though? Everything was in place. This was supposed to be the year. In fact, we'd been trying to get pregnant for a few months already. But nothing had happened (aside from the fact that-in an almost sarcastic mockery of pregnancy-I was experiencing psychosomatic morning sickness, nervously throwing up my breakfast every day). And every month when I got my period I would find myself whispering furtively in the bathroom: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me one more month to live ... I'd been attempting to convince myself that this was normal. All women must feel this way when they're trying to get pregnant, I'd decided. ("Ambivalent" was the word I used, avoiding the much more accurate description: "utterly consumed with dread".) I was trying to convince myself that my feelings were customary, despite all evidence to the contrary-such as the acquaintance I'd run into last week who'd just discovered that she was pregnant for the first time, after spending two years and a king's ransom in fertility treatments. She was ecstatic. She had wanted to be a mother forever, she told me. She admitted she'd been secretly buying baby clothes for years and hiding them under the bed, where her husband wouldn't find them. I saw the joy in her face and I recognized it. This was the exact joy my own face had radiated last spring, the day I discovered that the magazine I worked for was going to send me on assignment to New Zealand, to write an article about the search for giant squid. And I thought, "Until I can feel as ecstatic about having a baby as I felt about going to New Zealand to search for a giant squid, I cannot have a baby"
I don't want to be married anymore.
In daylight hours, I refused that thought, but at night it would consume me. What a catastrophe. How could I be such a criminal jerk as to proceed this deep into a marriage, only to leave it? We'd only just bought this house a year ago. Hadn't I wanted this nice house? Hadn't I loved it? So why was I haunting its halls every night now, howling like Medea? Wasn't I proud of all we'd accumulated-the prestigious home in the Hudson Valley, the apartment in Manhattan, the eight phone lines, the friends and the picnics and the parties, the weekends spent roaming the aisles of some box-shaped superstore of our choice, buying ever more appliances on credit? I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life-so why did I feel like none of it resembled me? Why did I feel so overwhelmed with duty, tired of being the primary breadwinner and the housekeeper and the social coordinator and the dog-walker and the wife and the soon-to-be mother, and-somewhere in my stolen moments-a writer ...?
I don't want to be married anymore.
My husband was sleeping in the other room, in our bed. I equal parts loved him and could not stand him. I couldn't wake him to share in my distress-what would be the point? He'd already been watching me fall apart for months now, watching me behave like a madwoman (we both agreed on that word), and I only exhausted him. We both knew there was something wrong with me, and he'd been losing patience with it. We'd been fighting and crying, and we were weary in that way that only a couple whose marriage is collapsing can be weary. We had the eyes of refugees.
The many reasons I didn't want to be this man's wife anymore are too personal and too sad to share here. Much of it had to do with my problems, but a good portion of our troubles were related to his issues, as well. That's only natural; there are always two figures in a marriage, after all-two votes, two opinions, two conflicting sets of decisions, desires and limitations. But I don't think it's appropriate for me to discuss his issues in my book. Nor would I ask anyone to believe that I am capable of reporting an unbiased version of our story, and therefore the chronicle of our marriage's failure will remain untold here. I also will not discuss here all the reasons why I did still want to be his wife, or all his wonderfulness, or why I loved him and why I had married him and why I was unable to imagine life without him. I won't open any of that. Let it be sufficient to say that, on this night, he was still my lighthouse and my albatross in equal measure. The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.
This part of my story is not a happy one, I know. But I share it here because something was about to occur on that bathroom floor that would change forever the progression of my life-almost like one of those crazy astronomical super-events when a planet flips over in outer space for no reason whatsoever, and its molten core shifts, relocating its poles and altering its shape radically, such that the whole mass of the planet suddenly becomes oblong instead of spherical. Something like that.
What happened was that I started to pray.
You know-like, to God.
Saving for later the argument about whether God exists at all (no-here's a better idea: let's skip that argument completely), let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively, I could call God "That", which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that "That" feels impersonal to me-a thing, not a being-and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God's name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: "The Shadow of the Turning".
I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability, and "God" is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that's what I use. I should also confess that I generally refer to God as "Him", which doesn't bother me because, to my mind, it's just a convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don't mind if people call God "Her", and I understand the urge to do so. Again-to me, these are both equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate. Though I do think the capitalization of either pronoun is a nice touch, a small politeness in the presence of the divine.
Culturally, though not theologically, I'm a Christian. I was born a Protestant of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion. And while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do, I can't swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only path to God. Strictly speaking, then, I cannot call myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on this with grace and open-mindedness. Then again, most of the Christians I know don't speak very strictly. To those who do speak (and think) strictly, all I can do here is offer my regrets for any hurt feelings and now excuse myself from their business.
Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed-much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love. In every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical saints and transcendents who report exactly this experience. Unfortunately many of them have ended up arrested and killed. Still, I think very highly of them.
Excerpted from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert Excerpted by permission.
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2. After imagining a petition to God for divorce, an exhausted Gilbert answers her phone to news that her husband has finally signed. During a moment of quietude before a Roman fountain, she opens her Louise Glück collection to a verse about a fountain, one reminiscent of the Balinese medicine man's drawing. After struggling to master a 182-verse daily prayer, she succeeds by focusing on her nephew, who suddenly is free from nightmares. Do these incidents of fortuitous timing signal fate? Cosmic unity? Coincidence?
3. Gilbert hashes out internal debates in a notebook, a place where she can argue with her inner demons and remind herself about the constancy of self-love. When an inner monologue becomes a literal conversation between a divided self, is this a sign of last resort or of self-reliance?
4. When Gilbert finally returns to Bali and seeks out the medicine man who foretold her return to study with him, he doesn't recognize her. Despite her despair, she persists in her attempts to spark his memory, eventually succeeding. How much of the success of Gilbert's journey do you attribute to persistence?
5. Prayer and meditation are both things that can be learned and, importantly, improved. In India, Gilbert learns a stoic, ascetic meditation technique. In Bali, she learns an approach based on smiling. Do you think the two can be synergistic? Or is Ketut Liyer right when he describes them as "same-same"?
6. Gender roles come up repeatedly in Eat, Pray, Love, be it macho Italian men eating cream puffs after a home team's soccer loss, or a young Indian's disdain for the marriage she will be expected to embark upon at age eighteen, or the Balinese healer's sly approach to male impotence in a society where women are assumed responsible for their childlessness. How relevant is Gilbert's gender?
7. In what ways is spiritual success similar to other forms of success? How is it different? Can they be so fundamentally different that they're not comparable?
8. Do you think people are more open to new experiences when they travel? And why?
9. Abstinence in Italy seems extreme, but necessary, for a woman who has repeatedly moved from one man's arms to another's. After all, it's only after Gilbert has found herself that she can share herself fully in love. What does this say about her earlier relationships?
10. Gilbert mentions her ease at making friends, regardless of where she is. At one point at the ashram, she realizes that she is too sociable and decides to embark on a period of silence, to become the Quiet Girl in the Back of the Temple. It is just after making this decision that she is assigned the role of ashram key hostess. What does this say about honing one's nature rather than trying to escape it? Do you think perceived faults can be transformed into strengths rather than merely repressed?
10. Sitting in an outdoor café in Rome, Gilbert's friend declares that every city-and every person-has a word. Rome's is "sex," the Vatican's "power"; Gilbert declares New York's to be "achieve," but only later stumbles upon her own word, antevasin, Sanskrit for "one who lives at the border." What is your word? Is it possible to choose a word that retains its truth for a lifetime?
From the way Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale begins—with our heroine in Rome, fawning over a sexy, young Italian—one could be forgiven for thinking that Eat, Pray, Love might just belong on the chick-lit shelf next to Amy Sohn’s Run, Catch, Kiss. But first blushes can be deceiving, and from the book’s introductory quote—“Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth”—we know Gilbert’s not out to deceive. Not her readers and, most important, not herself.
In what could be construed as a coming-of-age story for thirtysomethings, Gilbert leaves behind an excruciating divorce, tumultuous affair, and debilitating depression as she sets off on a yearlong quest to bridge the gulf between body, mind, and spirit. Part self-deprecating tour guide, part wry, witty chronicler, Gilbert relates this chapter of her life with a compelling, richly detailed narrative that eschews the easy answers of New Age rhetoric. In the book’s early pages, a flashback finds the smart, savvy, successful Gilbert on her knees on the bathroom floor of the Westchester house she inhabits with her husband, wailing and wallowing in sorrow, snot, and tears (“a veritable Lake Inferior”), awkwardly embarking on her first conversation with God.
During the interminable wait for her divorce, Gilbert accepts a magazine assignment in Bali, where she meets a ninth-generation medicine man “whose resemblance to the Star Wars character Yoda cannot be exaggerated.” He evaluates her palm, forecasting her return to Bali—a prediction that resurfaces when she hatches an escape plan from pain: “to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India, and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.”
Drawn by the beauty of its mother tongue, Gilbert arrives in Rome dead set on a self-restoration remedy rooted in pleasure and chastity, a peculiar pairing she describes as the antidote for decades spent sublimating herself to lovers with the dedication of “a golden retriever and a barnacle.” For Gilbert, luxuriating in simple pleasures means sounding the curtain call on personal demons—in this case a good-cop, bad-cop routine starring loneliness and depression—and allowing her own desires (gelato for breakfast!) to take center stage.
Pleasure triumphs, and our protagonist is prepared for the next leg of her journey: an ashram in India, where racing thoughts eventually yield to successful meditation and a cast of supportive characters, including a plumber-poet from New Zealand, an ever-amiable, sage Texan, and the Indian tomboy she scrubs the temple floors with as part of her devotional duty.
By the time Gilbert arrives in Indonesia, she has shed her grief, realizing her own ability to control her reaction to life’s events. She is strong, enjoying a succession of simple days spent with the medicine man, a Javanese surfer dude, and a woman healer. Bicycling around Bali, she finds balance and, as the title suggests, love. Happiness, Gilbert comes to realize, “is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
ABOUT ELIZABETH GILBERT
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of a short story collection, Pilgrims, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares-and a novel, Stern Men. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large forGQ. Her journalism has been published in Harper's Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine, and her stories have appeared in Esquire, Story, and the Paris Review.
A CONVERSATION WITH ELIZABETH GILBERT
Q. The realization that you did not want to have children serves as a turning point in the reevaluation of your life that led to divorce. Later you quote Virginia Woolf—“Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword”—writing about a woman’s choice between convention and tradition versus “a far more interesting” yet “perilous” life. Do you think this is as true today for the modern, urban American woman?
When modern American women make the deliberate choice not to have children they are still called upon to defend that choice, in a culture where motherhood is still regarded as the natural evolution of a woman’s life. But I remember my own mother musing once that she thought women had been “sold a bill of goods” during the 1970s, in terms of being promised that they could have everything simultaneously—family, career, marriage, privacy, equality, femininity, and autonomy. Reality has taught us that no woman can build an honest life without sacrificing something along the way. Deciding what will be sacrificed is not easy. But the good news is this: increasingly, that decision is ours.
Q. Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime studying myths from around the world, ultimately sketching the archetype of the hero as a protagonist who sets out on a journey that ends in personal—and spiritual—transformation. Do you see echoes of the hero’s tale (well, heroine’s) in your own story?
Back when Campbell (whom I love, by the way) was teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, his female students would sometimes ask, “But what about the heroine’s journey? Don’t women get to participate in this universal questing epic?” Traditional world mythology, however, frankly replies: “Nope.” Women (as life bearers) have always been seen by mythmakers (men) as being automatically perfect for their task; they don’t need to transform. Well, I was never going to be a life bearer and was painfully yearning for the classically soul-changing quest. So throughout my journey, I definitely identified much more closely with the struggling hero archetype than with the self-possessed goddess archetype.
Q. Do you think travel necessitates personal growth because one is forced to respond to and accept the unfamiliar? In your opinion, how much does it depend on an individual’s willingness to embrace opportunity?
No experience in this world has ever been cathartic without the willing participation of the individual. Life does not automatically bestow wisdom or growth upon anyone just for showing up. You have to work ceaselessly on your end to digest and imbibe your opportunities or, I have come to believe, they will gradually slip away and knock on someone else’s more receptive door.
Q. You have a strong distrust of antidepressants, portraying them as Western medicine’s easy answer to despair. In light of the experiences related in the book, do you now believe that seeking help when one needs it is a sign of courage and the first step on the road to healing?
I actually have a great deal of respect for antidepressants; I think they can be enormously mighty tools toward recovery. What I question is the current notion that a little vitamin P is the only thing needed to restore a torn life. We are multifaceted beings, and if we are to heal our suffering we must address our wounds on every imaginable level, seeking help from as many sources as possible, not just from pharmaceutical companies. And, yes, that all begins with the brave admission that one is lost and wants to be recovered.
Q. You ended up structuring your book conceptually using japa mala—the beads used as an aid in many strands of Eastern meditation—as your model. This allowed you to tell your tale using 108 sections, divided into three groups of 36, your age at the time, with each group representing a different leg of your travels. How did you decide to use this device, and how difficult was it to remain faithful to this format?
Brace yourself for the world’s hokiest answer: the idea came to me in meditation in India. The idea arrived fully formed. In one glorious instant I was shown a complete vision of how the book would be organized. This idea was a massive gift to me; the structure kept my storytelling in order, preventing me from rambling digressions. And the idea of the prayer beads kept me on topic emotionally, too, reminding me at every moment that this book was ultimately a spiritual exercise, an offering.
Q. How did you come to the decision to have your sister and, to a lesser extent, your mother serve as points of comparison for your own life?
How could they not be comparisons? I think we all compare ourselves to our mothers and sisters, and, in my case, these are the two most influential women in my life—powerful and inspiring. And yet they’ve made markedly different choices than I have. But I witnessed this truth in them, too—that it was not without a certain level of sacrifice and struggle that they embraced motherhood and marriage. I learned a lot about my own ambivalence by studying theirs from every visible angle, using their experiences to teach me about myself.
Q. The personal encounters you have in Italy, India, and Indonesia seem to affect you deeply, and your guru’s philosophy clearly informs your own. Do you think that self-discovery requires the insights of others? What do you make of this paradox?
I don’t see the paradox; I think sincere self-exploration requires the insight of everyone. One of my guru’s most helpful instructions is to “become a scientist of your own experience,” which I take as an invitation to explore every possible line of human spiritual thinking. The world has been blessed with some extraordinary teachers over history—use them! That said, studying can only take you so far. At some point you have to lay aside the books, hope that your mind has actually absorbed some wisdom, and just sit there in silence, letting your soul ascend to its own leadership. And that’s something nobody can do for you.
Q. Before you leave India, your poet-plumber friend from the ashram writes a few lines of verse as a good-bye. In his poem, he describes you as “betwixt and between.” Do you think one can remain continually betwixt and between or is there a point at which this approach to life would become a burden?
Well, you don’t want to become a hunk of driftwood. When I was in India I ran into some travelers who’d never settled down, and they all had that look of tight madness around the eyes. What you do want to remain, though, whether you are traveling or not, is alert. Pay attention to the signals—is it time to lay down roots? Or time to go exploring again? As for me, I’ve come to trust the power of a lifelong quest; if you keep asking honest questions and keep giving honest answers, you will always be instructed clearly on what to do next, and when and with whom. (In other words: I’m happily and quietly living with my sweetheart, for the time being, in Philadelphia.)
Q. Eat, Pray, Love marks a point of departure from your previous work by focusing on your own life. Was it difficult for you to turn your talents to your own experience, revealing so much to readers about your internal life and personal journey?
Oddly, I never thought of it as a particularly personal story. To me, the arc of the narrative felt completely universal—doesn’t everyone struggle with these same questions, doubts, and longings? So, no, it wasn’t difficult to write this. Though I do feel it would have been impossible not to write it. I was so consumed by questions that I needed the ordering process of writing to help me sort through them. As Joan Didion once said, “I write so I can learn what I think.”
Q. How important does that year in your life seem to you now?
How important was the first breath you ever took the day you were born?
Posted August 9, 2010
This was the most irritating book I have come across in quite some time. I honestly fail to understand what all the fuss is about. The character is rich, self-absorbed, and narcissistic. Yeah she was suffering, my heart bleeds for someone who has the money to traipse all over the world to find herself finally lighting in paradise where she meets a rich handsome man. Give me a break, and take a reality check. It says much for our culture that the movie should be such a success, and that the book is a best seller. Honestly, the writing is not that great and the character .well what can I say? More New Age dribble and easy answers except that in this case she has the financial wherewithal to travel the world to find herself. Give us all a break.
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Posted July 6, 2007
A friend recomended this book to me after I had gone through divorce and then been diagnosed with cancer thinking I would find some wisdom within these pages. However, what I found was an incredibly narcissistic writer/character. I kept waiting for her to suddenly stop in the middle of it all and just declare how self absorbed she is and then begin a real and truly honest self examination that would impart some valuable wisdom. Instead, she uses cliche riddled writing to avoid all of the hard subjects and not really be honest with the reader. I can very much relate to her feelings of anxiety and stress as the result of her divorce, but she spends only a few pages on this and avoids providing the reader with any kind of an honest and real examination as to why her relationship failed, what she learned from it or what love means to her. After reading more about her as a writer she seems like a very talented and intellectually curious person, but none of that comes through in this book. All that the reader sees is someone who is very lucky, but doesn't really seem to appreciate it. When she writes that she was not saved by her prince -- surprise, surprise she meets a good looking, intelligent man at the end -- but that she saved herself, I had to ask, 'From what?' It certainly wasn't extraordinary narcisism. In the end, all I learned is that the author is a really lucky person.
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Posted July 19, 2009
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Dang, I was expecting so much more from this book! I wanted to give the book NO STARS in this review, but the software wouldn't allow it. I have to settle for 1 STAR, but even that's too many. It seems that people either really, really LIKE THIS BOOK or that people really, really DISLIKE THIS BOOK. Count me in the latter category. But, I really used to like Elizabeth Gilbert's work. What happened...?
"What a totally self-centered person," I thought as I struggled through the first half of the book. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY tried to LIKE this book because I knew in the first 20 pages I would NEVER LOVE IT. I was expecting Ms. Gilbert to write more about cultures. I was wrong... It's all about ME...ME...ME rather than about cultural acceptance.
Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could just pick up and leave friends and family and other responsibilities to travel the world and eat, have sex, eat some more, have sex some more, and--oh yes--investigate and ponder why God (or some intelligent being, if you like) made ME so special?!
Many of my friends liked this book and said it spoke to them. Now, I have very wonderful and intelligent friends, but I can't seem to find or relate to the concepts they describe as being life-altering or life-clarifying. Perhaps it's just ME. Oh, no--I seem to have caught the ME-SYNDROME (officially known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder)that I so clearly despised in this book!
I wouldn't recommend this book to my clients as a therapeutic approach or aid to their mid-life crisis angst. Instead, I'd encourage each of them to not waste money on this book; save up for a real cruise/trip with real people...
...and I can't remember the last time I used the word "really" as often as I did in this review or as many upper-case letters or exclamation points to show how I felt about a book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cherie Renfrow Starry
Private Practice Counselor/Therapist
37 out of 47 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2009
As a English professor at a university in San Diego, many of my students complain that I don't teach many "happy" books. A few of them recommended this book to me. And I'm glad they did...this is a troubling book.
The most troubling thing about this vapid text isn't the fact that Gilbert is an annoying person; no, most troubling is the fact that so many people here are identifying with the narrator's "search." Really? You identify with an upitty, wealthy, New England divorcee who got paid to travel and "find" herself? From the faux-philosophical ruminations on "God," to the juvenile talk of Italian men ("I like kissing"--no joke--she really got paid to write that), Gilbert attempts to convince you that she's intellectual, spiritual, and--somehow--had a tough life.
Gilbert tells us in the first chapter that she's not going to go into why her marriage broke apart (though she admits that much of it was her fault), but then details numerous faults with her husband (his biggest fault? He wanted her to have--gasp!--children!). The disingenuousness of Gilbert knows no limits! She tells us early on that she "got rid of all her possessions." How noble, right? Well, not really, she just put them into storage. How serendipitous!
At all times, Gilbert's vapid self-centered "wanderer" takes center stage. Gilbert takes an entire sentence(!) to walk through a Roman neighborhood used as a Jewish Ghetto in WWII, and promptly discards that invitation to measure her own struggles against true adversity in favor of saying how she likes to visit the Pantheon.
If you'd like to read a sincere look at personal struggle, please read Jhumpa Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth" or Louise Errich's "Plague of Doves."
35 out of 41 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2010
I really relate to this character, because I also went through a terrible divorce at a young age, and I really felt her pain. This is the deal---she completely planned this book before she even left on the trip, which is why she got a huge advance....and in that way, I feel duped as a reader. I want to believe it is a true journey. I bet she forgot everything she learned at the Ashram as soon as she left. I did not believe that truly transformed her. However, I did love (!) the detail about Rome, since I also lived there in college, and I think she nailed it. I could have guessed she would end up with a man in the end. It is a good book for our generation, but I would caution people not to drink the Kool-Aid.
30 out of 35 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 29, 2010
This self-indulgent whine-fest is not worthy of your valuable reading time. The author wisely chooses to first take the reader to Italy, where no one is boring and nothing seems bad! The next two sections of this travelogue are just - pretentious meanderings. The writer has given us no reasons to care about her troubles or her actions or anything else about her. Being a confused, divorced female does not make one a good writer!
26 out of 32 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2010
I never wanted Liz's story to end! It made me want to experience each step of her journey and find myself. She writes with such honesty that the reader finds herself laughing out loud and at other times crying. A must-read for all women and a beautiful gift for all best friends.
19 out of 24 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2010
She ate a lot and did some yoga. How on earth are they making a movie out of all that? I think this book MIGHT be good for someone going through a divorce, but personally, I wanted to pull eyelashes out one by one while reading this. I eat a lot, too. Maybe I should write about that. Who knows, maybe that will be turned into a movie too!
18 out of 26 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2009
I Also Recommend:
Has anyone ever asked themselves, "What am I doing with my life"? Of course you have. Everyone has. Elizabeth Gilbert took the time to make a book about literally getting out. Getting away from her friends, her family, her comfort zone in her hometown. She travels to three different countries to learn about the culture and eventually finds self fulfillment. This book is encouraging to those of us who refuse to settle for the norm. It helps motivate us to take life and live it to the fullest. She does just that in this book about love and finding ones self. I highly recommend it to anyone.
18 out of 23 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2007
I was so disappointed after the first few chapters that I actually returned the book the next day. I found the author sadly and annoyingly self absorbed. But maybe I'm just one of those lucky women. Lets see I'm .......divorced(ex is an alcoholic), broke(putting two kids through college), overweight(even though I walk two miles every morning), sexless(seven years and counting), tired(work two jobs to pay the bills) oh and guess what......I'M HAPPY!!!!
18 out of 27 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2007
Although I found this book to be beautifully written, the author's political inferences were just too tiresome for me. I stopped reading just before the end of the Italian segment. If she thinks republicans are so pathetic and is still harping on the fact that republicans 'stole' the presidential election, perhaps this republican would find her time better spent reading someone else's book. On to Whitethorn Woods for me.
15 out of 28 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2007
I work in a bookstore & I am a huge fan of Oprah. So, I was very excited to read this book after hearing so many customer's recommned it & after seeing the author on Oprah. Sadly, it was the biggest disappointment! I agree with the other reviewers...all she did was complain and feel bad for herself over everything!! She had no life experiences that were that bad...she needed this 'journey' because she didn't want to be married anymore? Please...give me a break! Who wouldn't want to take a year off from work & your problems and travel? Unless you are filthy stinking rich you will not relate to this book. Do not waste your time.
14 out of 17 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2010
I've never been so disappointed and angered by a book. I thought it would have been about a women's journey into finding herself. Instead I'm reading about a neurotic women who commits adultry, uses people and then feels its necessary to promote her political views. I couldn't get past "Italy", which should have been all about pain, suffering and starting to gain control of her life. Instead, she demonstrates how selfish and uncaring she is about her friends and past relationships.
12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2010
When I began reading this book I was living abroad in Amman, Jordan. So I could very much identify with the traveling aspects of the book as well as the spiritual journey. I was not planning to go on a spiritual journay while in Jordan but while living there with inescapable sounds of call to prayer from the five mosques within a one mile radius four times a day it seems almost inevitable that you would think about your spirituality. I had just begun meditating again and wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with my life after I returned to the US. I was a nanny for my brother's new baby boy and I had a lot of time on my hands to contemplate my life. When I found this book it was almost as if the planets had aligned at the perfect moment to send me the perfect gift for exactly what I was going through. Elizabeth Gilbert's journey not only helped to get my own journey in motion but helped along the way. It reawakened in me the need to tap into my own spirituality, something I too had been lacking for quite a few years. I think Gilbert's personal, ethnographic style of writing is very compelling and hard to put down once you start reading. Even if you are not exactly going through the same types of things, her ability to talk openly and humorously about her life helps to open those rooms inside all of our souls/minds that may have been closed or forgotten about. And if nothing else her writing is inspirational to get out there and make positive changes in your life or simply to get out and live. As I have entered a somewhat stagnant stage of life, I've decided to go back and reread this book for another healthy dose of inspiration and hopeful dose of personal enlightenment.
Here is to you finding inspiration in her words....
9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2009
As I started reading this book I was sure that Eat would be my favorite part of the book; then as I continued reading, Pray was equally satisfying. By the time I read Love and finished the book, I realized that the author wove a wonderful story with each section building on the others, just as in life. I found the book inspirational and took from it the fact that we each know what is best for us and we must all be our own guides through life.
9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2008
This book, from the first couple of pages, is so compelling . . pulls you right in! Liz Gilbert has a rare gift, in my opinion, to reach the reader in a very personal way. It's one of those books that seems to have "something for everyone" - men and women alike.<BR/><BR/>I'm grateful for the brief chapters, because this is a books that I didn't want to be done with- I carry it with me everywhere and savor each chapter as a gift. It's funny because every time someone sees me reading it, it's always "Oh, don't you LOVE that book? It really spoke to me . . "<BR/><BR/>Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert- this book has made reading fun again, and offered me a spiritual guide without ever preaching to me. The humor and travel insights make it a well rounded read.
9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 5, 2010
I could not get past the first couple pages...this book was that bad for me. I felt like she was trying too hard to be mystical, spiritual...I couldn't stop rolling my eyes and I was afraid it was going to become permanent.
8 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 9, 2007
Although I loved the first few chapters regarding her trip to Italy, and the descriptions of the food, etc., when she proceeded to India and Indonesia and got engulfed in meditation, she completely lost me. I found myself skipping those parts and hoping to find the good, to no avail. It was painfully boring and probably because I am not able to get all the hype about meditation. We actually took it off our book club list for fear we would lose the rest of the group.
8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2010
I first heard about this book through the relentless promotion circulating the media. I must admit that i was curious but decided to fight the urge to read it for a while. After watching the commercials with Julia Roberts for the upcoming movie over and over again I bought the book. Yes, I admit I am one of those people who become mesmerized by commercials and believe anything they tell me. It was downhill from the moment i read the first five pages. I can't even finish the book. The main character goes on a journey to find herself and from my perspective all she has found is a big pile of complaints about her life, I didnt feel she was learning anything from her experiences. The fact that i have not finished the book says alot.
7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2010
Honestly, I read about 30 pages and I couldn't go on. It started off boring and just didn't pick up for me. All the talk about eating and eating only made me hungry! It was missing excitement....at least that's what I'd be working on if I was in the main character's shoes. I'm hoping the movie will bring that for me.
7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.