Memoir

Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m always late to the party. A book such as Eat, Pray, Love – which make such a splash when it first appeared in 2009 – normally would have been among my “must read” books. But so many people raved about it that I hesitated. Why would I want to read the story of a woman eating her way through Italy to ease her heartbreak, meditating in an Ashram in India to soothe her soul, and finding love in Indonesia while studying with a Balinese holy man?

It turned out that this book was exactly my cup of tea, or perhaps merlot since the first portion of the book talks about food so much.

I picked up a copy from Paperbackswap (a great club for bibliophiles) after attending a workshop for aspiring memoir writers. The workshop leader used this book as the basis for her talk. She cited it as an almost “perfect” memoir, and used the structure as a teaching device during the workshop to help participants learn the type of structure that helps you sell your memoir to editors. Since I am interested in writing my own story, and starting to noodle around with my own memoir, I thought, “Great! Let me pick up a copy of this book!”  Back when I wanted to learn screen writing and I took a class at Hofstra University on screenwriting technique, the professor used several films the same way. One of them was Witness, which is still one of my all-time favorite films, and one that helped me learn how to pace stories. So I knew I had to read Eat, Pray, Love; it would probably teach me more about structuring a memoir than all the how-to books I could find.  I wasn’t wrong, but I was in for an enjoyable surprise.

Eat, Pray, Love begins when Gilbert is at the crossroads of life. She arrives at age 30 with all the trappings of success; a career as a journalist that she loves, a beautiful country home and Manhattan apartment, a marriage. But her marriage has soured when she realizes that the does not want children, but her husband does, and they begin fighting about children, money and all things couples fight about.  They decide to divorce, and what started as an amicable divorce ends up a bitter fight. In the meantime, Gilbert jumps into an unhealthy relationship with a sexy actor she calls David, and ends up clinging to her co-dependent lifestyle until David too needs to separate from her.

It’s at this juncture that she gets the opportunity of a lifetime. Her editor offers to fund her trip of self discovery. She has always loved studying Italian, and so she decides to move to Italy for four months to learn Italian and basically immerse herself in the culture. After Italy, she chooses to go to India, to study in her guru’s ashram for several months. Following India, she will at last live in Indonesia. Several years earlier, while in Bali on a story for a magazine, a Balinese holy man predicts she will one day return, and she has always yearned to seek the holy man again and get to know him.  So she packs her bags and moves to Italy, and there her adventures begin.

The book is structured in three sections of equal parts, with short chapters totaling 109 – the number of beads on an Indian prayer string or a japa mala string of beads. It’s a sacred number and a good structure for the book.

Italy is perhaps the most fun section of the book. I longed to travel in the sun-drenched land, eating delicious food (although I’ll skip the calamari and squingili, thank you) and studying Italian.  India is a slower paced section but interesting all the same, for we see Liz’s ultimate struggle with her own inner demons, and how meditation helps her overcome her own inner stumbling blocks. The last section, Indonesia, was to me fascinating for the glimpse at Balinese life and medicine, but also the least satisfying sections.  She does find love, and happiness, and friendship; but I somehow felt the book ended without a finale.

And maybe that’s the way memoirs just go, because the life of the author continues to go on, and her story isn’t ended, just that one particular piece of it.

There were a few things in the book that really made me angry. One was a gratuitous pot shot at Republicans. The same thing happened in the book Julie/Julia; more snide, snippy and frankly, catty remarks about Republicans.  I’m no more a fan of some Republicans than I am of snakes, but I don’t waste writing time making snide remarks about Republicans OR Democrats.  These comments always strike me as little hip wanna-be remarks, as if to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m super hip.  I hate Sarah Palin too!” or whatever. It’s just stupid. You can be a wonderful liberal woman, tough minded, super brave and true to your beliefs without interjecting an evil Republican quote into your books, dears.

The other thing that struck me as odd was the reviews of this book, on Goodreads and Amazon. So many people seemed to be frothing at the mouth with hatred for Liz Gilbert. I had to wonder if they were reading the same book as I was when I read their comments. They called her spoiled and worse ,and seemed to think that just because someone else was paying for her trip it wasn’t a ‘true’ spiritual journey. Who said that spiritual journeys had to be undertaken in great deprivation and on your own dime?  Just because someone is rich doesn’t mean they don’t have problems in their marriage, their emotional life and in their souls.  Liz seemed to have all three, to the point where she was so seriously depressed she wanted to kill herself. Listen, I don’t care if you’re richer than God, you can still have problems.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, remember? It also doesn’t give you spiritual fulfillment. Sure, the author had the financial wherewithal to drop her life in the United States and travel to exotic places. I say, more power to her, go forth and enjoy. I wish I could go too, and maybe someday I can, but for now, my own spiritual journey is relegated to my beloved St. Theresa church on Sunday, a rosary said every day, and my own yoga practice conducted in between writing sessions in my office.

I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and recommend it.  I give is 3.5 stars out of 5, leaning towards a 4 out of 5.

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