New York writer Elizabeth Gilbert got the chance to do what so many of us wish we could do ourselves. Four years ago, she put her life on hold and traveled around the world for an entire year. She then took things one step further and wrote a book about it.
In her latest book, “Eat Pray, Love,” Gilbert takes her readers along on her travels. Besides following in her path around the globe, though, we are also stowaways on her personal journey to find herself.
Recently and traumatically divorced, the author decides that the answers to her deepest questions and longings cannot be discovered in her cloistered New England lifestyle. Instead, she follows the less-traveled road to self-discovery across the Atlantic, where she begins to put her life back together.
She picks three countries and decides to spend four months in each: Italy, to learn about pleasure, India, to learn about devotion and prayer, and Indonesia, to figure out how to combine the two. First comes Rome, Italy. Here, she begins to heal her wounds through the pursuit of life’s simple pleasures, especially through good food and new friendships. The beautiful cadence of conversation among the Romans inspires her to learn Italian, and she passionately studies every day. Careful to avoid overexertion, she makes sure to keep her schedule clear enough to allow for trips to the country and walks around the city. By the time she leaves Italy 23 pounds heavier, she has experienced so much pleasure that she’s ready to trade it in for the strict asceticism of India.
After a brief stop at home, that’s exactly where she goes. The second section of the book describes the author’s time studying yoga in a mountaintop ashram. In stark contrast to her time in Italy, days here begin at 3:30 in the morning and are spent meditating, working and serving the rest of the community. While here, the author explores what she calls “the art of devotion,” purposefully denying herself of the pleasures she experienced in Italy, in order to learn the value of living simply.
While the first two sections of the book focus on distinctly different themes, the final chapters include the author’s attempt to bring the ideas of pleasure and asceticism together to find a happy medium. She does this in Indonesia, a land that combines many of the aspects of India and Italy. While in Indonesia, she seeks to find some sort of balance that she can carry back to her life in the United States, in order to put her life back in order.
The story goes back and forth between being a memoir and some sort of philosophy book, and it often struggles to find its niche. Still, it is cleverly written; the author does a wonderful job of describing the beautiful cities she visits and convincingly sets them up as backgrounds for the different parts of her journey. However, at points, the novel gets too personal. Instead of expanding Gilbert’s discoveries to include the rest of us, the book centers around the author’s life and turns into an account of her personal therapy rather than universal themes.
As the speaker, the voice of the author permeates the whole story, which sometimes makes the book sound like it belongs in a 40-something women’s book club, which may make it unappealing to the college crowd. Still, there are interesting points throughout, and the experienced reader will be able to read between the obscure metaphors and middle-aged obsequiousness to enjoy it for what it is: an exciting, colorful, well-detailed travel journal with some personal philosophy mixed in.