Sunday, April 09, 2006

Book Review - "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert

As an avid reader, I've come across some good books (and, of course, lots of losers). I'm not genre-specific, from mystery to "women's literature" to autobiographies to historical, I've read them all. This one, however, stunned me.

As a 30-something raised by former religious-order (Catholic) parents who ended up embracing eastern philosophy, I spent my formative years visiting ashrams, meeting mediums and gurus, meditating- all sorts of non-traditional exposure. My parents had us do the Catholic sacraments and training too. Just in case.


I married a traditional Catholic and honestly wasn't sure what I believed. I admired the complete faith of other Catholics, but I didn't feel it. In my darkest moments, I began to question whether this wasn't all random and maybe in the same way we think a dead bug is just dead, maybe that too was our fate. Gone forever- faith being just a brain-process to protect us from the truth. I sadly thought that maybe I was burdened by being one of the smart ones who was able to see this and I felt cursed that I had the intellect for it.

In recent years, I began to truly feel that existential weight- that I needed to know what this was all for. Time seemed to be slipping by so quickly it began to alarm me. I read all sorts of books from Victor Frankel to Ian Stevenson. I thought I was starting to find a path back to believing in something greater, but it seemed like "information gathering" for me vs an emotional breakthrough.


Then I read a review of this book and tacked it onto my to-read list with a bunch of others. It seemed like a chick-lit type book and those are great every now and again, like eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast- good but best you don’t make a habit of it . When I finally got it, I checked reviews again and ALMOST DECIDED TO RETURN IT. The review I read said something along the line of: obviously a book written only as an excuse to travel around the world. That sounded dull to me but I started to read it anyway, just to see.


Well, wow. What can I say? Someone commended the author for having the courage to publish such a brutally honest and intensely personal journey of discovery. At times, that's an understatement. This book can be so forthcoming, I almost think I would edit some of the content, even contemplating only in my own mind. However, there is something so stirring and so vividly true about her story, and her humor among the gravity of seeking such divine wisdom. It felt so real. And for me, given my background, I found myself actually shedding tears several times in the book (out of seemingly nowhere)- I recognized things the author wrote that my conscious mind had forgotten. This book has put into words things that I have struggled to define. Over and over again. Its remarkable.

Beyond the deeply moving spiritual and philosophical discoveries in the book, Elizabeth is just a really really good writer. Very funny, very clever, very articulate. It made me insanely jealous of her talent. You could read this book on a "regular" level without the spiritual overtones and still find it funny.


Obviously this book wasn't intended as a religious text, but in some ways it became one to me. I will actually reread this book, which I almost never do, because in her observations I think there is profoundly deep meaning and I don't know if I could have absorbed it all the first time. The best part is that this is someone who I actually saw a lot of myself in and my friends in, not some wacky "new ager" that makes you want to roll your eyes as you find a way to extract yourself from listening to their stories.


And whoever wrote the review on Amazon about this all being about not wanting to have kids? What kind of craziness is that? The author makes brief commentary on being unsure about having kids- which 90% of us go through/went through, but she also has the wisdom to note that most parents seem to find them a metaphysical experience. And I can attest, I think my young son is a lot of the reason I began "seeking" truth because despite the endless sacrifice, there are the moments when I know I am, without question, in the presence of something that is the closest I may ever come to God in this lifetime. The radiant innocence and beauty of a child- it that doesn't break your heart open and set it free, I'm not sure what can.


What a remarkable book, and a remarkable person.



My Epilogue: Eat Pray Love...then what?

10 comments:

Lisa said...

I love this book too and have only really started reading it. In fact, I am just in the thick of things in her Italy section and I am already lusting after a trip there!

I like your blog entries, btw. I mostly blog for myself because I am not me if I'm not writing and/or reading something. :) I'm gonna add you to my list of reads. Keep going! I'm reading!

(my real blog is here: http://www.snarkypants.com)

Peace!

Candice Turnquest said...

I really loved this book and I am glad that others feel the same way. I see that you seem to be an avid reader. Do you have any recommendations of books that are similar (self discover type books) that were equally as interesting and emotionally stimulating.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Amy said...

Hi Candace,

Sorry for the delayed response. I wasnt really sure how responding to comments worked (how lame-o).

Unfortunately I cant point to other books I would put on this level. Im going to read David Hawkins next after getting a recommendation and I also read Ian Stephenson which were interesting but not riviting or insipring.

The thing I loved about this book was that she was FUNNY but also covered some very deep topics. Usually the deep topic reading is a little dry, so this was delightful in comparison.

If I think of anything I will let you know. I really wish I had a list of all the books Ive read so I could refer to it. That, and I just like lists.

PeaceBang said...

I think I had a kind of book hangover with this one as you described having with the Jodi Picoult book. I loved the first two chapters.. then it began to dawn on me that this was really a story about a woman who was absolutely addicted to male attention and male affirmation going to three different countries to feed her addiction.

She was absolutely unable to be alone unless she had a meeting with an attentive man set up. Everywhere she went, she was the object of male adoration and attention (as a cute, blonde American gal, why wouldn't she be?). She even allowed her female guru to be totally eclipsed by the male guru who founded the ashram.

By the end chapter, which I thought was terribly written, Gilbert tries to make us think that great sex is a transcendent experience. Of course it CAN be, but as a "happy ending" for a woman who set out trying to free herself from spiritual confusion and toxic relationships... wow, how predictable and disappointing.

I was deeply uncomfortable with the way the author humiliated her friend Wayan and positioned herself as the Great White Savior at her friend's expense. It would have had far more integrity had she simply made the gift and not dished Wayan's reception of it in the process, all for her own literary gain.

Sadie said...

Peacebang's comments really made me think more deeply about my reading of the book. I definitely see how the end seems to contradict Gilbert's initial intentions and her relationship somehow deflates that individualism we were waiting for. But, Gilbert is so honest throughout and she is so self-reflective, that while the end may seem "predictable," it was what really happened in her life. She recognizes her need to be connected to others, and the universe seems to even push her in that direction (how funny that she's put in charge of welcoming people immediately following her commitment to silence).

As for Gilbert dealing with her friend Wayan, I again agree with Peacebang, how uncomfortable to read. But isn't our place abroad equally as awkward? Gilbert is American, and she thought she'd be able to swoop in and save the day but instead, she faced very tangible cultural barriers. I felt that Gilbert was actually able to abandon some of that egocentricm by going against how she wanted to handle things and handling them in, what seemed from the advice she was given, a more Balinese way.

Regarding the original blog, I had a similar background coming to this book (former Catholic with an increasing interest in Eastern philsophy thought not much experience with it yet) and found myself so enlivened by Gilbert's questions and struggles.

Thanks to all for such thought-provoking comments.

Keri said...

I have actually just been introduced by this book from none other than Oprah. I have yet to buy my copy, but I soon will.

It sounds so enlightening.
Thank you for your review of this book, and for your insight!

Wishing the best,
Keri

Amy said...

I like this book because I personally identify with the author in such a profound way. She pretty much tells us she's not perfect. I was in a serious relationship for over a year and we just recently broke up. Reading this book just before we broke up, I realized that like her, I was unhappy in my little cookie-cutter life and that there is so much more to pursue. Being in my early 20s, people always tell me "Oh you're so young...you'll find someone else" etc. etc. I would rather find myself...than someone else. Elizabeth teaches us that strength is inherently within you and resides in your connections with others. That's just wonderful.

Husain said...

Husain said...
I've read all of the comments about Gilbert's book. Why isn't there any men's comments? I'm interested in memoirs regarding ones spiritual quest because I've been on one for fifty years and written about my personal experiences,"Discovering God the Therapist". Yes, I am a therapist and I run workshops (psychodrama oriented) to help people unblock the inner barriers preventing them from discovering the Inner Truth and Wisdom of their True Nature. What I would like to hear from you readers is how does Gilbert resonate with your quest and what and how did your truth journey differ or similar to hers? To really change the experiences of fear, anxiety, terror of letting go (surrendering), confronting the horror of the unpredictable unknown (will it be worst than what I had gone through?)-- all and more are the inevitable experiences a true, honest seeker MUST undergo. I suspect many women seekers confuse finding "Mr. Right" as the spiritual answer to their quest.

(husainchung@gmail.com)

Husain said...

Husain said

"PeaceBang" is certainly an unusual name or is it just an alias for commentaries?

I am impressed by your analysis of Gilbert's book, particularly about her "addiction to male attention", as perhaps (my assumption) to escape from her fear of loneliness?

To be able to go-through the terror of loneliness is one of the necessary basic early steps to complete on the journey of self enlightment.There are many many more difficult and challenging tests one is expected to experience and complete in order to discover the truth of who and what we are.
about.

Of course there are many strange and funny experiences along the way.
But, from my personal experience the humor for the most part is a mysterious conundrum of sorts like bitter-sweet Rumi metaphor or a weird Zen koan that suddenly smacks you on the back of your head just when you thought you won and survived the test.Like oh-shit I'm repeating my karma like a nightmare psychodrama
I would enjoy corresponding to you and others further about my ideas.
You can reach me at husainchung@gmail.com

AzariahnTX said...

I just saw the movie Eat, Love, Pray. The "groceries" guy brought back so many feelings of a past love. Even though he was in my life for a purpose, I still miss him and know it is for my good that he is not in my life. This movie made me reflect on my life. I want to smile like I'm smiling from my liver. The truth is we are all on a journey along the path that God has chosen for us. We can do nothing without the Holy Spirit guiding us. It reminds me to start taking life "One day at a time and depend on God".