I hesitated to write this review of Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, as I have an informal policy of not reviewing popular books on this review. I want people to find my blog because of what I write, or what they hope to find here, not because they are looking for yet another popular book review.
I am breaking this policy for two reasons. One, I didn’t exactly choose this book. It chose me. More accurately, two good friends of mine insisted that I read this book. I had actually chosen not to read this book, because of what I expected this book to be. Which brings me to my second reason. This book is both what I expected it to be, and more. In a way, it’s less than I expected, but in a way that only improves it.
I expected it to be a commonplace travel memoir, perhaps enlivened by the author’s mystical experience. I had read a review that deemed it to be merely another white woman’s experience of finding transcendence on the backs of the Third World poor.
It was definitely more than that. Ms. Gilbert has an actual religious journey, and does seem to acknowledge the poverty and history of the places to which she travels. In her descriptions of her travels, I see those places through her eyes, and experience them. In her descriptions of her religious experiences, I experience again her rage, her frustration, her transcendence.
But while it is more than I had imagined, it is not unusual. I find the categorization of her as a ‘white woman’ by that reviewer to be patronizing (though true) at best, but this type of journey has been undertaken before. There is a long history of Westerners traveling to the East, and/or finding Eastern traditions, to find themselves and rediscover religion. Admittedly, Ms. Gilbert is also inspired by the lives and writings of Catholic Saints, but there is no denying the fact that her main religious experiences come with an Indian Guru and in that Guru’s Ashram in India.
But if this journey is like many other journeys, it is also unique. Most people do not combine Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali) into a single spiritual journey. I like Ms. Gilbert’s style, and the way she includes the reader in her revelations, as though she were writing to and for a dear friend.
One aspect of Ms. Gilbert’s style bothered me, and that was the way she would switch between telling us the events that had just occurred, like pages from her journal, and telling us about events in a detached, after the fact manner, like she was writing about the events after a long time. I found it distracting, and it would have helped me enjoy the book better if she could have picked one tense and stuck with it.
Despite minor flaws, I enjoyed this book very much. It definitely reminded me of the need to be present in the moment as I live it, not letting my monkey mind flit between past and future with a helping of worry on the side. Four out of five stars.