Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love

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Book: Eat, Pray, Love
Series:
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genres: non-fiction, memoirs

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love touched the world and changed countless lives, inspiring and empowering millions of readers to search for their own best selves. Now, this beloved and iconic book returns in a beautiful 10th anniversary edition, complete with an updated introduction from the author, to launch a whole new generation of fans.

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.”

Notes of Interest:

This book was an international sensation that I didn’t pay much attention to until I found myself in a position where I could relate to Gilbert’s interview comments about being on the bathroom floor in sobs realizing her life was falling apart. Then, the more that I heard about the book, the more I realized I needed to hear a “sister” perspective on choking on life to the point where you don’t recognize who you are anymore; you only know you’ve got to break the chains that bind to find peace of mind and heal before life can ever be okay again. I don’t know what kind of inspiration I was expecting from this book, other than just taking comfort in listening to some other caterpillar’s attempt to find her butterfly wings. I was not disappointed.

What could have made it better for me:

No constructive criticism for this book. It was well-written and combed over enough times in editing that nothing distracted me. It was never boring. It never felt preachy. It didn’t even really advocate world travel as a means of solving all your problems … which I appreciate because many of us aren’t in a position to throw a week’s worth of clothes in a bag and jet off to paradise leaving our troubles behind, although it might be easy to interpret it that way on the surface. Gilbert took her troubles with her, for one thing. It was a “year off” from the responsibilities and routines of the past, but her new “work” was wrought with challenges, tears, and truths of the kind you only encounter when you force yourself to look in the mirror and know that life must change. Personal growth is probably one of the hardest battles any human being will ever face.

What I liked about it:

My favourite thing about this book is its voice. The manner in which the author records her thoughts is comic, honest, and relative. It made for a fun read that often had me reflecting on my own experiences or beliefs or feelings … which is why I bought the book, so mission accomplished. “Sister talk” in lieu of having a sister during times of crisis was exactly how these narratives came across.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the degree of honesty offered about the experiences. If paradise turned out to be dirty, scary, greasy, or disappointing, she didn’t skirt around that and try to make it sound like something it wasn’t. Her openness about her personal challenges normalizes how all of us feel about our failures and how hard it is to let go, or keep trying, or practice self-discipline, or even just see yourself through the lens of truth.

The first part of the book, seeking pleasure, is set in Italy and serves as a reminder that life should be joyful, but joy is something you have to actively pursue … all the time. It’s not a destination, or a final achievement. And you’re more likely to find joy when you are genuine in acknowledging the little things you appreciate … like pasta. The second part of the book, seeking spirituality, is set in India, and is open enough so as not to push “religion” on anyone, but does go into detail regarding some of the principles behind yogic meditation and traditions. Mostly she seeks parallels in understanding what it means to be connected in spirit … to yourself, to your community, to the world, and to whatever higher power you believe in, including just being the best You that you can be. And that’s not the same thing as perfectionism. The third part of the book, seeking balance, is set in Bali, and was not so much lessons in finding equilibrium among life’s various demands and ideals, but finding the peace of mind to face and overcome chaos: disrupted plans, difficult truths, personal fears, etc. There is a balance that comes with knowing how to get back on your feet when the unexpected strikes, and when you can fall down and get back up, that is when you can truly believe in yourself again.

Here are some quotes that “spoke” to me.

“Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.”

“The Bhagavad Gita — that ancient Indian Yogic text — says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection. So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly.”

“… when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt — this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”

“If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control. Drop everything else but that. Because if you can’t learn to master your thinking, you’re in deep trouble forever.”

“The best we can do then, in response to our incomprehensible and dangerous world is to practice holding equilibrium internally — no matter what insanity is transpiring out there.”

“I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s the history of mankind’s search for holiness. If humanity never evolved in its exploration of the divine, a lot of us would still be worshiping golden Egyptian statues of cats. And this evolution of religious thinking does involve a fair bit of cherry-picking. You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light.”

(Personal note here, as a third-culture kid, this describes my entire life. Since I have never felt a sense of belonging to one particular place or people, I have no place that feels like “home” to me … I have always cherry-picked from the places and people familiar to me and kept what works for me while dismissing what doesn’t. I just never considered this to be a means of evolving. So, I found this quote particularly interesting.)

“Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years — I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue.”

Recommendation:

If you, too, are “seeking” this book has a variety of tales, laughs, insights, and wisdoms for consideration. I enjoyed it because it was the right book at the right time, well-written, and entertaining without being “self-helpy” or lecturing. It felt more like a friendly conversation from someone who has been there, done that, and survived it.

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