Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Charmed Life

'Eat Pray Love : A Woman's Search for Everything' by Elizabeth Gilbert is a breezy, well written memoir about the author's journeys through Italy, India and Indonesia seeking happiness, God and purpose.It is upbeat,full of self-deprecating wit and colourful characters, and has a fairy tale ending. The fact that it is all true makes it all the more compelling.

At her lowest, crumpled up and weeping on a bathroom floor, Gilbert discovers both God and her inner voice, and they guide her through some more dark moments- divorce, an ill fated rebound affair,anti-depressants. And then she is ready to travel. First stop, Italy, where Gilbert dedicates herself to a few months of learning and speaking Italian, eating pasta and practicing celibacy. She succeeds with all three. Next stop, India, where she joins a remote ashram and struggles with more celibacy, austerity and meditation.Finally, in the lush green paradise that is Bali, Gilbert finds love, happiness and a cause to work toward - collecting funds to help a friend buy a house.

Gilbert's writing skills are considerable - she can keep you hooked with long discussions on yoga and the levels of consciousness in meditation, as well as with stories of her mishaps and adventures. She turns the same keen eye and gentle humour on herself as she does the people she befriends in the three countries she visits. She does a very good job of standing by and observing herself , describing her highs and lows with honesty and compassion.

Reading this book, I found myself saying "What incredible luck! What a charmed life!" Very little goes wrong for Gilbert on this journey (generously funded by advances on this book, which she was already planning to write) - she meets wonderful people who treat her well, finds amazing houses to live in, stumbles upon heavenly pasta and love equally easily. Pesky urinary infections and infected leg wounds clear up instantly thanks to her friendly neighbourhood healer. Her attempt to locate a Balinese healer with very little information other than his name is instantly successful. A night on a rooftop helps her find closure, she even learns to meditate with success.
'You have more luck than anyone I ever knew", the healer tells her and, reading this book, you have to agree. You know this book will end happily for its heroine from very early on.

At one level I liked the sunny, 'all's-well' quality of the book, but it also left me a little bemused. Her descriptions of her problems alternate between amused philosophical detachment and mocking humour - she makes her periodic bouts of depression and loneliness in Italy sound fun! And while we never know what her problems really were, we certainly get a lot of candor about sex, masturbation and her wooing by Mr Right. She makes her road to recovery seem so appealing and achievable that a lot of her readers might probably feel like following in her footsteps, if they can afford to. Even she perhaps realizes how seductive she makes her whole ashram experience seem, as she never reveals its location or even the real names of the people there. And a rather self congratulatory note does creep into the writing as she goes from one success to the next.

Another impression I came away with was how clearly her religious experience seems compartmentalized- God is never again mentioned after she leaves India. She meditates and spends time with healers,sure, but she also rather easily moves back into the life of an expatriate and all the pleasured she denied herself at the ashram. Incidentally, she never really travels through India at all, but spends the entire time in the ashram , mingling for the most part with other non-Indians. I must confess though, I was rather relieved by this, as this memoir could very well have descended into the anecdotal evidence about India - poverty, filth, traffic, begging children, colourful locals speaking weird English - that characterizes most Western travel writing on India. For example, these books. Finally, the choice of India seems really only based on the I in its name (to complete the I trinity) and to lend a certain exotic appeal to the book, as she could just as well have found austerity, seclusion and wisecracking Americans in Idaho.

Overall, cheery and uplifting, witty and wise - a good weekend read.


  1. I liked the first 2/3 of this book a lot better than the last 1/3 when a read it a while back.

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  3. I read this book a few years ago, and never could quite get into it. But I've heard great things about it from a lot of people, so I might try to read it again. I've actually read quite a few books that I didn't care for the first time through and then a few years later I went back and read them again and I loved it. It's so strange. But I think I might give it another try.