What do you do when the life you had planned falls to pieces? What do you do when the life you had always wanted — a spouse, a child, a home, a successful career — isn’t what you really wanted after all? How do you reconcile the life you have now? How do you begin again?
After a devastating divorce and a crippling depression, Elizabeth Gilbert decides to parlay a writing assignment into a year-long odyssey to re-examine her life. She decides to spend four months in Italy where she will “eat” and examine the Italian propensity towards pleasure, another four months in India where she will “pray” and delve into the spiritual aspect of her nature, and the remaining four months in Bali, where she will find the courage to “love” again and find a balance between the two extremes of pleasure and penance.
In the tradition of great epics involving a spiritual quest, Liz’s journey in Eat, Pray, Love is no less noble. She may not be battling the forces of good and evil, but she has undertaken a journey of self-reflection and in a society where “most men live lives of quiet desperation” that is a worthwhile mission.
Although her sole concentration of pasta and gelato in Italy is near blasphemous, Liz is so likable that one has to forgive the fact that she did not venture inside a single museum during her four month stay in Rome (even though I think viewing the Sistine Chapel could have provided some needed perspective). But Liz becomes a treasured friend as she explores the beauty of the Italian language and the pleasure of doing nothing after subscribing to quintessential America’s never-ending work week.
In India, her indulgence of worldly pleasures comes to a screeching halt as she resolves to reconcile her doubts and questions of a spiritual nature. Liz journeys to a remote village in India to an Ashram where she spends her days doing menial tasks and hours meditating and praying. But even this extreme action keeps her identifiable to readers as she wrestles with lofty issues such as her own mortality, the existence of God, and the urge to contact her ex-boyfriend back in New York.
During her last stop in Bali, Liz apprentices herself to a quirky medicine man that teaches her more about the ways of the world and imbues her with the courage to begin life once again.
Liz’s adventures are both hilarious and heartfelt as she tries to navigate her way throughout foreign countries and in the new roles (divorcee? single woman? world traveler?) that do not necessarily define her. She continues her battle with depression and loneliness, but also discovers the raptures of being alone, making decisions, and learning to trust her own voice again.
Eat, Pray, Love is like a series of postcards you can’t wait to read from a dear friend on the road. It is easy to see why the novel has generated such fervor. It was named a NY Times Notable Book, received Oprah’s seal of approval, and even is being developed as a major motion picture by Paramount. With humor and sharp insight, Liz invites you to come along on every step of her journey. And as a reader, you feel privileged to walk with her.