Elizabeth Gilbert: ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Travel Books: In "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia," Elizabeth Gilbert turns to travel in an effort to find, well, everything. Frank Bures writes that her journey will leave you smiling in your liver.

02.20.06 | 11:23 PM ET

Eat, Pray, LoveElizabeth Gilbert was headed into her 30s on top of the world. She had three books out to her name—one a finalist for the National Book Award. Three times she’d been nominated for National Magazine Awards, the most prestigious honor in the industry. She was being courted by all the big magazines in New York. And she was clearly one of the best writers working in the country.

But if her life looked great from the outside, it was crumbling within. And as she and her husband moved to the suburbs and got ready to start having kids, something in her violently rebelled, making her ill in every corner of her being. After a while, it became clear that the only way she could live with herself was to go far, far away.

The result is her new book about her year of travel called Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It’s not your typical travel book. It’s deeply personal. It’s low on exoticism. And it is hilarious, moving and deeply engaging.

In the past, Gilbert’s work has focused on other people—taxidermists, rock stars, dancers—and her writing for GQ and other magazines always had an uncommon power to move readers. One of those stories was made into a book, The Last American Man, a telling account of a character named Eustace Conway, who embodied a whole range of American values writ large. 

The book was great, but we didn’t get much sense of its author, who was always looking, she said, for the point where people’s “afflictions intersect with their healing powers.” In her new book, she finally looks for that point within herself. Her journey is very much a quest, only she isn’t quite sure for what when she sets out. Maybe for pieces of herself that she’d lost along the way.

Gilbert has different reasons for going to each of these countries—it just happened they all started with “I.” First, she lands in Italy, where she spends four months decompressing from her previous life. She gets a little apartment in Rome, learns some Italian for no other reason than the fact that she loves the sound, loves the feel of it in her mouth, loves the side of her it brings out. She wanders around the city. She eats. She makes some great friends. And she learns, basically, to treat herself well. 

Next she flies to India, where she spends an intense several months at an ashram, meets more great people—other seekers looking for their spiritual side, and spends a lot of time meditating—which isn’t nearly as boring to read about as it sounds.

But the book, and maybe the author, really hit their stride in Bali, where Gilbert is reimmersed in the world as a person living in a complicated place with all the entanglements of living among, and loving, others. The old holy man who she comes to the island to see promises to teach her Balinese meditation. “To meditate,” he says, “only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.”

“Eat, Pray, Love” will likely have you smiling in your liver as well. Gilbert is at the height of her writing powers here. For years she has been telling other people’s stories. Finally, we get to hear her own.

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.

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