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Book Marks: A spiritual exploration

Eat, Pray, Love follows author on journey through Italy, India and Indonesia

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Eat, Pray, Love

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Penguin Books

334 pages, $18.50

“Hmph – Oprah’s book club,” I thought to myself after stumbling across a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s, “Eat, Pray, Love.” I casually dismissed the book and continued to browse through the shelves crammed full of vast tomes (does this make me a literary snob?). I had recognized the cover that was being heavily touted on television, and in all honesty, was probably also a bit put off by the word “pray” in the title.

I’m not exactly the most religious or, perhaps I should say, spiritual person – I’ve actually been known to laugh during yoga class if the instructor tries to incorporate too many spiritual elements into the workout.

Now, this certainly isn’t to say I don’t want to learn more about different religions. I’m an ‘80s-baby-cum-lapsed-Catholic, and I’m very interested in hearing about other people’s perception of God, whoever or whatever he or she may be. But it’s a subject I prefer to talk to friends about, preferably over a drink or two, as it can make for some heavy and dull reading material.

But I’ve been hearing some good things about this book, and as it turns out, “Eat, Pray, Love” isn’t full of dry religious theory and history. Rather, it’s the memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert, an accomplished American author.

Basically, Gilbert experiences a bit of mid-life crisis after she decides at the age of 31 to divorce her husband. As part of an effort to pull herself out of a deep depression she heads to Italy, India and Indonesia for a year to recover from the emotional turmoil.

Gilbert writes honestly and openly about her personal crisis — a difficult, daunting feat for any author — and at some point the descriptions of her frequent episodes spent curled up on the bathroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably, come across as a tad whiny. Maybe it’s simply that I can’t relate to the grief Gilbert is experiencing. In any event, she eventually moves on, opting to alleviate her suffering through a year-long spiritual journey.

In addition to revealing intimate details of her personal life, Gilbert also delves into her spiritual beliefs, which are integral to the journey she eventually makes. At the beginning of the book Gilbert tackles the touchy subject of God and religion with grace, finesse, and a touch of humour:

“In the end, what I have to come to believe about God is simple. It’s like this – I used to have this really great dog. She came from the pound. She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, ‘What kind of dog is that?’ I would always give the same answer: ‘She’s a brown dog.’ Similarly, when the question is raised, ‘What kind of God do you believe in?’ my answer is easy: ‘I believe in a magnificent God.’”

She breaks the book up into three parts, one for each country she journeys to. In Italy she eats, in India she prays, and in Indonesia she loves. Each section has 36 tales, which adds up to a total of 108, which is the number of beads on japa malas — a necklace used for centuries in India to help Hindus and Buddhists focus on their meditation. This is just one example of the extensive religious knowledge that Gilbert has obviously conducted in the course of the research for this book.

Gilbert’s open and honest style of writing definitely makes her an endearing character for the reader. It’s quite easy to imagine that she is a simply a friend, writing a letter to let you know how her travels are going, and it wasn’t long before I found myself laughing out loud at her antics (which resulted in a few curious glances being cast my way as I sat and read over a cup of coffee).

“I work hard at Italian, but I keep hoping it will one day just be revealed to me, whole, perfect. One day I will open my mouth and be magically fluent… I wish that Italian would simply take up resident within me, but there are so many glitches in this language. Like, why are the Italian words for ‘tree’ and ‘hotel’ (albero vs. albergo) so very similar? This causes me to keep accidentally telling people that I grew up on ‘a Christmas hotel farm.’ Instead of the more accurate and slightly less surreal description: ‘Christmas tree farm.’”

With or without Oprah’s seal of approval, “Eat, Pray, Love,” is an inspiring, realistic story of love, healing and hope.

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