To Italians, this means, simply, “let’s cross over,” as in “hey, let’s cross the street.”
To Elizabeth Gilbert, this word becomes nothing less than a symbolic representation of her profound transformation from a confused and deeply wounded woman that is abundant in worldly things, yet lacks any sense of purpose in her life, to a woman who is able to embark on a substantive journey to heal her stifled soul and discover the remarkable, saving power of the human spirit.
Gilbert’s prose is charged with a mix of intelligence, humor, and pure, God-given story-telling talent. Early on in Eat, Pray, Love her dazzling memoir of spiritual seeking, the thirty-one year old novelist and journalist finds herself sobbing night after night on her bathroom floor, hiding in the corner with the door closed so as not to wake her sleeping husband, unable to understand why she doesn’t want to live the traditional life of a modern American housewife, full of babies, cleaning, and dog-walking.
After undergoing a catastrophic divorce, she decides to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia, where she struggles to overcome the gut-wrenching failure of her marriage, the implosion of a rebound love-affair, and succumbing to severe depression. But most importantly, writes Gilbert, she struggles to “have a lasting experience with God…to learn how to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God.”
She is articulate yet shamelessly honest about her shortcomings, exuberant yet layered with conflicting emotions, making a friend in each reader who is only too pleased to travel along with her on this admirable journey, and who naturally finds her irresistible.
“I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well,” she writes. “I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.” And after having surrendered almost every one of her assets to her now ex-husband, she admits that her trip is made possible by a publisher’s advance on this very book. Immediately, Gilbert proves that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, often comical at her own expense (“My shaky sense of direction and geography means I have explored six continents in my life with only the vaguest idea of where I am at any given time”), and makes it clear that she doesn’t blend well physically in most places (“Tall and blond and pink-complexioned, I am less a chameleon than a flamingo”). And although admittedly lazy when it comes to research and prone to digestive emergencies, her love for travel is unsurpassed and has given her possibly her greatest talent of all. “I can make friends with the dead. . .If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock”.
Her charisma and quirky sensibility allow her to narrate using jargon-free, entertaining methods, without sounding the least bit rudimentary. While in Italy, she gives her emotions both a voice and personality of their own: “They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton detectives…and they flank me – Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right…Then Loneliness starts interrogating me. . . He asks why I can’t get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be”.
During her stay at the ashram in India, she narrates the churning of her own distracting thoughts while trying to meditate: “I was wondering where I should live once this year of traveling has ended. . . If I lived somewhere cheaper than New York, maybe I could afford an extra bedroom and then I could have a special meditation room! That’d be nice. I could paint it gold. Or maybe a rich blue. No, gold. No, blue. . . Finally I thought: How about this, you spastic fool – how about you try to meditate right here, right now, right where you actually are?”
Although incorporating vivacious wit and humor, Gilbert never abandons the seriousness of her initial intent. Her stay at the ashram is an overwhelming test of fortitude and faith, consisting of a daily tug of war between her heart and mind, which finally results in a spiritual breakthrough that is both enlightening and poignant.
Gilbert engages her readers with mesmerizing prose, sensuous accounts of her experiences and captivating metaphors, creating a tale that is sprinkled with insight into both the human ability to experience divine transcendence and the true nature of happiness.
Eat, Pray, Love is a must read for any person who has grappled with the meaning of life and all its complexities; you will laugh, cry and feel your heart widen with the turn of every page. Perfetto.