02 June 2014

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want--husband, country home, successful career--but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
By long practice, I am not an avid memoir reader.  (I can't say I don't read memoirs at all because there were all those assigned readings at school -- something, I think, that put me off reading them in my leisure time because really, all those books they assigned at school were depressing.)  I don't read nonfiction in general.  But whatever invisible hand or inner compass that prodded me to check out this book out at the library, I thank it.  (Or Him, or them.)

Eat, Pray, Love surprised me in a pleasant way.  Here, I found myself relating to someone who has had markedly different life experiences than myself: she's old enough to be my mother, lives in New York, has a sister, was married and divorced, and traveled outside of the US even before the events of this book.  Despite all these differences (I'm not even out of college and I've never lived or been to a city with more than a quarter of a million people in it), I found myself understanding her.

Perhaps it was the beautiful writing style.  So full of wit and charming insight -- the way it nonchalantly imbued enthusiasm and despair and terror, sometimes all at once.  It is not outside the realm of possibility that I felt a sort of kinship because the writing transported me so fully into Elizabeth Gilbert's head.

Though I cannot say for certain what connected me to her, it does not erase the astounding fact that I was happy -- truly, giddily happy -- for a someone I had never met and yet was actually real.  (Or, as real as anyone who's ever given a TED talk can be.  It's plain to see that Ken Robinson is a freak occurrence of Nature, like Stonehenge or something.)  My best guess to say what facilitated this connection is that Elizabeth Gilbert was open and honest in a way that didn't hide the worst parts of her, or downplay the best.  This kind of attitude forged my respect for her from the get-go, and so allowed me to fully immerse myself into her transformational story.

Immediately, just a few hours later, we are on the train, and then -- like magic -- we are there.  I instantly love Naples.  Wild, raucous, noisy, dirty, balls-out Naples.  An anthill inside a rabbit warren, with all the exoticism of a Middle Eastern bazaar and a touch of New Orleans voodoo  A tripped-out, dangerous and cheerful nuthouse.  My friend Wade came to Naples in the 1970s and was mugged...in a museum.  The city is all decorated with the laundry that hangs from every window and dangles across every street; everybody's fresh-washed undershirts and brassieres flapping in the wind like Tibetan prayer flags.  There is a not a street in Naples in which some tough little kid in shorts and mismatched socks is not screaming up from the sidewalk to some other tough little kid on a rooftop nearby.  Nor is there a building in this town that doesn't have at least one crooked old woman seated at her window, peering suspiciously down at the activity below.

The people here are so insanely psyched to be from Naples, and why shouldn't they be?  This is a city that gave the world pizza and ice cream.  The Neapolitan women in particular are such a gang of tough-voiced, loud-mouthed, generous, nosy dames, all bossy and annoyed and right up in your face and just trying to friggin' help you for chrissake, you dope -- why they gotta do everything around here?  The accent in Naples is like a friendly cuff on the ear.  It's like walking through a city of short-order cooks, everybody hollering at the same time.  They still have their own dialect here, and an ever-changing liquid dictionary of local slang, but somehow I find that the Neapolitans are the easiest people for me to understand in Italy.  Why?  Because they want you to understand, damn it.  They talk loud and emphatically, and if you can't understand what they're actually saying out of their mouths, you can usually pick up the inference from the gesture.  Like that punk little grammar-school girl on the back of her older cousin's motorbike, who flipped me the finger and a charming smile as she drove by, just to make me understand, "Hey, no hard feelings, lady.  But I'm only seven, and I can already tell you're a complete moron, but that's cool--I think you're halfway OK despite yourself and I kinda like your dumb-ass face.  We both know you would love to be me, but sorry--you can't.  Anyhow, here's my middle finger, enjoy your stay in Naples, and ciao!"
Book Info
  • pages - paperback, 331
  • published - 2007
  • publisher - Penguin
  • genre - non-fiction/memoir
  • received via - library :)
  • rating - 5/5