Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

by Elizabeth Gilbert
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

Elizabeth Gilbert, a journalist and short story writer, had just turned thirty when she went through a very difficult divorce that led to a debilitating depression. When she began dating a new man, she thought her life was finally changing for the better. T he man, however, proved to be less...

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Elizabeth Gilbert, a journalist and short story writer, had just turned thirty when she went through a very difficult divorce that led to a debilitating depression. When she began dating a new man, she thought her life was finally changing for the better. The man, however, proved to be less than what Gilbert was looking for, and the experience sent her back into the throes of depression. Those life-changing events drained her of all energy and motivation, so she decided to make drastic changes to her lifestyle. Gilbert's recovery process is chronicled in her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.

For her plan to return to mental and physical health, Gilbert divides the next year into three sections, each section four months long. For the first four months, she devotes herself to simple pleasures. This corresponds to the “Eat” portion of the memoir. She flies to Rome, where she surrenders to physical pleasures, such as tasting the great food and drink that only Italy can offer. She tries her hand at learning Italian and even flirts with some of the local men whose romantic language soothes her aching heart. But at the end of the fourth month, she finds that she is still haunted by depression. So she continues forward with her plan.

Her next stop is a sacred ashram (or temple) in India, where, under the tutelage of a wise and aged guru, she explores her spiritual side. Gilbert spends long hours sitting in meditation, sometimes practicing strict silences and taking only short amounts of time to focus on her physical needs. For the third part of the story, the one that corresponds to “Love,” Gilbert travels to Bali, Indonesia. There she meets an Australian who will eventually become her husband.

Eat, Pray, Love (2006) struck a nerve in the reading public. The memoir proved so popular, it remained at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year. The memoir has also been produced as a movie, slated to appear in 2010, staring Julia Roberts.

Extended Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1808

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (2006) is a memoir about her emotional breakdown and subsequent healing process (she does not, however, divulge the real names of some of the people involved). She was a successful writer who enjoys, along with her husband, a New York lifestyle that many people dream of. But after many years of what her acquaintances consider a flourishing marriage, she finds herself wishing she were not married. She asks for a divorce, believing that her husband will agree to this and that they will part as friends. To her surprise, this does not happen.

Her husband is against parting. Even when he admits that the divorce is inevitable, he insists on claiming almost all of their joint possessions and accumulations as well as money she might potentially make in the future. The divorce proceedings drag on and send Gilbert into a long bout of depression, which makes her question her self-worth.

In the middle of her depression, she meets and falls in love with an actor named David. He is performing in a stage adaptation of a short story Gilbert wrote, and she feels they were made for one another. She has never been so much in love. She soon discovers, though, that the timing of the affair is all wrong. She leans on David too much to ease the depression that her divorce has caused. David is like a drug, she says. He makes her feel so good that she becomes addicted to him. The more he gives her, the more she wants and needs him. Her need weighs on him so heavily that he begins to withdraw. His pulling away from her does no good for Gilbert because his leaving makes her lean on him more intensely. She wants David to ease her depression for her, not knowing then that she must heal herself before she can love.

The relationship between Gilbert and David eventually collapses, which wounds her again for a short period of time. Finally she decides that she has to do something for herself. She asks herself what it is that she wants to do. First, as silly as it sounds to her and to her friends, she wants to learn Italian. She has always loved the language, so she signs up for a class. She also wants to create a spiritual space in her life, so she searches for and finally finds a guru who will guide her. Then she wants to travel, but she does not have the money to cover that expense. When she is offered a writing assignment in Bali, she jumps on the chance. In Bali, Gilbert meets an old man who is a spiritual advisor. He predicts that Gilbert will soon lose all her money but will quickly regain it. The man also foretells that she will travel and come back to Bali and teach him English. She will also remarry.

Shortly after returning to New York, Gilbert decides to take a year off. She will divide the year into three parts, each section lasting four months. She will spend the first four months in Italy. Her main goal for this portion of the year is to enjoy herself. Gilbert eventually defines this pleasure as eating and speaking Italian.

Her time spent in Italy turns into an erratic emotional experience. There are days when she is ecstatic about being fully immersed in Italian culture, taking classes in Italian, reading the local newspapers, and talking to children and old women. But the depression that she tried to escape still haunts her. She has been given prescription drugs to battle her depression, but she does not like taking them unless she feels truly desperate. She reaches a very low spot and gives in to the drugs. But finally, when the pills are about to run out, she decides she must learn to fight her emotions on her own.

One of the ways she does this is to keep a very secretive, personal journal. It is through her private writing that she becomes better at defining what it is that makes her happy as well as what it will take to make her happy. She discovers that one element that needs bolstering is her self-image. She goes shopping for new clothes and makeup and gets her hair cut in a new style. Another technique that she knows will help is to make new friends.

Gilbert finds one friend when she decides to take her Italian language skills to a higher level. She enlists the help of a private tutor named Giovanni. Giovanni proves to be an excellent teacher. He is handsome and is younger than Gilbert. There are moments when Gilbert fantasizes about making love with him. However, she is committed to remaining celibate until she figures out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. But she and Giovanni develop a good friendship, which helps Gilbert lift out of her depression. Giovanni introduces Gilbert to his circle of friends, and she is immersed in a deeper level of Italian culture, attending soccer games, going to small restaurants only locals know about, and celebrating Italian holidays.

One of Giovanni’s friends that Gilbert meets is Luca Spaghetti. Luca is another Italian man who comes to Gilbert’s aid, not romantically but as someone who helps her find happiness in her immediate surroundings. Luca’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving while Gilbert is still in italy. Luca asks Gilbert to help him and his family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving in the American way, including the cooking of a turkey, which he has never tasted. The celebration turns out to be one of the highlights of Gilbert’s experiences in Italy.

The people at Luca’s party speak three different languages, but somehow they manage to communicate. Using the spirit of the holiday, everyone takes time to give thanks for something in their lives. Gilbert does not vocalize her inner gratitude, which is for being rid of the depression that has been plaguing her for the past year, but she tells everyone that she is thankful for the new friends she has made. Thus Gilbert’s eating time in Italy ends, and she moves on to India to pray.

In India, Gilbert travels to a small village in the outlying countryside, where she will stay at an ashram, a spiritual retreat. She plans to stay there for only six weeks and then spend the rest of the four-month passage of time traveling to other parts of India, but she changes her mind. At the end of the first six weeks, she decides to spend the entire four months at the ashram. She realizes that she is finally coming to understand what her meditation practices are all about. She is coming to terms with the inner turmoil through which she has been suffering. She is ready to deal with her demons, which amount not so much to the emotions she has but how she reacts to them. She learns that she has a choice in how she deals with the challenges she must face.

Gilbert’s daily schedule at the ashram includes waking up around three in the morning and not returning to bed until nine in the evening. In between, she eats basic meals, scrubs floors, and meditates. She finds the early hours, the long day, and the physical work easy to accomplish. However, at first, the long hours of meditation prove to be difficult. In meditation, one is suppose to observe one’s thoughts, allow them to run free, and learn about oneself from them. Eventually, the goal is to release the thoughts and not dwell on them. Gilbert has developed a lot of bad mental habits, which she refers to as brooding. For example, she thinks of her ex-husband and focuses on the anger or disappointment her relationship with him has caused. Or she concentrates on David and attempts to figure out what went wrong between them. This type of brooding makes her sad. Not only does this brooding bring on another bout of depression, she also finds that she is constantly living in the past. Another goal of meditation is to connect with the present moment and appreciate the beauty of life in the “Now.” This eludes Gilbert for a long time.

However, by the end of the four months and through several friendships she develops with fellow ashram residents (including a man Gilbert refers to as Richard from Texas), she finds a tolerable amount of inner peace before she moves on to Bali. This is where the book transitions to the aspect of love.

In Bali, Gilbert searches for and finds the medicine man named Ketut Liyer. This is the same man Gilbert had visited with previously while on a writing assignment. Ketut had foretold that she would return and work with him. At first Ketut does not remember her or his prophecy that she would come back. But once Gilbert mentions she is a writer, Ketut’s memory is stirred and he welcomes her.

Over the course of the next couple of months, Gilbert visits Ketut almost daily. She learns his form of spiritual practice and helps him save some old manuscripts by having them photocopied. Gilbert and Ketut become fast friends.

Later, at a party of ex-pats (foreigners who have made their home in Bali), Gilbert meets a man from Brazil. His name is Felipe. He is almost twenty years older than Gilbert is, but his gentle manner and his intense attraction to her make Gilbert fall in love with him.

As Gilbert and Felipe build their relationship, they become involved in a scheme to buy a house for a Balinese medicine woman named Wayan. This Balinese woman is a single mother with one precocious daughter of her own and two other young girls she has rescued from the streets. Wayan is soon to be evicted from her house because the rent is to be raised and she can no longer afford to stay there.

Gilbert sends out an email to all the friends she has ever made and asks for their financial support. In a week’s time, she has collected more than $18,000, which she deposits in a bank account for Wayan. Before Gilbert leaves Bali, Wayan purchases some land and begins construction of her new home.

As the story comes to an end, Gilbert reflects on the changes in her life from just one year ago. Where once she was lost in a depression from a failed marriage and a subsequent love affair that had ended, she has now found her center, is more emotionally stable, has secured loving friendships around the world, has helped a single Balinese mother, and has fallen in love with a man who appears to adore her. Gilbert considers herself healed.

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