I browse in airport bookstores. It is much nicer to hang out among books in a cluttered, almost claustrophobic space amidst the noisy announcements and general “busy-ness” that pervades all airports than to stare blankly into space while awaiting the boarding announcement for your flight. Often I buy a book, sometimes two. But I always pick up a few that I put on my mental list of “nice to read” but risky to purchase, considering the price. “Eat pray” love by Elizabeth Gilbert was once such book. I had gazed longingly at it a few times but did not buy it. So it was indeed a treat to find it at Evening Hour, my neighborhood bookstore cum library.
As a voracious book lover, I usually read a book from cover to cover and find it hard to put it down. But this book took me a good ten days to read through the 350 pages. Not because it was boring or too much, as such books tend to be but because it has been presented in a format that makes this possible. The book describes the journey of one American woman, who spends one year in three exotic places – Italy, India and Indonesia in pursuit of pleasure, prayer and perfection (or pasta, penance and partner?). She spends about 4 months in each location, indulging in an overdose of food in Italy, meditation in an ashram in India and trying to find balance in the Indonesian island of Bali. This year of introspection is initiated following the after-effects of a nasty divorce that straddles the public tragedy of September 11 which keenly affects the sensitive New Yorker. Each section of the book is told as 36 tales that add up 108, the auspicious number of beads in the quintessential japa mala familiar to all Indians.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this not-so lighthearted book that is difficult to classify into a genre. It contains primarily the spiritual journey of one person so it sounds like a memoir but also like a travelogue because it describes specific facets all these exotic places. She meets several interesting people in each setting which is described in a personal, unself-conscious way without stereotyping the characters. The humor is subtle in most places and Gilbert is at her best when the jokes are directed towards herself. There is serious stuff too, about meditation and meaning of life. But overall, it is wonderful book for those who are spiritually inclined. You are not merely a reader but a companion to the author on her quest through the world to get to know herself better.