Have you ever had some seemingly silly situation that's left you with the feelings of despair? That bully, teacher, coworker who makes you miserable each day. Or the school, class or job which leaves you laying awake at night because you're dreading having to experience that upsetting places all over again. It just leaves you feeling sad and spent for weeks and weeks.
I am going to dive into a personal account for only a paragraph so please stay tuned, it's essential so that you understand how this book has affected me. I have felt this way for at least a month due to my job. I have been looking for a new one but the economy is rather poor so it has been very hard. I also live in the country where the closest mall is an hour away. I can't quit, although I would love to, because I have bills to pay. So I'm stuck, I'm trapped, I have to keep treading water until a life preserver is thrown.
The author of this novel chose to write of her own experience of despair. She was dealing with much heavier stuff than a job that you hate and she didn't stray away from the dirty facts. She didn't sugar coat the moments where she almost drowned from these problems which is, first of all, very strong of her. It's a very dark place that she found herself to be in but slowly she was able to create a light bright enough for her to escape.
Bright enough for her to escape to Italy, India, and Indonesia on a year long trip to more or less rediscover herself and learn how to live again. Understandably the book is made into three parts: Italy, India, and Indonesia. Each chapter is based around a lesson she learned or an experience she had in that particular place.
I loved the book in general, let's make that clear, but there were two things that were top of the list. The first is that I felt like I was educated while reading this book. Random little Italian words were thrown at me with definitions. The daily life of people who follow a famous guru. The medicine man. All of these different little facts left me feeling like I didn't have to worry that had I not enjoyed reading the book it would've been a waste of time. If I didn't like the book, I still would've gotten something from it.
My second point of awesome is that this is a book about the authors year as she traveled. It's entirely real, none of it is fiction, and yet I felt comfortable with it as if I was reading fiction. It wasn't like a journal with "Today my friend and I watched a movie. It was so much fun. Don't you like watching movies too?" There were details, emotions, characteristics of different people featured in conversations she wrote down. It's much more then an entry about her life, she made it into a full fledged story rather then a retelling and with that she successfully kept my attention.
I'll now bounce through the three lands she visited, bare with me:
I am Sicilian and have always had a fascination with Italian culture. It was the first of the many cultures I am that I identified with. Since I can remember I knew I was Italian. Then slowly I began to understand what it is to be Irish, German, Swedish (the list goes on for me). My grandfather is a first generation Italian-American. His parents both came from Sicily and despite that I never was able to meet them (I wish I had) I know of a few silly little stories about their lives before America.
Needless to say I immediately fell in love with this portion of the book. It's Italy after all! Better yet the author is determined to learn Italian. This I find particularly fascinating because I, unfortunately, am one of those poor lost souls who can't learn a foreign language to save my life.
I enjoyed that Gilbert described the many delicious meals she ate while in Italy while pointing out just how important food is to Italians. She also dove into random little facts about different places in Italy. A random house, a random thing the citizens do, a random quote that sums it all up so nicely.
It fascinated me and after a very long indecisive battle over what language I would like to try and teach myself (one day) I decided that Italian is the language for me. Yes, I can't learn a language, but I never said I would give up trying!
I know a little bit about India, enough to form an opinion, and my opinion has always been one of disinterest. I knew a family who came to my elementary school from India and I always marveled at the brightly colored saris the girls wore. I kind of wanted to go just to reenact the scene from A Little Princess with the elephant spraying water all over the kids. But past that... past all of that... I never was really interested in the history or place in general. Sure I'd go and visit the place if someone offered to take me. But I don't think it would be my first... or even my tenth... choice in overseas travel.
I began this section right when I was breaking things off with the guy I've been seeing. I was full of self loathing and anger directed towards him and just desperate for my brain to stop running a mile a minute. The majority of the India part pertains to the process and importance of meditation. Whether spiritual or just for relaxation purposes Gilbert struggles with trying to attain it (much like I struggled to keep my mind from going 'but what did I do wrong?' during those days).
Yet again I was educated, this time on meditation. It's more of a personal chapter, consisting a lot of her own thoughts and what's making her tick, and not as much about the land like Italy was. I like to think that this chapter pertained more so to religion then Italy did. It dives into opinions and ideas of what religion is, what it is to believe, and so much more. I think it's written in a way that whoever might believe in a greater being can read this section and feel some connection to it. You don't have to be worshiping in an Ashram in India or the Catskills (which was right by my old house, btw). You could be in a church or a synagogue and yet I feel the message is all the same.
I know nothing about Indonesia. I couldn't even locate it on a map for you. We won't even get into how little knowledge I have about the place because to say there is little knowledge would mean I had knowledge to begin with.
Needless to say this final section of the book was immensely interesting to me because I got to hear about this land and it's people which I never even had an inkling about before. The prayer rituals and the beauty of the landscape. All the fine details of family life and the way people coexist.
One chapter that particularly stood out to me was the telling of life for an Indonesian man and how September 11th affected him as he was living in the US at the time. I lived in New York when September 11th occurred and remember each event very clearly to this day. How ever, I know very little about what occurred to those 'terror suspects'- IE: regular joe's who happened not to be white bread Americans- following that tragic event. It was certainly an eye opening chapter to be read.
The entire chapter was back to it's storylike tendencies that Italy held. Certain people were featured and their lives recorded. I, as the reader, established relationships with these people and would wonder what was happening next. All and all I enjoyed it. It wasn't as tumultuous as the first section where her pain is still new, it wasn't as thoughtful as India where she was concentrating so much on religion, it was peaceful and entertaining. A nice calm way to end a book.
A lot of people have a negative view of this book. They feel that it's a book filled with pages of whining. That Gilbert is being selfish in wanting to go away after her divorce. That she has no real reason to be sad because there are so many more people in the world who've experienced so much. Well, it's true. There are people experiencing illness and death, things I deem much worse then divorce. But I also feel that the situation is different for everyone. Maybe a divorce might be all she can handle, maybe it's the hardest thing she's ever known, and if that's the case then who are we to judge? So, she didn't stay put to grow and change and get over it. So? If you have reserves about running off to 'find yourself' then maybe the book is not for you. But it's been comforting to me when all I can imagine is running away from my life. It comes back to fight or flight. You're life is seemingly in shambles so do you stay and fight or do you fly away? I don't think running off to 'find yourself' is giving up. I think it's a way that you as an individual can get over some upheaval. But to me, with work causing me more and more upset every day, with my dreams to escape becoming bigger and more desperate, this book was a mini get away.
For the time that I read this book, it truly saved me.
PS: This book is being turned into a film staring Julia Roberts and is due for release in 2011.