I admire writers who willingly place their lives on public display through personal memoirs. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr immediately come to mind as examples. This week I read Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert; a book that combines two of my favorite non-fiction genres—memoirs and travelogues.
Before we delve into the book, I wish to define the word memoir. Most readers use memoir, biography, and auto-biography interchangeably which is an injustice to the writer. Biographies are meant to convey one’s life from birth to death, or in the case of auto-biographies near death. With memoirs, the writer concentrates on a specific event within a life and tries to give it meaning. In Wiesel’s Night, the reader faces horror upon horror as he travels from ghetto to concentration camp during the Holocaust. His specific event is the Holocaust, but we know, through Oprah, he continues to live an eventful life.
Eat, Pray, Love is Gilbert’s search for meaning after an acrimonious divorce which spirals her into depression. To break her cycle and “comeback” from failure, she plans a yearlong trip abroad. Her inspiration for the wanderlust is a string of beads called japa malas which contain 108 beads. A precursor to rosary beads, she uses the 108, “a perfect three-digit multiple of three” as her outline for the book, as in 108 entries with 36 chapters per three countries.
I’m shocked Gilbert chooses food over the obvious pleasure many recent divorcées opt for. Staring her in the face are two Italian gods, otherwise known as Giovanni and Dario, or the Tandem Language Exchange twin brothers. My jaw drops as she spends fifty, flirty hours drinking wine and watching sunsets with Giovanni only to be left at the door with a handshake. Dang those English Puritan genes!
Note: Number 1 Armchair Traveler's Reading Challenge