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The Books I'm Reading: Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Updated on January 5, 2010
The Book
The Book

Eat Pray Love

This wonderful, witty and provocative story was written in 2006 based on Elizabeth’s yearlong journey to Italy, India and Indonesia.  It was precipitated by her divorce from her longtime husband and her struggle to return to a healthy, happy individual not riddled with guilt, shame and insecurities. She takes us through the many faceted process of her journey back to joy by revealing touching emotions that are very personal yet familiar to us all.

She has structured the book into three parts, each with 36 tales that total 108, the number of beads found on a mala, the string of beads used in India for centuries to help Hindus and Buddhists keep track of their mantras, or prayers.  The Crusaders so admired this technique they brought back the idea to Europe as rosary beads. The number of beads is very auspicious representing “…a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes.  And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can plainly see.” This begins her introduction to the meaning of the layout of her masterpiece. I was captured by this clever scheme, especially since she was 36 years old when she wrote the book. It’s all so, numerical, and magical, and intriguing.

Italy and Me in Sardegna

Standing below a Nuraghi
Standing below a Nuraghi

The "Books" Within

We are presented with a fair amount of background to the troubles in her marriage, the failure and resentment that followed, and her determination to recover from the crippling emotional injuries that ensued.  Her fortune provided her with a year off from her “regular” job to travel and write about her experiences. She was blessed with time and money to facilitate her reincarnation into a new life and love. The road was not easy but full of pitfalls, more disappointments and emotional upheavals, but she gets through it all with humor, hope and lots of chutzpah.

Book One is Italy, or “Say It Like You Eat It” or 36 Tales About the Pursuit of Pleasure.  I lived in Italy in my youth, learned to speak Italian and was surrounded by Italians for five years. Her descriptions brought back very fond memories and refueled my fascination for that romantic boot-shaped land. This part of the book reads like a foodie’s journal, that is the point, of course, but your appetite and travel lust will be piqued here.

Book Two is India, or “Congratulations to Meet You” or 36 Tales About the Pursuit of Devotion. I also traveled to India in my youth, albeit different places, but this also had tremendous resonance for me, or anyone vaguely curious about how life is lived there. Well, an American’s life in a far away ashram where ascetics thrive and discipline is key to survival. She befriends many Indian women and men outside the ashram so gives us both views. It’s compelling and surprising, full of instruction about levels of consciousness and awareness. It’s also very amusing because of her perspective. She takes common activities and transforms them into hilarious happenings. It’s superb.


Book Three is Indonesia, or “Even in My Underpants, I Feel Different” or 36 Tales About the Pursuit of Balance. By now we know Elizabeth very well and are wondering how much more she can be, or change, or experience. Her journey started in Bali, a small island in the Indonesian chain, some 10 years previous when she had her palm read by a holy man who said she would return one day to study with him. She completes her circle with these last few months in paradise completely surrendering to her fate and making the last, pivotal discovery with the aid of her medicine man friend and other welcome acquaintances. You’ll love the wonderful descriptions of her unique and international friends on this gorgeous, ancient island.

Anyone who is remotely interested in the pursuit of happiness, balance and self-knowledge will love this excellent adventure.


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