rating: 3 of 5 stars
As this book is written in sections, so this review shall be written in sections.
Book One: Italy or “Say It Like You Eat It” or “36 Tales About the Pursuit of Pleasure” was the most pleasurable section to read. It revealed the most about the author as an individual, in the most story-like manner, and was the most “relatable” section of the three, for me as a reader. I could empathize with her struggles, in spite of never having been divorced myself, since she wrote of her pain as a self-doubting sort. Her pursuit of pleasure is one that I believe we all want, and the way she writes of it is both beautiful and immediate—you feel as though you too have travelled to Italy.
Book Two: India or “Congratulations to Meet You” or 36 Tales About the Pursuit of Devotion” was probably the most frustrating section for me to read. This is primarily because, on a personal level, I could relate so much to the author’s self-descriptions. Her restless mind and the way she describes it are exactly how I would describe my own. Therefore, I was interested to see the ways in which she battled herself. However, she would continually stray from the story at hand to give me religious or historical background that I cared nothing about; to tell me loads of details about the Ashram or about the hierarchy of the town around it. I wanted to hear how she got along with Mr. Richard from Texas and what sort of crazy southern-drawled wisdoms he would force down her throat! So this section felt frequently interrupted to me.
Book Three: Indonesia or “Even in My Underpants, I Feel Different” or 36 Tales About the Pursuit of Balance felt even more interrupted, due mostly to the Gilbert’s constant need to inform the reader of Bali’s cultural history or the reasons for its social norms. Everything in this section of the book felt much more explain-y to me, much less story-oriented than the previous two sections of the book, especially the first one. Chapter 107 was such a blatant recap of the entire book—like a barely veiled conclusion paragraph at the end of a high school essay—that I more or less skipped the entire thing in hopes of an exciting, bombastic ending. No such luck.
Overall: I loved this book most for its celebration of language and the way Gilbert indulges the reader through both her beautiful prose and her intellectual consciousness and documentation of the languages she explores on her journeys. However, this does not prevent me from being disappointed with its shortcomings, of which my overall impression was that this is a book is structured as a hill I gradually slid down. Books are launching pads for thoughts and feelings, and this one left me dead in the water. So read it for linguistic and theological interest, read it for its beautiful language, but don’t expect to feel swept away when you’re done.
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