Gilbert is a seeker. I'm a seeker. (Wouldn't you like to be a seeker too? ) In a memoir, as in life, I seek clear-headedness. In a travelogue, I seek - well, clear-headedness and a sense of Being There. In a spiritual memoir, I seek - well - how about perspective? Some evidence of growth?
Here's a quote that says it all:
The other day in prayer I said to God, "Look - I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?"Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this book. (In fact, I just gave a copy to a friend who will like it very much.) What the world needs now isn't love as much as reason and clarity. Without those, love is just an impulse. I need more than the evidence of impulse to want to read a book.
Gilbert's travels took her to Italy, India, and Bali. Italy was mostly about food. Even if I, personally, would starve before I ate octopus salad, I can appreciate someone else's appetite. (After all, M.F.K. Fisher wrote about, shall we say, non-standard foods, and her work is stunning.) I can't tell you about Bali, because I bailed out in the middle of India. That's not like me.
I love reading about India. I love Indian music, Indian food, Indian art, Indian thought and spirit. I've read Autobiography of a Yogi, books by Krishnamurti, the Bhagavad-Gita, Rabindranath Tagore, countless books about the Raj. It's difficult to put me off if you're writing about India. Gilbert managed. It wasn't that she arrived at an ashram wanting to pick and choose amongst the necessary disciplines - one expects resistance in a spiritual memoir. It wasn't even the presence of a wry Texan whose comments reminded me of a cross between the late, great Molly Ivins and The Stranger in "The Big Lebowski." It was the moment of enlightenment that involved being bitten half to death by mosquitoes.
Sometimes I can get past mosquitoes. Sometimes I can't. Oh well.
By the way, "The Big Lebowski" is one great film. The Dude abides, you know.