The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 25, 2008

Book review: Characters turn from tragedy to travel

‘Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia’

‘Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia’

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s witty, engaging memoir opens with her sobbing on the bathroom floor of her suburban New York home.

This is not a new pose for Gilbert, more like a nightly clandestine affair, but what makes this particular night unique is that for the first time in her life she prays, “you know — like to God.”

God answers her and thus begins her search for balance. The upcoming journey will take her through three countries over the course of one year, but first things first. After the night on the bathroom floor she endures seven more months of matrimony, before asking for a divorce and plunging headfirst into a rocky love affair.

The love affair does not pan out, but the divorce eventually comes through and then Gilbert is off to Italy. Gilbert’s visit to Italy is all about pleasure and beauty, so she immerses herself in the culture, the conversation and most of all, the food.

She searches for the world’s best pizza and eats gelato on a daily basis. She leaves Italy several pounds heavier, but with a lighter heart. Her second stop is an Ashram in India where she focuses on yoga and meditation. Neither come easily for her, even though she has been practicing for years. Sitting in one place for hours is grueling, but Gilbert has more trouble with focusing her ever-wandering mind. It takes Gilbert longer than expected, but by the end of her stay she has made much progress.

Bali is the final stop on her year long adventure and one that provides Gilbert with unexpected friends — an ancient medicine man and a Balinese mother and nurse — and love.

“Eat, Pray, Love” is an engagingly, funny, effortless read. Gilbert does an excellent job connecting with her audience, and her adventure is truly entrancing thanks to her candor and her willingness to laugh at herself.

‘Water for Elephants’

By Sara Gruen

Feisty senior citizen Jacob Jankowski may not know if he is 90 or 93, but he can remember the day he ran away and joined the circus like it was yesterday.

It was during the depression and he was a 23-year-old soon-to-be-college graduate when an automobile accident took the lives of his parents. It is during his trip home for the funerals that he discovers they have left him nothing — due to the mortgage that is paying for his Ivy League education. He returns to school to take his veterinary medicine exams, but later bolts and hops aboard a circus train.

He is soon the veterinarian for Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth and is put in charge of a menagerie of exotic animals. The animals prove to be the easy part of Jacob’s job. He must deal with August, a paranoid schizophrenic animal trainer, who ranges from bouts of charming behavior to bursts of such brutality that Jacob fears for his animals’ lives, especially his newest, and dearest, addition to the menagerie, Rosie the Elephant. To complicate matters further, Jacob is soon head-over-heels in love with August’s breathtaking wife, Marlene.

Told through flashbacks, this story is captivating. Gruen has done her research and it shows through the language and descriptions. Her use of circus jargon is enthralling and will have readers imagining they are sitting under the Big Top on circus day.

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at the Joplin Public Library.