Elizabeth Gilbert is, in her own words, "the kind of person who, when a ninth-generation Indonesian medicine man tells you that you're destined to move to Bali and live with him for four months, thinks you should make every effort to do that." She is also exactly the kind of person a ninth-generation Indonesian medicine man would say that to: charming, blond, gregarious, spiritually curious and highly mobile.
At 34, Gilbert was going through a painful, sobbing-on-the-bathroom-floor divorce. So she pulled an Under the Tuscan Sun and embarked on a year of travel, divided neatly into thirds like a tub of Neapolitan ice cream. She would visit Italy to explore pleasure, India to study devotion and Indonesia to look into whatever people do in Indonesia ("balance" is her word for it). Then she would write an engaging, intelligent and highly entertaining memoir about it called Eat Pray Love (Viking; 352 pages).
In Rome she gains 23 lbs.--you could put on weight just reading her description of authentic, weapons-grade Italian pizza--and learns the mystical art of bel far niente, "the beauty of doing nothing." In India she studies meditation at an ashram. In Bali she imbibes the wisdom of her medicine man, and her newfound serenity is tested by a Brazilian swain named Felipe.
But, maybe surprisingly, the Pray section turns out to be the most interesting part. Gilbert can overcharm at times--she suffers from an addiction to cleverness--but her account of her time in India is beautiful and honest and free of patchouli-scented obscurities. To read about her struggles with a 182-verse Sanskrit chant, or her (successful) attempt to meditate while being feasted on by mosquitoes, is to come about as close as you can to enlightenment-by-proxy. She even has an ecstatic brush with Nirvana, which leaves her with a comforting insight into heaven: "You may return here once you have fully come to understand that you are always here."