'Eat, Pray, Love' a Story of Heartbreak, Healing After a difficult divorce, writer Elizabeth Gilbert left everything behind and embarked on a yearlong journey — alone. Her memoir Eat, Pray, Love chronicles her year of travel, learning and self-discovery.
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'Eat, Pray, Love' a Story of Heartbreak, Healing

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Regular listeners know we do a lot of books on this program, but even so, it's easy to miss one people really want to talk about. The Paper Cuts' blog on the New York Times asked, has every female commuter everywhere in the country now read Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love?" Well, it's possible and a fair number of male commuters too.

The success of this memoir about Gilbert's year-long quest for self discovery through Italy, India and Bali - it spawned book clubs, blogs, two appearances on "Oprah" and a line of Richard from Texas T-shirts. Today, it's the book we most missed. Elizabeth Gilbert joins us to recount her journey and talk about what's happened since.

Later on, Malcolm Gladwell, who's sold a book or two himself, joins us to talk about race, intelligence and IQ.

But first, "Eat, Pray, Love." If you'd like to talk with Elizabeth Gilbert about divorce, pizza or gurus, our number is 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of a short-story collection and a novel as well as the memoir "Eat, Pray, Love." She joins us from our bureau in New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. ELIZABETH GILBERT (Author, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, Indonesia and India"): Thanks for having me. Are there really Richard from Texas T-shirts?

CONAN: I'm told there are Richard from Texas T-shirts.

Ms. GILBERT: I haven't heard that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I don't want to bury the lead, so a lot of your readers want to know whether or not you and Felipe are still together. So?

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. We see a fair amount of each other. We're married.

CONAN: Congratulations.

Ms. GILBERT: And so - yeah. Yeah, thank you. We are still together and that -I'm glad you got that out of the way because that is always the first question which is funny because it's this whole journey of spiritual discovery and I go to readings and it's, like, God shmod(ph), what happened to the Brazilian?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: Did you get married or not?

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. GILBERT: But, yeah, we're very much together.

CONAN: But do you get people who also come up, I liked Ian better?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You like the - what was that?

CONAN: Do you - people who tell you, you know, I liked Ian better?

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, the other guy.

CONAN: The other guy.

Ms. GILBERT: The Scottish guy.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. GILBERT: No. But I have a number of people who'd say, you know, good dodge on not going with the cute Scottish guy and going with the nice Brazilian instead. It's kind of funny. Yeah, they do treat me like a fictional character at times.

CONAN: It must be strange that these - hundreds of thousands, at this point, readers know so many intimate details about your spiritual quest and your love life.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. I'm not a very private person, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: As anybody who would know me would testify, I mean, they could read the book or they could stand behind me in the supermarket line. I would give them all the same information anyway. It didn't seem like it would be true to my nature to hide any of it. So, yeah, it's pretty open.

CONAN: There's this one great moment, it's while you're at the Ashram in India where you decide you're going to become that quiet girl in the corner who is so mysterious and silent that nobody really knows what she's talking about.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, that was a misguided attempt to be spiritual by looking like a spiritual person which I gathered was sort of a gauzy, sort of silent, ethereal creature and the reality is that it's not my nature at all. So, yeah, I made this vow that I was never going to speak again for the rest of my three months at the Ashram, and that afternoon, I was given the new position of key hostess at the place, which meant it was my job to meet and greet everybody there kind of like Suzy Creamcheese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And it, of course, was the exact job for you.

Ms. GILBERT: Exactly. You know, and I think, actually, it's a good point that, you know, I think sometimes we over, you know, we romanticize the idea of a spiritual journey. And we think that we have to actually change our nature in order to become in closer access to our divinity. And in reality, it's the opposite. You know, the closer you get to the Earth, the closer you get to your center, the closer you get to your own reality, you know, the easier time you're going to have having an honest encounter with the divine, you know? Anything else is just like froufrou.

CONAN: Mm. Interesting you say that because there's another point in the book in which you say, you know, a lot of people think that happiness is something that, you know, falls out of the sky, you stumble across a pot of gold or something happens to make you happy.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. It's the idea of the link in the word between happy and happening, you know? It's like we're going to wait for our happiness to happen to us and, you know, or wait for somebody to come and bring it to us. You know, if we meet the right person then they'll deliver that and suddenly we'll have this thing that we've been questing for our whole lives. And, you know, my whole book is about taking that into your own hands. It's an old idea, you know? I'm not the first person to have done it, and I'm sure I won't be the last. But I think in many of us, you know, there comes a moment where we realize, oh, actually, I am the custodian of my own selfhood. You know, nobody is going to take care of this for me. I'm - it's really my responsibility to get out there and figure it out for myself, and that's what that whole year of traveling was about for me.

CONAN: So for the three people who haven't read this book yet...

Ms. GILBERT: Hi, mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: No, I'm just kidding.

CONAN: How did you make your way from divorce to Felipe? I guess it started out in a dark night at the Seoul(ph), one of many in which you spent sobbing on the floors of bathrooms.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. You know, one thing I've been really surprised about after the book came out is realizing how very many of us have met our bathroom floor tiles at 3 o'clock in the morning from one inch away in the middle of a failing relationship and always a low point in the relationship too when your partner finds you on the bathroom floor at 3 o'clock in the morning and, you know, it brings conversations that maybe you're not ready to have.

But, yeah, I was about 30 years old and looking - had been married for a few years and was looking at the possibility of having children and the whole thing started to fall down around me. And I think it happens to many of us, you know, where suddenly we realize that we took a left turn in our life when we ought to have taken a right and that every decision after that was a kind of error that was just compounding and at what point are you going to put an end to it? I say that as though, you know, it's like a decision that you make in one point. I think it's not. You know, for me it was a - it took a couple of years to get to the realization that it really had to end, but it had to end. And then came, you know, the running and the screaming and the crying and the horrible divorce and, you know, all that kind of stuff. And then after that came the renovation project of the self, you know, what next? And that's what led me to Italy, India and Indonesia.

CONAN: And four months in each place. A frequently asked question: How did you pay for this?

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, a little something called a book advance, which is not available to every traveler I'm well aware, but it's my fourth book. So before I went on the journey, I presented it to - I mean, I wouldn't have been able to go on the journey, especially after a really expensive divorce, so I presented it to the publishers and said, I'd like to write a book about this and, truly, I did want to write a book about it. You know, as Joan Didion said, writing is the way I found out how I feel about something. I would not necessarily have wanted to go on that journey if I couldn't have used, you know, my craft of writing to sort of figure my way through it.

I think it also - you know, knowing that you have to write about something makes you show up for the experience a little bit more. It kept me from being lazy. I knew that at the end, I had to distill all this and understand it, so it forced me every day to pay attention and to literarily take notes.

CONAN: It can also force you to be a little bit detached, to sort of stand aside yourself and watch these things, sort of taking notes on your own life.

Ms. GILBERT: Well, that's not a bad idea, actually. You know, for somebody who was so latched into her own, you know, emotional ups and downs that she is sort of this riotous roller coaster of selfhood. A little detachment was probably not a bad idea for me. And anyway, it's in keeping with what they teach in yoga and meditation. The whole point of meditation is to learn how to take that quarter of an inch away from yourself, you know, and regard yourself with a little bit of distance so that you don't get so, you know, so caught up in the upheavals of the mood swings and the natural, emotional recklessness of human life.

CONAN: Our guest is Elizabeth Gilbert. She is the author of "Eat, Pray, Love." If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255; e-mail, talk@npr.org.

And let's start with Judy(ph). Judy's with us from Schoolcraft in Michigan.

JUDY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Judy.

JUDY: It's exciting to hear you. I went to Rome and Italy for the first time. My sister gave me your book before I left and two of the other people on the tour group had read your book. What we couldn't find was the library in Rome you went to that had the little square in - that had a fountain made out of ferns.

Ms. GILBERT: Are you looking for it? I can...

JUDY: We were looking for it and if I ever go back, I want to find it.

Ms. GILBERT: It's in the Piazza - I'm going to blow the pronunciation because my Italian has gotten so bad - Orologio, the Piazza at the clock tower.

JUDY: All right, the clock tower. Oh, Okay.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. It's right off the Vittorio Emanuele. And it's actually -it's sort of a private library. Libraries in Italy are really different from libraries in America. I learned, as an Italian told me, libraries in Italy exist to keep books out of the hands of Italians.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUDY: Well, we enjoyed Rome so much just looking for places that were mentioned in your book.

Ms. GILBERT: Well, good. I'm glad you had a good time. Did you have - did you go to Naples and had the pizza by any chance? There seems to be a lot of people doing that.

JUDY: We didn't actually. I was - we didn't get to Naples. We - it was a walking tour through Tuscany that we did, but we spent two days in Rome...

Ms. GILBERT: Wonderful.

JUDY: ...afterwards. So I loved your book. It was wonderful.

Ms. GILBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Judy, would you agree that the city of Rome has a word underlying it and that word is sex?

JUDY: Yes, I think so too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUDY: It was too big of a city for me.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Judy.

JUDY: Thank you.

CONAN: I love that concept of cities, places, even people...

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah.

CONAN: ...having words that - one word that can sum up their entire nature.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. That was my Italian friend Julio(ph) who told me that. He said every place has a word and the word of Rome is sex. And I said, even at the Vatican? He said, no. There, it's power.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You then go on to talk about a number of other places. New York City, achieve, and Los Angeles, I think, was succeed.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah. Subtle difference but an important one for those of us who prefer one city over the other. I'm not going to say which, but I think there is a little bit of a difference between wanting to achieve and be your best, and wanting to succeed and make the most money.

CONAN: And, I - was this your friend Luca(ph)?

Ms. GILBERT: No, that was Julio.

CONAN: Julio. But you say names have been changed to protect the innocent and...

Ms. GILBERT: Some, half(ph).

CONAN: ...Upheld(ph) the guilty.

Ms. GILBERT: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: But there's one person's name you discuss who you met in Rome. Luca Spaghetti.

Ms. GILBERT: Luca Spaghetti; that is indeed his name. In fact, he's visiting right now. He's spending Christmas with my family. So we'll be having a true Spaghetti dinner. But, yeah, it is - it's incredible. I've seen his passport.

CONAN: His - it's impossible that somebody...

Ms. GILBERT: It's absolutely possible. And I've met his parents and I've met his grandmother, Nono Spaghetti(ph). I swear to God that's true.

CONAN: Nono Spaghetti, yeah.

Ms. GILBERT: Nono.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: No, it's true. And - the great thing is that even in Italy, it's considered a ridiculous name. And when you tell - when I told I told my Italian friends I have this friend Luca Spaghetti, they said no. (Italian spoken)

CONAN: That can't be possible.

Ms. GILBERT: Not possible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: But it's just my luck, I have a friend who says I have great character karma, you know? It's just my luck to find a guy in Italy who's last name is Spaghetti and make friends with him.

CONAN: You also go to this - the best pizzeria in the world, you think, in Naples and never name it.

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, no, I did name it.

CONAN: Oh, then I missed it. I'm sorry. We're going to have to go back.

Ms. GILBERT: No, no. It's the Pizzeria Da Michele. But I think actually you're probably reading ahead to get to the part about the Bufala mozzarella and you skipped the name, but it's in there. Yeah, it's fantastic. And it's on my Web site too. And, I mean, not that they need my help. They've been there forever and (unintelligible)...

CONAN: And sounds like pretty crowded, too. Yeah.

Ms. GILBERT: It's the best. Yeah. You have to get there by eight in the morning if you want your pizza.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The book is "Eat, Pray, Love." If you'd like to talk with author Elizabeth Gilbert, our number is 800-989-8255. You can also send us e-mail: talk@npr.org. More on her travels and the book in a moment. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Malcolm Gladwell from The New Yorker magazine joins us a little bit later in the program to talk about the latest controversy over race, intelligence, and IQ - more on that later.

Right now, Elizabeth Gilbert is with us. She wrote the book, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, Indonesia and India." It was a bestseller when it came out. And now, you can get it in paperback. For a preview, you can read more about her first stop in Italy in an excerpt at npr.org.

If you'd like to talk with Elizabeth Gilbert about her travels, her life or her books, 800-989-8255; e-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can send in your comments on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Tamara(ph) - Tamara with us from Berkeley, California.

TAMARA (Caller): Hello. I just wanted to bring up the seriousness of getting off of antidepressants without supervision. I've facilitated suicide survivor groups for many, many years, and that - it was really scary for me to see that written in the book, and since so many have written and I just really - read it have - I'd really like to bring that up.

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, I'm glad you did. You know, if there was anything that I could change about the book, it would be that very paragraph to make it more clear. It's a complicated topic. What she's referring to - and thanks for asking it, Tamara - is that I had been on antidepressants for about a year before I left Italy. And I was slowly weaning myself off them, actually under the supervision of my therapist back in New York.

So it was not like one day I woke up and just stopped taking everything. I, you know, cut down very gradually over the course of a couple of months. And then, you know, finally, one day, I kind of came to my last Wellbutrin, you know, and then dealt with the, you know, the consequences and the results of that afterwards, which I write about in the book. It wasn't the easiest or most comfortable thing, but I did feel like I had used the medication as a bridge, you know, to get to the other side of a really difficult time and that I was ready to take it on, on my own and ready to go back to it or go back to counseling if I needed that.

So if it seemed in the book that I sort of cavalierly, you know, threw the pills down the toilet, that wasn't the case. And it's - you know, what I wish I had said in there was that I have a lot of reservations about - you know, I wrote in the book a little bit about the reservations I have about the - what I consider to be the vast over medication of Americans in general and specifically with, you know, any sort of mood altering medication, which gets handed out, I think, a little more carelessly than it ought to.

That said, I respect and my body responded to those medications. And I used them, but I still had serious questions about it as many people do. And I, you know, I wrote about that a bit. But I do wish that I didn't come across quite so much as somebody who had just tossed it. I agree that's not anything that should ever be done lightly. I also don't think that you should go on those medications lightly which is what I was more interested in writing about at the moment.

TAMARA: Absolutely. And having supervision whether you're getting on, during, getting off that - that's all. I just - it really scared me that so many people who...

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah.

TAMARA: ...may be suffering from depression...

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah.

TAMARA: ...may not understand that. So I really appreciate you explaining that now and maybe perhaps having something on your side or whatever or just talking about that.

Ms. GILBERT: It's a good idea. I will because it's a paragraph that I rewrote about 20 times to try to get it right, and I didn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: But it's a complicated, you know, it's a complicated issue. I have complicated feelings about it, and I was trying to get to the bottom of them. But I do wish I had put a couple of more sentences in there to be more clear about it. And you're right, it probably something that should go on my Web site. So thank you...

TAMARA: And I wish you the best, and I'm glad that everything is working so well for you.

Ms. GILBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: Tamara, thanks for the call.

TAMARA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's turn now to - this is Kevin(ph) - Kevin with us from Corvallis in Oregon.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi.

KEVIN: Hi. First of all, I just wanted to say that I absolutely love the book.

Ms. GILBERT: Thanks, Kevin, a brave man.

KEVIN: My wife (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEVIN: I'm sorry?

Ms. GILBERT: A brave man to have read the book. I appreciate it.

KEVIN: Loved it. And my wife and I both read it and loved it. My one disappointment was in your description of your - I guess you'd call it your divine breakthrough in India - I was wishing that you were not going to describe it, that it was going to remain - there was going to be some mystery remaining. I felt like in reading yours, it was somehow going to color any one that I might have and that it was in a way of describing the indescribable.

Ms. GILBERT: Mm-hmm.

KEVIN: And that - it made it sound a little bit something that someone might kind of achieve rather than be I guess. Or that it was, you know, like, not this petty, but like a really great bed show or a really good mushroom trip or something that you could kind of buy or achieve rather than...

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah.

KEVIN: ...something that you just got to or came to. And I was a little bit disappointed about that. But the rest of that, I absolutely adored.

Ms. GILBERT: Well, thanks. I'm glad you liked it. And I'm glad you read it, you know? It's a book that I thought only women would read, so I'm really touched when I hear that men are reading it.

But as for your question and I - how can I say this? I think there's plenty of mystery left in the human divine relationship after reading my book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You know? I don't think that I exhausted the topic. I don't think that I even scratched the surface of the topic. And I too - I mean, you know, when you get to the point, you know - it's a spiritual journey that I was on. And, you know, I did have this rather transcendent experience. And I felt that, well, you know, you can't really go on a spiritual journey and write about it and not try to write about that rather transcendent experience.

In any way that you're going to do that is inevitably going to fall short, you know? You know, my - you know, whether it's by giving too much information or not enough information or suddenly, you know, you're starting to sound like really flaky, and new agey(ph) which I didn't want to do or sounding like some sort of a (unintelligible) or an authority or prospitite(ph), you know? None of these things I wanted and so I wrote it with as much delicacy as I could.

But, yeah, I - you know, I've read a lot of spiritual memoirs and I always get frustrated at that point too. My frustration is usually, like, when people use the adjective indescribable. And then I'm stuck with, like, well, what's that mean?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEVIN: Yeah.

Ms. GILBERT: You know, it reminds me of the great editor at the New Yorker, you know, William Shawn who used to write in the - you know, there was that one word he never allowed - one of the words he never allowed in the New Yorker was indescribable, the idea of being if you can't describe it, get another job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You know, your job is to describe stuff. So, you know, I described as much as I could. But, Kevin, don't be worried, there's plenty of mystery left for you to explore on your own if you want to search for your own relationship with divinity. I'm sure I didn't cover it thoroughly.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Kevin.

KEVIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

I - in those passages in particular, I'm sure that there were - many of your readers read that and said, yeah, right. And I'm sure that there's another subset of readers who went, yeah, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, I'm sure there are. You know, I mean, I'm writing about God and, you know, here I am, this - you know, I'm an East Coast, sarcastic, former bartender, you know what I mean? So for me to write about God is a tricky business. I desperately wanted to have the experiences that I went and sought in India. And they meant the world to me. And they, you know, they rearranged my interior closets as we say, you know? I was changed by those encounters. And I was changed by the enormous amount of heavy lifting that it takes to get to those places, you know? You know, four months of daily, you know, hours and hours and hours of meditation.

But I didn't want to inflict on anybody an obnoxious recounting of that, you know? I tried really hard not to do that. And I hope that, you know, I managed to keep my own natural voice while I was talking about those things. But, yeah, it's a tricky thing to take on writing about something like that.

CONAN: E-mail from C.J.(ph) in Sacramento: Read the book. I loved it with my whole heart. What are you doing now to fulfill your spiritual path?

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, living.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You know what? It's funny, people ask me, do you still meditate everyday, you know? And I always joke, yeah, I get up at four every morning and I meditate for an hour, followed by two hours of yoga and then calisthenics and then the rest of the day is devoted to charity work. And...

CONAN: Run a couple of round times around Central Park.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, exactly. You know, and I usually try to save old ladies from burning building afterwards. You know, I'm a really representative human being and I live a really representative human life, you know? I'm certainly for our time and for, you know, for this part of the world. And meditation fits into my life as much as I'm able to put it in there. It's still something that I have to push myself to do. And it's still something I struggle doing.

But that said, when I'm too far away from it, you know, I go too long without it, I feel its absence and I miss it. And it becomes a longing. I think we're pulled to spiritual journeys by a longing of the heart, you know? That's what it is. It's - I've heard the word despair described as, you know, absence from God, separation from God, you know, separation from the other. There's something out there that we want closeness to in order to get us through our journey.

And when - and, you know, at the time that I wrote that book, I was in a lot of trouble and I needed a lot of that. Now, my life has really quieted down. It's settled. I live in New Jersey. You know, I'm married. I got a house. I have a mortgage. I have all this stuff that other people have. And I don't feel myself, you know, overwhelmed with those same questions that I have, so I don't also seek as hard. I think there's really not - there's no point in going on a journey of transformation if you don't transform, you know? And those things transformed me, and I think there comes a time where you can set some of it aside and kind of move on with the groceries and the laundry.

CONAN: Let's get Carrie(ph) on the line - Carrie calling us from Fremont, California.

CARRIE (Caller): Yeah, hi. This is Carrie. I read your book and had a question. Just knowing that you had kind of a book advancing, and you went on this journey, you know, with the intent to write a book. And maybe I'm a skeptic, but I need sort of a - it just seemed like a neat package, you know? You go from divorce to marriage, you go from finding God, you know, looking for God to finding it, you know? I guess, it leads me to believe, you know, how much of this is really genuine versus how much of this is, you know, wanting to sell a good book?

Ms. GILBERT: Oh...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CARRIE: Maybe...

Ms. GILBERT: Well, I guess, Carrie, if you had seen me on the bathroom floor at 3 o'clock in the morning for 40 consecutive nights, you know, with, like, lying in a pool of my own snot and tears, I don't think you would have thought it was a tidy package at the time.

You know, I mean, there is, you know, for - I - what I did was I took this five-year period of my life that was a disaster zone. I mean, it was a catastrophe, you know? It was a huge personal catastrophe. I walked out of a marriage. I, you know, wrecked and left everything. I broke hearts. I had my own heart broken. I suffered loss and pain and despair and doubt and spent, you know, a lot of money and a lot of time in counseling and had that horrible feeling about three years in where I just thought I might never get out of this, you know? I might actually be forever the person whose life changed at 30 and who fell off and never got back on. I might be waking up every day at 5 o'clock in the morning in tears forever, you know?

And the book was the way that I wrote my way out of it. Obviously, I took a lot of information and I condensed it down to, you know, about 350 pages, so it's tidier on the page than it is in person. And what little - you know, the pieces that I put in there to represent what a mess I was, I didn't feel - you know, I feel a responsibility to my reader not to make them go through every moment of my four years of despair with me, you know? And so there comes times when you have to just decide which of the moments you're going to share and which, you know, you don't need to put anybody through unless you're paying them, you know, and that was, you know, that was my intention.

And certainly, when I went on that journey, I had no idea how it would turn out, and I was amazed by the miraculous happy ending myself. But, you know, all I can say is I met a lot of people doing this kind of thing when I was out there traveling around the world, a lot of people who are out there in various ways creating their own journeys, looking for themselves. I was the only one who had a book deal. A lot of other people had found other ways to do it.

And I think when you go, you know, set aside all your comforts and all your resistances and - and by comforts, I don't just mean your home, I mean sometimes your comforting senses of your own limitations, you know, like this is who I am. I'm boxed in to this, you know? There's something that we relax back into that sometimes and it stops us. But when you set all that aside and you go out there, I think sometimes you'll be amazed at the things that occur, you know, and lo, they did, you know, and a lot of it isn't even in the book.

CARRIE: Yeah.

CONAN: Carrie, thanks very much.

Ms. GILBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

We're talking with Elizabeth Gilbert about her book, "Eat, Pray, Love."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And as we mentioned earlier, you've written fiction, a collection of short stories and a novel. Do you find when you're writing about yourself that in an odd way, you become a character?

Ms. GILBERT: Yes and no. I mean, it's - I think just because it's true, you know, and just because it's about you doesn't mean that you don't also have an obligation to the narrative, you know what I mean? Like you - and that becomes less a case. In fiction, it's a case of inventing things that seem real, you know, or inventing things that work for the book. In nonfiction, it's more of a case of sifting through this vast pile of information. These, you know, billions of moments that occurred over the four- or five-year period that I described and trying to figure out which ones will, you know, represent the narrative, represent the arc of the story and show the development of the character because, indeed, in this case, I was a character who was going through a transformation and that needed to be depicted.

CONAN: We've got another caller in. This is Jennifer(ph) - Jennifer with us from Naugatuck in Connecticut.

Ms. GILBERT: That's where I was born.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. How are you?

Ms. GILBERT: Hi, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: It's a pleasure to talk to you.

Ms. GILBERT: I used to live on Moore Avenue when I was a kid; that's where I come from.

JENNIFER: Oh, my goodness, what a small world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: Your book was fantastic.

Ms. GILBERT: Thank you.

JENNIFER: I absolutely loved it. I was turned on to it by somebody who actually lived in Richfield(ph) and I blew through it in just a couple of days, I couldn't put it down. I actually wondered what happened to Uday.

Ms. GILBERT: Uday.

JENNIFER: Yes.

Ms. GILBERT: Uday. Thank you for asking. Uday is a character in the book who I met when I was in Indonesia who was an Indonesian guy who had come to the United States and overstayed his visa and then married his true love who was also from Connecticut actually and then ended up getting deported by Homeland Security. He is still out of the country in Oedoek(ph). He's still living in Indonesia. He and his wife have separated, and I think he's probably not coming back to the United States any time soon...

JENNIFER: Oh...

Ms. GILBERT: ...if ever, yeah. It's a very sad story. He's doing well. I mean, he's relaxing into his destiny, I guess I can say it that way. I've seen him a couple of times since then I've been back and he's got a nice Indonesian girlfriend and he's playing music and he's doing well, but there's a hole in his heart the size and shape of Manhattan.

JENNIFER: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GILBERT: That's a place in the world that he loved the most, and I don't think he'll ever get to see it again.

JENNIFER: You know, it's amazing, not only was I drawn into your story, but you just had this way to connect us to everybody who you became friends with. And you just wanted to have everybody do so well in their lives as well.

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, thanks.

JENNIFER: And you didn't want their stories to end either.

Ms. GILBERT: Oh, thank you. I'm glad to hear that you like them. I've always been really lucky to find the good ones.

CONAN: Thanks, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Oh, thank you so much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And that's the perfect line for a follow-up. So are we going to continue to hear these stories, not just about you, but about some of the other people you've met in your life?

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, I guess maybe you will. Actually, I'm working on a new book that's also a memoir that's about marriage. It's about getting married after having been through a really bad divorce and becoming somebody who was not a believer in the institution. And my husband and I ended up getting married not necessarily because we wanted to. In fact, we desperately did not want to. We'd both been through really bad divorces, but because, like my friend Uday, we ran into a little trouble with Homeland Security and the INS and we were proposed to by an agent of Homeland Security at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport when they kicked Felipe out of the country. So the next book is about - it sort of starts from there, and it's about, you know, our travels for a year trying to get back into the country. And we did spend a lot of time with some of the same people, so I think they may show up again in print.

CONAN: What a romantic line - we'll always have DFW.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: A nice man named Officer Tom sat us down and explained that perhaps, it was time we got married. It was sort of a very parental moment for the government to tell us that it was time we made ourselves decent citizens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Make an honest woman of you.

Ms. GILBERT: Shacking up. Exactly.

CONAN: Exactly.

Ms. GILBERT: That was the only way it was ever going to happen.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us and good luck with the new book.

Ms. GILBERT: My very great pleasure, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat, Pray, Love." She joined us from our bureau in New York.

Up next, Malcom Gladwell sits through the claims and controversies swirling around race, intelligence and I.Q. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join that conversation. Or send us an e-mail - talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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