Vote It Up: Book Blip

January 16, 2010

The Humble One

Coming back to Elizabeth Gilbert after forcing myself to finish Cleaving is like taking a long, hot, sudsy bath after trekking through mud puddles. Ahhhh. Gilbert's voice is soothing after so much self-involved blathering. She is mature, wise, self-deprecating, humble. She roots herself in historical, sociological, sometimes even biological, context. Her own marriage stories are peripheral to the story of the institution. One hundred pages in I have learned much about the constantly changing historical reasons for marriage. And opposed to Julie Powell's example of foreign travel, where she thrusts herself into the most foreign of foreign experiences (hunting with the Masai in Tanzania) only to ponder about how cute she is and then make out with one of the English-speaking guides, Gilbert pays deep respect to the heritage and customs of the lands where she travels. For instance, she and her exiled lover, "Felipe," land in Vietnam and she questions the women of a Laotian village about their experiences of marriage. She asks if they are happy. In response, they laugh! The women do not base their lives around the pursuit of happiness, like most Westerners; they just live. They marry because that is what they are supposed to do. And Gilbert respects this enormous difference by researching it.

I love that Gilbert is politically liberal, but doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. The purpose of the book isn't to sway opinions about gay marriage (although, she clearly states that she supports the idea) or bash conservative hypocrisy. The purpose is to show how marriage has evolved throughout time and changed depending upon culture. But in so doing, she can't help to editorialize a wee bit: "So when modern-day religious conservatives wax nostalgic about how marriage is a sacred tradition that reaches back into history for thousands of uninterrupted years, they are absolutely correct, but in only one respect - only if they happen to be talking about Judaism." (58) How awesome is that?

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