First, pleasure: savoring Italy's buffet of delights -- the world's best pizza, free-flowing wine and dashing conversation partners -- Gilbert consumes la dolce vita as spiritual succor. "I came to Italy pinched and thin," she writes, but soon fills out in waist and soul. Then, prayer and ascetic rigor: seeking communion with the divine at a sacred ashram in India, Gilbert emulates the ways of yogis in grueling hours of meditation, struggling to still her churning mind. Finally, a balancing act in Bali, where Gilbert tries for equipoise "betwixt and between" realms, studies with a merry medicine man and plunges into a charged love affair.
Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year's cultural and emotional tapestry -- conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor -- as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression.