Welcome back to another post in the Monday Inspirations series, where guest bloggers write about the books and authors that have inspired them. Today’s post is by Dr Gulara Vincent, who has also written two of the most visited posts in the series: How Agatha Christie Saved My Life And Taking up The Invitation. You can check out OTHER Monday Inspirations posts here.
I took Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story with me to Mauritius in 2012. Believe it or not, I was sent to this paradise from work, for the second year in a row. The University I teach for needed a representative for a recruitment trip and I got lucky.
My first visit to Mauritius was shortly after I got married, so I paid for some extras and extended my stay after we finished running around schools and the university talking to prospective students. A few days with my husband at the Sofitel hotel were lovely but I spent most of the time recovering from work. The second time around, I was smarter. I took a few days of my annual leave to have a few free days before we started working. We found a lovely hotel on the beach. The weather was hot, and after a morning dip in the ocean, we returned to our room. Laying on a king size bed with a giant fan turning on the ceiling to provide some relief from the afternoon heat, I reached out for my copy of Committed. While my husband snoozed, I opened the book and started reading. From the very first few pages, I started giggling. My husband woke up. I tried to explain what was so funny, but then I had a better idea.
‘Let me read for you.’ I lay back and read the first few pages.
‘Let me read for a while,’ he said taking the book off me. I closed my eyes and savoured the words. The shared experience of reading and then talking about what touched us or made us laugh afterwards was really precious. I couldn’t wait for the afternoon heat so that we could go back to our room… to read the book. We took it everywhere. While we waited for our coffee to arrive, we’d read a page and ruminate on it.
There are scenes from that book which we still remember regularly. For example, when Liz and Felipe, her Brazilian fiancé, went to see a family who farmed giant frogs, they were naturally served a dish made of frogs. As polite guests they ate the dish, while we cringed at the idea. Perhaps it was slightly close to home for when my husband visits Azerbaijan, we are very aware of that fine balance of being polite and not eating meat, for example (he is vegetarian).
The key thread in the book was Liz and Felipe’s battle over his immigration status. We could relate. In December 2010, I was expecting my post-study visa in a post. An in-person application process cost £850, whilst postal application was £550. Being a lawyer and having read and re-read the 60-page guidelines, I was confident I could get away with the postal application. We were due to go to Devon for a holiday but got snowed in. I was grumpy that we were stuck in Birmingham, even though we had moments of fun sledging with my husband in a nearby park. Thank God we got snowed in. On Christmas Eve, I got an envelope from the Home Office. They returned my documents, because I failed to enclose a piece of paper. It wasn’t on the list of documents required in the guidelines. Rather it was listed in a footnote in the application form itself where they indicated that some applicants should provide that document too. My visa was to expire in a week’s time. If I could re-apply before 31 December, I could stay and await their response. If not… I had to leave the country and apply from Azerbaijan. The University was closed for the holiday and to obtain all the documents I needed seemed impossible. My husband and I cried for days anticipating inevitable separation. He contacted every immigration solicitor who listed their number on the internet, but needless to say all of them were closed until 2 January. Anyway, after much crying, panicking and running around, we managed to apply in the nick of time. Had we got away on our holiday that winter, I’d be automatically considered an illegal immigrant because we were due to return after 2 January.
Even though my immigration status was relatively secure at that time, reading Committed brought back memories and made us care deeply about Liz and Felipe.
After we got back from Mauritius, my husband and I went on to read Eat. Pray. Love. By then, Liz practically felt like family and we enjoyed her tales of self-discovery and healing. With both books, there were moments which came truly alive and I’ll never forget them. Like there is a scene where she describes her grandmother’s coat. I can still feel that coat, see it, smell it, touch it in my mind’s eye, and perhaps even love it almost as much as her grandmother did. The book drags in places, but there are enough of those alive moments to keep the reader engaged.
A month after we finished reading Eat. Pray. Love, I was at my first writing retreat. Imagine my jolt when I overheard other writers speaking disparagingly about Eat. Pray. Love. They thought her writing was rubbish.
‘I liked it,’ I said. It was a brave thing for me to say while all these seasoned ‘real’ writers thought it was not a particularly good writing. Maybe it was the magic of Committed lingering….
Interestingly, when her novel The Signature of All Things came out, I didn’t feel drawn to buy it. It was only a few weeks ago, I finally downloaded it on my phone and read within a few days. The book is very easy to read. It’s a page turner without being dramatic. I kept trying to pin-point what was the driving force behind that flow. OK, I liked the main character. I was impressed by Liz’s research. I appreciated that the novel was about a woman of science whose intelligence was extra-ordinary, and it is a credit to many untold stories of women scientists. But… unlike her personal narrative, the book did not change me. It felt that in Committed, my husband and I came through with her and Felipe on the other side of the immigration saga. In Eat. Pray. Love. we tasted different cultures. Or perhaps those books were special because my husband and I read them to each other and could use snippets of the book as conversation starters. Whatever it is, I stay committed to Committed!
Dr Gulara Vincent is a writer, blogger, and a university law lecturer. She lives in Birmingham, England, with her husband and two young children. You can visit her writer’s blog or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @gulara_vincent.
P.S. – Be sure to check out my post on the myth of Sirin and Alkonost over at Part-Time Monster.
P.S.S. – If you’ve written to me about being a guest contributor, I’ll be getting in touch with you shortly. I’m sorry it’s taking me a while to get back to everyone. The response has been amazing.