In the High Peaks

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Elizabeth Gilbert Decides Not to Publish Her Russian Novel

 Here's to hoping that I manage a good and proper post in the next two days! So hard to believe it's already the 13th of June. 

But I have read the first two books on my list, and I want to report on them very soon. I'm due to pick up four books on hold at the library, all of which are on my list, and will not be able to read in two weeks! 

If you haven't heard about this story in book news, I will let you know that I was very disturbed to learn that Elizabeth Gilbert has decided to pull back her 2024 novel The Snow Forest from publication. It's unclear whether this is a postponement or something more dire. It was Gilbert's decision, allegedly based on hundreds of one-star reviews on GoodReads. 

The truly awful thing is that the Ukrainian women blasting Gilbert on that site appear to have absolutely no clue what The Snow Forest is about. No ARCS are available, so they haven't read it. Clearly it was a misinformation social media campaign, having read all the comments. The commenters knew absolutely NOTHING about the book--first and foremost. What the commenters have NO CLUE about is that this is not a book about any ordinary Russian family, but an historical novel about a Russian family in total opposition to the Soviet government, which had imprisoned members of its family in Siberia.

Self-censorship is a huge issue in writing and publishing these days, and I feel compelled to write more about it in the future. Elizabeth Gilbert says she is withdrawing the book because of the pain it is causing Ukrainian women. (But, I want to say to her, they don't seem to know what your book is about.)

But, in the larger picture, the constant topic seems to be this: Who has the right to write FICTION about another country's people, about another culture, about anything? And I will ask you this: Is a white writer raised in the Northeastern U.S. compelled to write only about her own culture and environment and her own ancestors' history and nothing else? I'm talking fiction here.

I truly believe an author has the absolute right to withdraw a book from publication, regardless of what her publishers want. (As far as I know, her publisher has not fought her on this.) But I question Gilbert's motives. And for that reasoning, I will have to pause until I can pick up this conversation again. I hope you will weigh in!

And I believe that a writer has the RIGHT to write fiction about whatever he or she chooses. People have been doing it, for better or worse, for hundreds of years. Maybe no publisher will publish an Asian American woman writing a saga about a Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan. But somebody might, especially if she had years of experience living in such a community. 

I guess I just hate these barriers that have been created.



  1. I don't have any familiarity with Elizabeth Gilbert's writing. I have heard of her and one of her books (Eat, Pray, Love) but that's all. I wasn't aware that there were issues with this.

    1. Gilbert has written a number of novels since Eat, Pray, Love, which was a memoir. Several of her novels in recent years have been historical. And I must admit that I haven't read them. But this new one really interests me.

  2. Completely agree. If a white North American or British writer writes about characters from a different heritage, they get slammed for cultural appropriation. If they write only about white characters, they get called even worse. Writers should write what they want, and publishers should recognise there will always be a market for good books whoever writes them and regardless of what any aggrieved activists say. Have they learned nothing from JKR's sales figures?

  3. It seems to me that our right to free speech and to write whatever we want is slowly being erroded. I have a great deal of fear for the future and am glad I'm 70 and not 17. Last month I read Horse by Geraldine Brooks. Now she is, I believe, a white Australian author, but the book is not about Australia, it's about 1850s Kentucky and horse racing and how that world depended on black slaves in order to keep it going. I knew nothing about that before I started the book but it gave me such insight into the lives of slaves (along with other books I've read on the subject) that I'm now different, as all books change us, but this one in particular. Are these people saying that only a black person should've written such a book? It's a nonsense. As is Elizabeth Gilbert giving in to social media bullies who have clearly not even read her book. They should be ashamed of themselves. Sorry, I feel so strongly about this sort of nonsense which is being imposed on us whether we want it or not. We're poorer for the lack of this book, I'm sure, as I really enjoyed a previous book I read by her, the title eludes me but it was set in PA and about a woman who loved mosses. It's tragic what's happening.

  4. Today after reading the other comments I do understand the issue more. I also read a news article about Elizabeth Gilbert's decision, and an opinion piece from the Atlantic Monthly, which was of the opinion that she should not have delayed the publication. I am still confused as to why she made her decision.

  5. Good points Judith. I also mentioned this news about Gilbert's book in my post yesterday. If the novel is anti-Soviet then what's the point of the delay. Just because it's set in Russia is no reason. The family in the story seem anti-government. I hope Gilbert reconsiders her decision and will go ahead with its publication in Feb. 2024. People need these stories. Campaigns should not censor writers. And I think authors can write from various perspectives and about various subjects different from their own.

  6. I'm still unclear as to why she made the decision in the first place. Will ever author need to worry about where their novels are set and the potential for wars or conflicts in that area at the time of publication? Seems short-sighted... readers need stories from all areas and from a variety of perspectives.

  7. I think it was a weird decision and I don't see any support for it anywhere. Question: you may not recall the answer but I wish that my blog showed not just the names of my favorite bloggers but also the most recent post the way yours does. I don't suppose you remember the widget that you use? Thank you!

  8. It was wondering if I could use this write-up on my other website, I will link it back to your website though.Great russian for sale

  9. Not having read much about this, it almost seems that Gilbert is suffering from the desire to have everyone like her. It takes courage to write stories that others may find offensive. An authentic voice and powerful literature come from the courage and the need to tell the truth. Not everyone has what it takes.