Elizabeth Gilbert Goes To War With Russia

After anonymous online complaints, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ author pulls novel set in Soviet Union. Literary Twitter is unanimously Russian to judgement to condemn her decision.

On Monday, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ author Elizabeth Gilbert announced she would pull her forthcoming novel, ‘The Snow Forest,’ from publication after receiving backlash for its Russian setting. 

“I have received an enormous, massive outpouring of reactions and responses from my Ukrainian readers, expressing anger, sorrow, disappointment and pain about the fact that I would choose to release a book into the world right now — any book, no matter what the subject of it is — that is set in Russia,” said Gilbert in a video on social media. “It is not the time for this book to be published. And I do not want to add any harm to a group of people who have already experienced and who are continuing to experience grievous and extreme harm.”

Gilbert’s novel, set in Siberia, tells the story of a group of people who removed themselves from society in the 1930s to resist the Soviet union and defend nature. Her publisher, Riverhead, announced the author’s fourth novel last week; over the weekend, its haters took to Goodreads and other platforms to express their outrage. ‘The Snow Forest’ no longer appears on Goodreads or Amazon.

“Do you know about the war which your beloved Russia is committing in Ukraine? Do you know about the horrific ecocide in the Southern Ukraine after Russia blew up the dam? Do you think it’s acceptable to plan publishing this book on FEBRUARY?” tweeted @HuSnizhne, referring to the anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine. “Tone deaf!”

In response, Gilbert pulled the novel on Monday. That decision set off a backlash to the backlash, as it were, with writers and critics everywhere uniting against Gilbert’s decision to cancel the forthcoming novel.

“I just can’t get over what a bizarre move self-cancelling your own book over 500 Goodreads reviews is, especially when not one of those ‘reviewers’ has actually read it. In the past, most self-censorship happened at the desk, but maybe now it happens before the ring light,” wrote ‘Appleseed’ author Matt Bell.

“*screams from the bottom of a ball pit in a chuck e cheese* Russia and the Soviet Union are not the same thing,” tweeted ‘The Golden State’ author Lydia Kiesling.

Many authors, rightfully, worried about the precedent that this decision sets, especially from a hugely popular writer like Gilbert. “I absolutely sympathize with the Ukrainians. This move by Liz sets bad precedent for writers with less money, career stability, and clout than she has,” wrote ‘Self-Care’ author Leigh Stein. “Canceling the publication of this novel will make not one iota of material difference for innocent Ukrainian citizens.”

Others noted that this decision, once again, hinges on the Goodreads reviews of folks who have not yet read the novel. “Goodreads should really not allow reviews of unpublished books. The whole site is such a wasteland,” tweeted ‘The Body Scout’ author Lincoln Michel. “There’s really no reason to allow this except to enable spamming to rig a book’s rating. And yes often this happens with positive 5 star review spamming for books that aren’t out, but that’s bad too!”

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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