Elizabeth Gilbert Delays Publication of Novel Set in Russia Amid Backlash

The novel takes place in Siberia and centres on the story of a Russian family that hid in the Siberian wilderness for half a century to resist the Soviet government.

Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert announced on Monday that she is indefinitely postponing the publication of her novel set in Russia due to the overwhelming backlash she’s received from Ukrainian readers and their supporters.

In a heartfelt video message shared on her Instagram page, Gilbert — author of the critically acclaimed 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love — acknowledged the “outpouring of reactions and responses” she received from Ukrainian readers, emphasising that she did not want to contribute to the “grievous and extreme harm” they have experienced amid the Russian invasion.

“It is not the time for this book to be published,” Gilbert said in the video.

A spokesperson for Gilbert’s publisher, Riverhead Books, confirmed the indefinite postponement of the novel, according to news agency, The Associated Press. It is not yet known whether the book will be revised.

The decision comes after the announcement of the publication date for The Snow Forest drew a lot of attention last week, with much of the response negative. Its original publishing date was set for February 2024, coinciding with the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Online platforms including Goodreads were flooded with hundreds of one-star reviews, condemning the novel’s Russian setting and characters, according to AP.

PEN America, a group that advocates for writers, expressed disappointment in the timing of the publication and urged Gilbert to reconsider the release.

“The timing of the uproar, right after Gilbert announced the forthcoming publication, makes clear that those objecting have not yet had a chance to read or judge the work itself,” PEN America said in a statement on Monday.

“The choice of whether to read Gilbert’s book lies with readers themselves, and those who are troubled by it must be free to voice their views.”

The novel, which was inspired by Gilbert’s experiences in isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, takes place in Siberia and revolves around the story of a Russian family that hid in the Siberian wilderness for half a century to resist the Soviet government.

Gilbert’s story has been receiving criticism for its setting in Russia at a time when Paul Goldberg’s The Dissident, a mystery novel released only last week and likewise taking place in Russia in the 1970s, has gotten hardly any criticism of the same kind.

“Eat, Pray, Love” has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The memoir was also made into a 2010 feature film with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem in the lead roles.