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Elizabeth Gilbert halts release of a new book after outcry over its Russian setting

Elizabeth Gilbert is delaying publication of <em>The Snow Forest</em>, a novel set in Russia, after receiving an outpouring of "anger, sorrow, disappointment and pain" from Ukrainian readers who object to releasing any work about Russia. Here, in this photo from September 2010, Gilbert arrives at the European premiere of the film <em>Eat, Pray, Love</em> in Leicester Square, London.
Paul Jeffers
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AP
Elizabeth Gilbert is delaying publication of The Snow Forest, a novel set in Russia, after receiving an outpouring of "anger, sorrow, disappointment and pain" from Ukrainian readers who object to releasing any work about Russia. Here, in this photo from September 2010, Gilbert arrives at the European premiere of the film Eat, Pray, Love in Leicester Square, London.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, announced that she is halting the release of her next book following a "massive" backlash about its setting in Russia.

In a video announcement posted to Twitter on Monday, Gilbert said her upcoming novel, The Snow Forest, will be removed from the release calendar following criticism from Ukrainians, whose country is still at war with Russia since its invasion in February 2022.

Gilbert said in the video she needed to listen to her Ukrainian readers after receiving "an enormous, massive outpouring of reactions and responses ... expressing anger, sorrow, disappointment and pain their disappointment over the story being set in Russia." The bestselling author said she was "making a course correction."

The novel was set to be released in February 2024, which would be exactly two years after Russia invaded Ukraine.

"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. I want to say that I have heard these messages, and read these messages, and I respect them," Gilbert said. "It is not the time for this book to be published."

A representative for Gilbert declined NPR's request for comment on the backlash. No new publication date was given.

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, a professional organization for published writers, said that while the group believes that books should never be censored or banned, every author has the right to decide when and how to publish their work.

"Gilbert heard and empathized with the pain of her readers in Ukraine, and we respect her decision that she does not want to bring more harm to her Ukrainian readers," Rasenberger said in a statement to NPR.

"To be clear, we would not, however, support the decision of a publisher to pressure a writer to not publish the book. Authors should never be required to withdraw books but must have the right to speak or not speak when they wish," she added.

By Monday afternoon, the novel had received over 500 one-star reviews on the book-recommendations website Goodreads, with a deluge of reviews condemning the book's Russian setting.

The Snow Forest is "set in the middle of Siberia in the middle of the last century," according to Gilbert. The novel follows a group of individuals who make a decision to remove themselves from society in order to resist the Soviet government.

Gilbert further explained in the video that she will focus on other projects in the meantime and will refund any preorders of the novel.

The 53-year-old is a bestselling author and journalist whose memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The book was later adapted into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
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