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Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert cancels publication of novel set in Russia

"Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert said Monday she will not release her new novel, which is set in Russia, as scheduled over "a massive outpouring of reactions" from Ukrainians who took issue with its setting. 

"The Snow Forest" was scheduled for publication in February 2024, but Gilbert said she has decided against moving forward with that timeline.

"I'm making a course correction and I'm removing the book from its publication schedule. It is not the time for this book to be published," Gilbert said in a video posted on Instagram. 

"The Snow Forest," which is set in Siberia in the 20th century, tells the story of "a group of individuals who made a decision to remove themselves from society to resist the Soviet government and to try to defend nature against industrialization," according to Gilbert. 

The author, whose 2006 bestseller "Eat, Pray, Love" was turned into a feature film starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, said her Ukrainian readers expressed "anger, sorrow, disappointment and pain" over the book's slated release because of its Russian setting. 

Yet her decision to pull the book from publication sparked a backlash from some literary groups and notable authors, who argued that her decision, while well intentioned, is misguided. Literary non-profit PEN America called the move "regrettable."

"Ukrainians have suffered immeasurably, and Gilbert's decision in the face of online outcry from her Ukrainian readers is well-intended," PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement Monday. "But the idea that, in wartime, creativity and artistic expression should be preemptively shut down to avoid somehow compounding harms caused by military aggression is wrongheaded."

Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Makkai also took issue with the backlash that led to Gilbert pulling the novel. 

"So apparently: Wherever you set your novel, you'd better hope to hell that by publication date (usually about a year after you turned it in) that place isn't up to bad things, or you are personally complicit in them," she wrote on Twitter. 

Gilbert's decision had come after some of her fans expressed their dismay about the setting. Among the angry messages that led Gilbert to cancel the book's release include one self-described "former" fan of Gilbert's calling the book's planned release as a "tone-deaf move."

"Really disappointed in you, Elizabeth," wrote Instagram user elena_mota. "You must know that most of your books are translated into Ukrainian and you have a huge fan base here."

Another Instagram user, diana_anikieieva, said "It's really frustrating that you decided to publish a story about russians during a full-scale war russia started in Ukraine."

Yet another upset commenter accused Gilbert of "romanticizing the aggressor."

"I want to say that I have heard these messages and read these messages and I respect them," Gilbert said. 

Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin Random House, the book's publisher, did not immediately respond to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. 

Gilbert said she came to realize that now is not the time to publish her new novel because of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, which has now dragged on for more than one year, displaced millions of Ukrainians and led major corporations to cut business ties with Russia.

"And I do not want to add any harm to a group of people who have already experienced, and who are all continuing to experience, grievous and extreme harm," Gilbert said. 

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