Like so many others, I was curious to know what happened to Elizabeth and her Brazilian lover Felipe after Eat, Pray, Love ended. As the book opens they are still happily together, but with no intention of marrying. It becomes clear however that they will not be able to live together in the US unless they are married. (Or as Elizabeth puts it, they are "sentenced to marry by the Homeland Security Department").
This book is about how they spend most of the next year traveling in Asia waiting for Felipe's visa to process and for much of this time that Elizabeth researches the concept of marriage. So the book is part love story, part travelogue and part history. Or again as Elizabeth puts it, a memoir (with extra socio-historical bonus sections!) about her efforts to make peace with the institution of marriage.
The results are patchy. The historical/sociological parts are well written and interesting enough, but after a while it feels too much like a lecture. (Especially when Elizabeth puts her case for same sex marriages. I have no issue with her views, but neither am I very interested in them). It's when she's describing her own experiences that Gilbert's writing really shines. There are wonderful accounts of encounters with the local people in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and I was also totally absorbed in her relationship with Felipe which she describes in a very honest and moving way. While she still has the same chatty and open writing style (which is very easy to read), she comes across as more mature and less self-absorbed this time around.
I'm not sure this book will stay with me in the way that Eat, Pray, Love did, but it was a satisfying read that did also make me think more about my own views on marriage.
Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage" begins when a U.S. Government Official detains Felipe, Elizabeth's boyfriend, at an American border crossing. They were given a choice: either get married or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Since they were sentenced to marry Elizabeth decided it's time to confront her fears and make peace with the idea of matrimony before she jumped into it again. For the next ten months, while traveling in Southeast Asia with Felipe, a man seventeen years her senior, Elizabeth researched, wrote and talked to others about the befuddling, vexing, contradictory yet stubbornly enduring institution of marriage. With great wit, wisdom, insight and compassion Elizabeth, at age 37, researched the history of western monogamous marriage and examined the questions of compatibility, fidelity, risk and responsibility. Her inspirational stories speak to our souls. I particularly resonated with Elizabeth and Felipe's flagging morale after six months of no movement on his immigration case. Separated from his gemstone and jewelry import business in America, Felipe was unable to earn money or make plans. Feeling powerless and totally dependent on Elizabeth and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security he became increasingly jittery, irritable and ominously tense. Elizabeth buried her own frustrations under a sunny demeanor. Their tension reached a peak on a twelve-hour bus ride through Laos to an archaeological site. Elizabeth's writing soars in her vivid descriptions of their conflict and the bus ride. Felipe became numb to the unbearable heat and the manic aggression and near collisions of the bus driver who almost dumped them over cliffs. Trying to defuse the tension Elizabeth tried some practical strategies from her past to resolve the dispute. Felipe finally broke through their heated silence by taking her hand and suggesting they be careful. "Being careful" is their code for practicing preemptive conflict resolution. He explained how when people get tired fights happen. Choosing words carefully can arrest an argument before it begins. Her insight, honesty and openness about their relationship is breathtaking. Elizabeth's observation that most of us have a "default emotion" is fascinating. She shared how her Cambodian guide had a default emotion of quiet disapproval. After two days she could barely open her mouth she felt so foolish, pathetic and bloodless. She uses the story of her own life to explore why many American's get married and divorced more often than any other nation. She says American society believes in two completely contradictory ideas about marriage. Both have their origins in ancient Greek and Hebrew thinking. From the Greeks we inherited our ideas about secular humanism, the sanctity of individual democracy, equality, personal liberty, scientific reason, intellectual freedom and open mindedness. From the Hebrews we inherited tribalism, faith, obedience and respect. The Hebrew credo is clannish, patriarchal, moralistic, ritualistic and suspicious of outsiders. The collective is more important than the individual, morality is more important than happiness and vows are inviolable. Hebrew thinking sees the world as a clear play between good and evil, right and wrong with God firmly on "our" side. There's no gray area. Elizabeth says American society is an amalgam of both. Our legal code and sense of fairness is mostly Greek and our moral code and sense of justice in mostly Hebrew. "Committed" is a passionate, intelligent, important book written by a woman who knows suffering and redemption. Her story is our story in it's rich humanity, humor and zest for life.
Just reading the title of this book made it a must for me. However, what I envisaged was a straight jacket accompanied by some kicking and screaming - but perhaps that says more about how I felt about marriage before I read this book. The book follows on from where Eat Pray Love finished and Elizabeth coming to terms with her legal commitment to her new partner and in particular their coming marriage. This held all kinds of demons for her and leads to another psychological voyage (although in not quite the same way as Eat Pray Love - do not expect volume two). Having already agreed that marriage was not for them Elizabeth and Felipe are forced to reconsider when the American authorities refuse Felipe entry to the US. This is the spark that starts the exploration. Elizabeth needs to justify the marriage to herself and in this book she faces her demons through her research of the history, psychosocial aspects and the anthropology of marriage. It is not such an emotional story as Eat Pray Love the book seems to come more from the head than the soul. However, I will be saving this book for my daughters' 18th birthdays although I think that someone a little older will possibly appreciate it more. What could have been rather boring was transformed into an entertaining, enlightening and even a compelling book - once you get over the different approach used. Her easy to read, conversational style gave me much food for thought - perhaps I will risk removing the self imposed straight jacket now!
This is a book spawned by the author's personal quest to find some answers about the institution of marriage and her own commerce with it. The excurses into the history of marriage are nice reads, but she's using too much of the explicit manner of an anthropologist for her own good. She also lapses into that when she explains aspects of her relationship with Felipe.
You can see she is pursuing her research with a vengeance, reading tome after tome no matter where she is in the world. This is not the Liz of Eat, Pray, Love, who traveled with an open heart and open schedule to three places on this wonderful earth. This is a woman who won't rest until she finds some answers, until she comes to terms with a marriage that is imposed on her and her boyfriend by the US immigration office.
The book is a pleasant read even when it rehashes familiar facts about (mostly) Western marriage, mainly because the author connects them to personal narratives, thus illuminating both. And sometimes she comes across wonderful nuggets of information, such as the ghost marriages in China, involving a living woman and (the social status of) a dead man. The stories around Keo, the young man of Luang Prabang, remind of Elizabeth Gilbert's former novel. The ones that shine though in this book are about her and Felipe. You can sense that that's where her focus is now, and she seems to do a good job once she gets tightly involved with an issue. She might seem too involved with the issue of marriage at times, but it's understandable since throughout the book -- and the previous one -- she does come across as a very intense woman, mellowing a bit in her late thirties but nevertheless in touch with her passionate core. You may feel she's asking too much of herself at times, but you don't grow to love her as a writer any less for that. In fact, I think that by asking so much of herself in researching and writing this book on marriage, she has turned marriage into a weighty subject while writing passionately and yet sprightly about it -- quite an achievement.
I could relate to this book because I also felt the same about marriage. Once divorced, I couldn't imagine wanting to get married again ever. But I was faced with a similar situation in my relationship. I did not qualify to stay in Italy with my boyfriend and try and "make a life with him" so we were forced to get married for Immigration purposes.
Gilbert's search for the meaning of marriage is interesting because she explores other cultural traditions and opinions and leaves you with a feeling of utter confusion. I would like to think that this was a bit on purpose because it exemplifies exactly what she is struggling with, which is not wanting to fall into the North American dillusion that another person "completes us".
As North Americans we have a tendency to "romanticize" about love and marriage and yet this book hits the nail on the head from any "Government State" perspective around the world, which is marriage is meant to keep some sort of order in the world and community. But, at the same time, the rules of "engagement" is a shifting platform with the integration of education for women in otherwise secluded villages, the virtual world of the Internet, affordable travel and Expatriate societies sprouting up everywhere.
Gilbert never loses sight of the emotions she feels for her spouse (good and bad), but as a woman, she struggles with her sense of self and independence. She has taken a leap of faith indeed, but isn't everything in life worth having a bit of a leap of faith?
This book left me with a feeling that Gilbert's plight is not a solitary one. She has spoken for many in this everchanging world we live in. It's inspirational to know that she was not going to take orders from the State sitting down.