Standing up and exchanging “I do’s” in front of family and friends is a moment many dream about. The decision to marry is a joyful and highly anticipated one, at least, it is for most people. When Elizabeth Gilbert and her Brazilian boyfriend, David find themselves in an interrogation room at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, a marriage to secure David’s Green Card seems to be the only—and least appealing—option for the happy couple to stay together. In her memoir Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert tells her path from this tense moment until her eventual “I do.”
Committed takes place not long after the events in Gilbert’s popular book Eat, Pray, Love, which invited the reader to journey with the author as she travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia. In fact, if you read Eat, Pray, Love (my review here), you will remember David as the 52-year old Brazilian man that Gilbert falls for during her time in Bali. Just like in Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert’s journey is both a physical and personal one. Set behind the backdrop of Cambodia, Laos, and other South East Asian destinations, in Committed, the reader explores marriage through a historical, spiritual, political, and personal lens.
As mentioned at the top, the action begins in an interrogation room at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Deeply in love and unwilling to settle down, Elizabeth and David have been traveling the world while setting up a temporary home in a Philadelphia apartment. While David was being mindful of his tourist visa restrictions, his frequent stays in the U.S. got him flagged by the Department of Homeland Security and made him persona non grata with the U.S. government. Emotional and anxiety filled, the two learned that their best chance of getting David free entry into the country was by applying for a “fiancé visa” (i.e. the K-1 visa that allows foreigners to temporarily stay in the U.S. with the intention to marry).
As simple as this sounds, the process was deeply complicated. For one, both Elizabeth and David have a bitter relationship with matrimony. More specifically, they are both legally divorced and are left questioning the whole institution of marriage. To make matters worse, in the years following 9/11, the Bush administration enacted several laws that made it harder for foreigners to enter the United States. Personal trepidation to marriage notwithstanding, the bureaucracy alone made the process of getting married a nightmarish proposition.
Along the journey to secure David’s Green Card, Gilbert discusses her apprehensions towards marriage in a series of stories. She speaks about her grandmother’s marriage to a Swedish ex-pat farmer in the Mid-West. Her grandmother, who came of age during the Great Depression, received a good education, worked an exciting job in an upscale atmosphere, and was afforded the ability to travel in a way that many women her age were unable to. Her grandmother’s choice to marry meant sacrificing her newfound freedoms as a young, educated, and financially independent single woman. In exchange for her hand in marriage, she received a husband, a place on the farm, and assumed the role of housekeeper, cook to her family and the farmhands, and mother to seven children. Her life was hard and required her to give up much to support her children and her family. But was it worth it? This conversation between Gilbert and her grandmother offers a very interesting perspective into what it means for a woman (of any generation really) to get married and start a family.
Gilbert also tells the story of her parents’ marriage, which is set in the backdrop of the feminist movement of her childhood. In addition, Gilbert explores marriage cultures and traditions throughout history, but also in present-day South East Asian societies. The institution of marriage has rarely been about true love; however, it seems to be the only reason we in our modern Western societies tie the knot. Exploring marriage through a variety of angles was deeply important for Gilbert to wrap her head around her second marriage but is also enlightening for the reader.
All in all, I enjoyed Committed, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to just anyone. In fact, I think the target audience would be 20 – 30-something-aged unmarried women. But also, more broadly, you may find this book interesting if you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love or have a particular interest in marriage or feminism.
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