Last Christmas, my Italian-born boyfriend was stopped in Milan as he tried to fly back to his job -- and our lives -- in the States. During our visit abroad, his immigration status changed, but his green card had yet to arrive. On reaching LaGuardia Airport -- we'd reserved separate flights -- I learned that he'd never left Italy. Instead, he'd been kept from boarding his plane and told not to leave the country without his new document. For the time being, he was barred from reentering the United States.
This worrisome scenario lasted a week, and then his residence card showed up. But it could have ended differently, in greater drama, as it did for Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," and her Brazilian lover, Felipe. Arrested at an American airport for abusing his tourist visa -- he'd been intermittently living with her in the States -- he was forbidden to return, unless the pair got married.
If that sounds like the weak premise of a romance novel for the post 9/11 age, it was, nonetheless, quite real. Their tangle with Homeland Security -- and subsequent joint exodus -- spurred Gilbert's new memoir, "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage," about the tumultuous year that followed, as the couple temporarily hunkered down in Southeast Asia while trying to land a fiancé visa for Felipe.
Fans of Gilbert's previous memoir will recall that what once spurred her to rush abroad, on a tour of Italy, Indonesia and India, was romantic heartbreak, and, truth be told, a youthful self-absorption. If her new book shows her fleeing once again, this time it's in service to a serious mission: securing a lasting home in the States for herself and her partner, while coming to terms with her fear of commitment.
The voice in this book -- if still folksy and warm -- is newly that of a grown-up. Nevertheless, cloying moments remain, as when Felipe tells the officer who arrests him, just before he's booted from the country, why he and the author both dread marriage. "Oh, Tom, Tom, Tom," Felipe sighs. "What you have to understand," he adds, "is that Liz and I have both been through really, really bad divorces."
Importuning of law enforcement officers aside, the book goes on to become a sensitive and adult look at the history of marriage in the West. While that may turn off readers who fell in love with "Eat, Pray, Love" for its highly personal tone, it may also attract a new following to Gilbert's work, one that appreciates its gratifyingly broadened and more mature focus.
Susan Comninos is a writer in New York. Her work most recently appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and Forward newspaper. She's currently trying to work up the nerve to get married.