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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

I want to tell you a little story and see if you recognize it. It's the story of a 30-something-year-old woman, a New Yorker, who's been through a terrible, nasty divorce. So she decides to take a year for herself to travel and try to heal.

The woman starts in Italy, where she gorges on pasta and gelato that's the pleasure part of the trip. Then she heads to India for yoga and meditation. And finally, she visits Indonesia, where she tries to find balance but ends up -as you do - meeting a handsome Brazilian man 17 years her senior and falling madly in love.

All right, if this is all starting to sound familiar, that's because its the story of Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-best-selling memoir from 2006, called "Eat, Pray, Love." The book spent more than a year at the number one spot on The New York Times best-seller list, so if that's not a hard act to follow, I dont know what is. But Elizabeth Gilbert decided to try, and she's got a new book coming out, called "Committed." She joins us from our New York bureau to talk about it.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for coming in.

Ms. ELIZABETH GILBERT (Author, "Committed"): Thanks for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we should start with the title, "Committed," which...

Ms. GILBERT: A little double meaning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Well, it's a little bit of a giveaway.

KELLY: I'm sure there were many readers still in suspense. We mentioned that at the end of "Eat, Pray, Love," where that left off, you had recently met this Brazilian man. And I guess we can reveal you made it. Youre still together.

Ms. GILBERT: We're still together. Yeah, it wasnt just a shipboard romance, as my grandmother said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Congratulations. Tell us about the new book.

Ms. GILBERT: Well, it was a kind of an accidental book. I didn't have any intention of writing another memoir. But what happened is that as readers of "Eat, Pray, Love" know I did meet that lovely, handsome Brazilian man and we made a pretty fierce commitment to each other that we would stay together forever but never marry.

Both of us were survivors of bad divorces, and I suppose I dont need to explain to anybody why that would make somebody hesitant to enter into the institution of matrimony again.

KELLY: Sure.

Ms. GILBERT: And we were very happily living out our lives. The problem was he wasn't a U.S. citizen and every time he came to visit me there was the, you know, the famous border crossing and Homeland Security and the INS. And one of these border crossings turned sour one day in Dallas-Fort Worth. And they peeled him out of the line and chucked him in jail and threw him out of the country. And I was informed by a man named Officer Tom at the Homeland Security Department in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport that the only way I could get him back was to marry him. So we like to say that it was an arranged marriage arranged by the INS.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: By the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Ms. GILBERT: Exactly. They were holding the shotgun, in the case of this shotgun marriage.

KELLY: But that took 10 months or more. And so in the meantime, you were in exile together, in a way.

Ms. GILBERT: We were. And in a way that can sort of only make sense to us, but made perfect sense to us at the time. Naturally, what we did was just go to Southeast Asia and wait it out there, traveling across Thailand and Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, sort of killing time and hoping to get back in.

KELLY: So is this new book, "Committed," is it a sequel to "Eat, Pray, Love"?

Ms. GILBERT: I dont mind if people call it a sequel. It would certainly be recognizable to people - it's my voice and obviously, these are two characters who you meet in "Eat, Pray, Love." The way that I see the difference between the tone of "Eat, Pray, Love" and the tone of "Committed" is the tone of romance versus the tone of marriage.

KELLY: Still in love but a little bit more sober.

Ms. GILBERT: Weve turned on all the fluorescent lights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: Let's just put it that way, and I very much wanted to. I thought, let's try to strip the tone of romance out of this and really pick this thing apart.

KELLY: During those months, you interviewed housewives, Hmong housewives in Vietnam, poets, psychologists. At one point, I noticed you were quoting advice from Miss Manners on what makes a good marriage. You cast the net wide - and what did you come back with?

Ms. GILBERT: I really had such an aversion to matrimony when I started this. And I actually feared, when I started to do research on marriage, that the more I discovered about it, the more I would loathe it - you know, especially as a woman. What I didnt expect was to come away with this respect for marriage. And I say that in a guarded sense because I dont want to be mistaken for somebody who has respect for marriage that's so hard line that they want to pass legislation about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You know, what I'm talking about is a sort of historical respect for something that I discovered is not quite the rigid, boxy institution that I thought it was but is in fact an ongoing, millennia-long experiment in social living that is being tinkered with and altered with every generation, you know, with every culture every couple who comes into it puts their mark on it. And it has an almost Darwinian survival that I found really impressive.

KELLY: I gather that you, at one point, had an entire draft of this book completed and ready to ship it off to your publisher, and you decided you were going to throw the whole thing away.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: How come?

Ms. GILBERT: Because it was horrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: It was not fit for human consumption. It was a terrible, terrible book. And it's an awful realization to have something like that happen because I worked on it for, you know, close to two years and quite diligently and optimistically, the way that one does when one is writing. And it came to me quite suddenly, when I printed it out for the first time and opened it up to a random page and read a random paragraph and realized I had really misstepped, and I realized the entire book was wrong.

KELLY: In what way? Was it the way you were telling the story or the story itself?

Ms. GILBERT: Well, at the time I couldnt quite tell. All I knew was that it was off. And what I know now, and what I can see now, is that I was trying to appease 6 million Eat, Pray, Love readers when I wrote the first draft of the book, and I had them in the room with me, and I was writing it by committee, imaginarily consulting them as I was going and saying, is this what you liked about Eat, Pray, Love? Did you want more of this, or the goofy stuff? Do you want jokes? Do you want, you know, lightweight, what, what, what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: You want spiritual things? So the whole was very forced and inauthentic, and it became a book that I became certain that nobody would like. I just couldnt put it out there.

KELLY: It must be wonderful, obviously, to write a book that 6 million people have bought and loved, but it must also be intimidating to think of all those people waiting for whatever youre going to write next.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, just to be clear, this is the exact definition of what we call a champagne problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: There are worse issues. My heart isnt bleeding too much for you.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, please feel sorry for me about the - you know, its - its really not that bad in terms of things that happen to people in the world at all. Its just a puzzle, you know. Its a kind of creative puzzle, to figure out how you write unselfconsciously again after that. And you really have to narrow down who youre telling a story to. And it wasnt until I narrowed the book down to, you know, two dozen people, the women in my life - my sister, my mother, my stepdaughter, my neighbors, all the people who I spent my life talking to - and it just makes a lot more sense now.

KELLY: Its interesting that that circle that you just described, that you say you narrowed it down to, the people you had in your mind as you were writing this - all women, unless Im mistaken. And yet this is a book about your happy marriage to a man.

Ms. GILBERT: Yeah, but what you have to understand is that, you know, we live in this time of this radical, new social experiment, and I think sometimes we forget how new it is. And the radical, unprecedented, new social experiment is what happens if we give women autonomy, education, finances - you know, control over their sexual biology? What happens if we give you all this freedom, what are you going to do with it? We have like, two decades of role models...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: ...on how to do that. And were all still sort of puzzling it out in a very intense way. And what differentiates, I think, the conversations that women have about intimacy from those that men have, you know, can be exemplified by the fact that when I was 19 years old and I was in college at NYU, my friends and I would sit up until 2 in the morning and sort of panic over how we were going to balance raising our children, being married and having careers. And I kind of dont think the guys down the hall in the dorm were doing that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GILBERT: ...when they were 19, but we already saw it coming, and this book is sort of picking up the thread of a conversation that I think Ive been having with my friends for 20 years.

KELLY: I have one last question for you. I dont want to let you go before we ask about - theres a movie being made about Eat, Pray, Love, the first memoir.

Ms. GILBERT: I heard that, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: And I heard youre being played by Julia Roberts, which was...

Ms. GILBERT: I heard that too, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: It must be a little surreal.

Ms. GILBERT: No, its so beyond surreal that I have to say I have not even really begun to process it. I think that maybe when Im in my 70s, Ill start to unthread how that happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So it will be nice because shes sort of going back and reliving my journey and theyre filming it, so its like Im going to have a home movie of my trip, but portrayed by someone with flawless skin and 36-inch legs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Elizabeth Gilbert, were glad you came in to talk to us today about your new book, Committed. Thank you so much.

Ms. GILBERT: Thanks, its been a pleasure.

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