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Book Review: "Lust in Translation" by Pamela Druckerman

Think Globally, Cheat Locally - A Look at Adultery Around the World

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Lust in Translation

Lust in Translation

© Photo courtesy Penguin Books
In South Africa, he's a 'running man.' In Taiwan, a 'big white turnip with a colorful core.' Who is he? The cheating spouse. The unfaithful husband. And with his female counterpart the unfaithful wife, he's the subject of former Wall Street Journal reporter Pamela Druckerman's study of adultery around the globe.

Examining infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee could have made for an intolerably grim book. But Druckerman injects enough of herself - and her ongoing struggle to nail down reliable statistics and interview unreliable mates - to make her journey more of a light-hearted romp than an angst-ridden trail of tears.

They Don't Cheat As Much As You Think

With a tone that's closer to women's magazine-style chitchat than dry academic prose, this study of sexual cultures may not impress scholars in the field. But for the casual reader whose interest is piqued by the paperback version's clever front photo, this engaging non-fiction book lives up to its cover. And good news...by the final page you'll understand how the reality of adultery is neither as widespread nor as home-wrecking as popular culture would have you believe.

For example, the countries you might think of as hotbeds of unfaithfulness (France, Italy, and the US) actually rank among the lowest for adultery. In fact, among married Americans 18 and older, less than 6% have had more than one sexual partner in the last year. In comparison, a handful of countries in Africa rank at the top, with as many as a third of married men cheating on their wives in any given year.

Peccadillos Without Borders

Though the numbers give credence to her conclusions, the statistics are the least interesting part of Druckerman's book. When she goes into a country and interviews men and women who cheat, that's where the fun begins. We learn juicy details about the quirky sexual habits of cultures that appear quite straightlaced to many Americans.

In Japan, men don't consider it cheating if you pay for it, and euphemisms like "fashion health" clubs and "soap land" clubs define the types of services Japanese sex clubs provide. In China, a booming economy has enabled many a Hong Kong businessmen to keep a mistress in one of the "second-wife villages" in mainland China. In contrast to the previous two countries, France is tame and respectable; despite the myth of the philandering Frenchman, monogamy is the rule in marriages and affairs, and relationships last much longer than they do in the US.

Making Money Off Marital Misery

Druckerman doesn't give the United States a pass when it comes to adultery. The book begins with the story of April, whose former unfaithfulness still shadows her relationship with her husband Kevin. Later, the author takes a critical look at what she calls "the marriage-industrial complex," noting that adultery survivors - more often than trained therapists and psychologists - offer marriage support through DVDs, books, and couples retreats, and drive this multi-million dollar business.

All the Excitement Without the Guilt

Just out in paperback, Lust in Translation seems to have hit a chord with American audiences. After reading the book during a two-hour plane ride, I put it down to discover the woman next to me staring at the cover. "Is that the one about unfaithful husbands around the world?" she politely inquired. When I said yes she prodded me further, asking whether or not I would recommend the book.

To her and to any woman (or man) interested in a pop culture take on infidelity, a look at why couples in other countries 'don't ask, don't tell' when it comes to extramarital affairs, and a lively read that will provide fascinating fodder for cocktail party conversations, I would faithfully say, "I do."

Lust in Translation: Infidelity From Tokyo to Tennessee
by Pamela Druckerman

Paperback, 293pp. ISBN: 978-0-14-311329-4
Penguin Books 2008

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