Sunday, March 30, 2008

Turn and face the strange

In her book Lust in Translation, Pamela Druckerman writes about a topic that has served as a central plot device for countless novels, adultery. This is neither a guide to becoming a back door man nor is it a guide to recovery. Rather it is a fascinating study of how different cultures experience and conduct adultery.

Druckerman introduces two key concepts to help explain the differences in reaction and approaches to adultery. She notes that every country has (often multiple) sexual cultures. These cultures determine where, how and the of importance sexual relationships. This is complicated in the United States by the presence of the marriage-industrial complex, the accretion of money making schemes that lead to emotional arms races in relationships from dating to marriage to adultery to divorce.

In the U.S., interviewing people about the topic should be about as easy as getting people to talk honestly about lying or theft, given the social stigma, but in many countries Druckerman finds people much more open than in America. The French, the Russians and others are all too happy to talk about how they manage to conduct or deal with their partner's affairs.

In the course of her studies, she learns a number of surprising things, including the fact that the supposedly chaste Americans and the profane French stray at about the same rates. The Russians cheat like crazy, but they have nothing on the Africans, for whom the prevalence of HIV makes cheating potentially deadly. As you might guess, the would be wayward Hasidim have it pretty rough.

The non-judgmental tone may put off some readers, and voyeurs looking for lurid detail will also be disappointed. Readers who want to take a step back and examine ones own viewpoints, or look at some very different viewpoints, will enjoy the book.

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