Global advice on the sweet life

William Sinunu, a flight attendant-turned-social worker, knows that even the most acid, bling-encrusted, status-obsessed souls among us crave a sweet life of enlightened simplicity. To that end, Sinunu’s recent book, «Life Could Be Sweeter: 101 Great Ideas From Around the World for Living a More Rewarding Life» (Marlowe & Company, 2005), contains short vignettes on spirituality, health, sex, child rearing and hospitality from dozens of countries. An American raised in Greece he hopes these happy-ending lessons will help free Americans and other overworked and repressed citizens of the world from what the Japanese call «karoshi,» or a characteristic seen in individuals who live at such a frenetic pace that they become ill. This is a noble intent, one also shared by scores of life enrichment gurus whose tomes line entire sections of book superstores, because high-speed modern times really are soul destroying. And Sinunu writes tenderly and thankfully avoids the preachy tones or googly-eyed mantras employed by self-fascinated suburban yogis who want to Change Your Life. Ultimately, however, the book reads like an extended Hallmark greeting card, offering observations that are predictable instead of revelatory. Most people know, for instance, that we are likely fat because we eat portions of food intended for four, that drinking wine at dinner doesn’t always make us into alcoholics, that spicing up our sex lives will often improve a dull marriage, that being gay is not a big deal anymore, that we should respect our children, know our spirituality and wear clothes that flatter us. Oprah Winfrey and Cosmopolitan have been massaging these topics for at least a decade. The best stories in Sinunu’s collection escape from this feel-good template with a telling detail or a wacky character sparkling with some fun. For instance, in Oslo, land of the understatement (or what the Norwegians call «jante»), Sinunu realizes that his Concord watch and Tumi luggage are flashy signs of his insecurity. In Cyprus, a submissive Greek-Cypriot wife named Chrysoula coats herself with edible body paint and plays the dominatrix with her manly husband Dimitri in order to procure an orgasm of her own after 15 years of unsatisfying matrimonial sex because of Dimitri’s premature ejaculation. Since this collection pivots on happy endings, it’s no surprise that Sinunu finds his «jante» and Chrysoula gets her orgasm. The cheery denouement is standard fare in the self-help genre, but it almost exasperates in what may be the most interesting vignette of all. The story is about Sinunu’s father, who may or may not have been a CIA operative. The rumors start when the family lived in Greece decades ago, when Sinunu was a teenager. Over the years, evidence piles up that Dad may indeed have been in intelligence and Sinunu wonders if he knew his father at all. Then he decides that he knew enough – that his dad was kind and loving. It is a sweet ending – you can almost hear Cat Stevens singing «Father and Son» as you read the last sentence – but the sugar rush does not last long. As in most of these stories, you soon crave the spicier sweetness of revelation.