Book review: How the World Makes Love

Travel Books & Movies — By on December 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm

By Ellen Wernecke
Special to Lost Girls World

Franz Wisner took lemons and made limoncello. After being stood up at the altar, the former press secretary and lobbyist took his honeymoon anyway and turned a humorous essay about it into his first memoir, Honeymoon With My Brother. As he meets newlyweds and the affianced all over in How The World Makes Love, his own experiences undoubtedly color his view on what makes people swoon from here to Auckland.

Like all good sequels How The World Makes Love makes frequent reference to Honeymoon With My Brother, but isn’t redundant. His sophomore book mixes his personal tale with cultural analysis on romance in different countries across the globe. A few years older and wiser, Franz is living with his brother in Los Angeles, but cautiously dating again while planning to visit several countries with the mission of interviewing residents about love, sex, and marriage. Franz isn’t particularly worried about getting into a serious relationship himself, and even seems to relish the prospect of a few international flings. Then he meets Tracy, an actress and a single mom, just before one of his trips, and contemplates adding an American love story to his research.

The entrance of Tracy as a character is serendipitous to Wisner’s book (and, spoiler alert, his life), which at the beginning feels a little aimless. Those with wanderlust will envy Wisner’s ability to travel (thanks to the largesse of a much-missed grandmother) but wonder how he chose his destinations, particularly when his first trip to Brazil involves two romances and skimps on the analysis. Somehow, Tracy’s presence allows him to focus more in his retelling of his international travels, from the bar scene in Prague to the orphans of Botswana, on how love works in the lives of ordinary people.

When it comes to connecting with locals, Wisner is a model citizen, even when he’s not trying to romance them. The ease with which he talks to old married couples and young parents alike makes him an ideal sounding board for the romantic gripes of the world. (One notable exception: in Egypt, he refers to the difficulty of finding women willing to be interviewed by a non-relative male, and because of this its discussion overall feels slightly airless in a way that the other chapters don’t.)

The author strings together remarkable similarities — for example, even in countries where affairs are common, loyalty and fidelity are held up as the gold standard in a potential mate, and the growing independence of women has changed the way they pursue and decide whether to commit to relationships. If technology has made some aspects of love easier, like Wisner’s correspondence with Tracy while on the road, it can often serve as an even greater distraction from a lasting bond. But the author still revels in the differences of love across borders by featuring lists like “Ten Global Threats To Love” (texting is first, banana dictators a disappointing seventh) and “The World’s Worst Places to Be Gay” (Washington D.C.: “The laws are fine, but the clothes are miserable”).

How The World Makes Love proves Wisner’s boots-on-the-ground writing style endures beyond Wisner’s own struggles. Prepare for a few odd looks when reading this book on public transit, but it may inspire readers to take a romantic vacation of their own.


When not circling the globe, Ellen Wernecke, who regularly reviews books for The Onion A.V. Club and Publishers Weekly, is happy to call New York City home. She blogs about books, and traveling with them.

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  • Kirsten says:

    Off to buy this book, sounds like one I would LOVE!!!

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