August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

by David Elliot Cohen

“Shortly after my fortieth birthday,” writes Cohen, “I began to experience the first twinges of spiritual uneasiness.” Oh, no, you groan, not another book about some guy’s midlife. crisis. Let’s all guess what happens next: He dumps his wife and kids and takes off in search of exotic locales—and, with any luck, a couple of compliant supermodels.

Wrong. Cohen, an editor and writer, set off on a voyage of self-discovery all right, but he did so in the company of Devi, his extremely babeish spouse, and their three children, Kara, 8, Willie, 7, and Lucas, 2. And he got a pretty entertaining book out of it, compiled from the e-mails the Cohens sent regularly to friends—some skeptical, some supportive—back home in California.

Traipsing the Costa Rican forest, white-water rafting in Zimbabwe, or checking out a camel market in Pakistan, this “American family Robinson” (plus babysitter) learns valuable life lessons—for instance, stay away from Florence in the tourist season. In Paris, they visit the Louvre; in Italy, they take in a museum devoted to medieval torture instruments. Guess which one got the unanimous rave from the kids. (They had to leave home to figure this out?) Starting out as the kind of innocents abroad who cause the natives to snicker, they eventually make the tricky transition from tourists to travelers, and even if you would never want to do this yourself, they are charming travel companions. (Simon & Schuster, $24)

Bottom Line: Nice detour from a well-worn path

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