An enormously appealing memoir despite a slow start.

Five Flights Up


Duncombe (Trailing, 2012), an expat therapist who specializes in uprooted families, writes about her own family’s transition from Paris to Lyon, France.

This exceedingly readable memoir begins on a somewhat sour note. After eight years in Paris, the author’s husband, Tano, took a job in the smaller city of Lyon, insisting that he’d had “enough of the big city life. Enough of the cost of living. Enough of our family of four crammed into a 635-square-feet-apartment.” Duncombe was a sort of professional expat herself due to her father’s career with the U.S. Foreign Service, so she was more suited to the nomadic life than most. She even worked as a therapist, advising families on how to handle just the sort of transition she now faced. But giving advice is often easier than living it. Lyon, she says, was “a French San Diego….I have never seen so many people in spandex.” Things began to look up, though, when she found an enormous—and enormously charming—apartment in a shamelessly expensive neighborhood. One major drawback: the titular five flights of stairs—a vertigo-inducing climb, with or without groceries. Still, once Duncombe focuses on her creation of a new life, her writing undergoes a remarkable transformation. Pre-move, her tone comes off as complaining, as Tano wants to live in the suburbs, and she wants to live in town: “Without French driver’s licenses we cannot get a car, and without a car there is no way we can live in the rural suburbs, and this suits me just fine,” she notes. But with Paris in the rearview mirror (mostly), her observations become much sharper and her tone a lot livelier. She’s also funny; in a scene at her little boy’s after-school playgroup, for example, she dubs a triumvirate of sleek French mothers/mistresses “The Charlie’s Angels.” Her impression of another group, “the Louis Vuitton plastic surgery trio,” is less favorable: “frail ankles and age-spotted hands give them away as much older women.” Although this book may get off to a stumbling start, patient readers will find this a smart story for smart women (and men).

An enormously appealing memoir despite a slow start.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5234-7226-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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