Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Trailing and Five Flights Up by Kristin Louise Duncombe -- BOOK REVIEW


Trailing and Five Flights Up by Kristin Louise Duncombe

I love what I think of as "random memoirs," meaning memoirs written by ordinary people who can make an interesting story out of their lives. Sometimes these people tell interesting stories because out of the ordinary things happened to them. In the case of "expat" memoirs, a subgenre of the random memoir, the stories are interesting because the author moved to someplace out of the ordinary to most readers. We read them because we like the idea of living there too, or at least visiting.

Whatever the basis for why a random memoir may appeal in the first place, it still has to be well told to make it enjoyable. These books are good (when they are good) only when the memoirist shares more than the Big Facts of the story. We want to see the day to day conflicts the author had to deal with while going through a major event or relocating to a different country; learn universal lessons that resonate in our own lives; and, if we are lucky, enjoy humorous observations that make the story entertaining.

Knowing what I like in a memoir, Kristin Louise Duncombe's two books about life as "trailing" spouse of a Médecins Sans Frontières doctor captured my fancy immediately.

In the first, Trailing, Kristin follows her new husband from New Orleans, where they met, to Africa, before leading him, eventually, to Paris. Kirstin’s story in this book covers both out of the ordinary experiences and ex patriot life. She writes of the difficulties of adjusting to life in Africa when her husband was understandably consumed with his work, the trauma of violent crime and the daily dangers of where they lived, her own struggle with depression, having her first child, marital strife and infidelity, and the personal growth she needed to find her own identity amidst all the commotion around her.

The second book, Five Flights Up, catches up with Kristin and her family eight years later when they are living in Paris. Now with two children, Kristin is also working as a therapist in her own office. But the roots she feels she has finally put down get a hard tug when her husband is offered a new position 250 miles away in Lyon. Although moving to a different city in France may not seem as disruptive as moving to a different continent, like her move to Africa, this move involved uprooting two school-aged children and reestablishing her own career.

In both books, Kristin’s warmth and open personality show on every page. She writes in a straightforward style that does not get in the way of the stories she tells. As with listening to any friend talk about her life, there are moments when you want to shake her and tell her to get a grip or start taking responsibility. And every time, those passages are followed by her writing about how she needed to calm down and stop blaming others (usually her husband) for her situation.

Reading Trailing and Five Flights Up felt like chatting with a friend about the interesting life she made for herself. The pages flew.

1 comment :

  1. What a pleasure to read your review! I liked seeing your take on the set of memoirs - seeing what stood out to you. Seems we are in agreement about the substance and quality of Kristin Duncombe's books!


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