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Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina    by Michaela De Prince & Elaine De Prince order for
Taking Flight
by Michaela De Prince
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's an inspiring memoir - Taking Flight by (daughter and mother) Michaela and Elaine De Prince. I would compare it to a Cinderella story, except that Cinderella's childhood was in no way as harsh as young Mabinty's (she was renamed Michaela after her adoption), and the latter's dream was fulfilled through her own talents, training and discipline rather than by a prince.

Mabinty was born in Sierra Leone, Africa, only child of loving parents, 'with a skin condition called vitiligo' which made her look like 'a baby leopard'. The other village children rejected her because of it. When civil war struck in 1991, her father was murdered by debils (what the villagers called the revolutionary army). After her mother died, Mabinty's abusive uncle abandoned her at the Safe Haven Orphanage, where children were prepared for US adoption. At age four, she spoke several languages and could already read and write Arabic.

Some of the Aunties who ran the orphanage were cruel and Mabinty was again rejected by the other children but found a lifelong friend (and eventually sister) in another Mabinty (who became Mia when they were both adopted by the same family). Mabinty/Michaela witnessed the vicious murder of a beloved teacher by debils who eventually took over the orphanage. Children and adults fled overland (seeing 'hundreds of dead bodies' en route) to Guinea and on to Ghana, where their adoptions took place. All that Michaela carried with her was a treasured magazine photograph of a ballerina.

Michaela describes the many adjustments that she, Mia and later a third child from the orphanage, Mariel, had to make to life in the United States. It sounds like they were extremely fortunate in the loving kindness of the family that took them in and encouraged all the children's talents. Michaela also describes her progression in the world of ballet and growing awareness of discrimination and the challenges a black dancer faces in becoming a professional ballerina. And she shares the family's agony over the loss of her older brother Ted.

It's an incredible story of coming of age and learning to cope with a great talent, moving from shyness to confidence and from wariness to being more open emotionally. Michaela De Prince starred in a ballet documentary, First Position and now dances with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. Hers is an extraordinary journey that will touch your heart.

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