I'm not interested in dancing or Cuba. To speak plainly, I didn't expect to enjoy this book. But enjoy it I did.
From the cover, the book appears to be about the life of a fabulously talented dancer who begins his life is dank poverty in Cuba, and fight his way out of all that. Sounds like a well worn idea, right?
But it's far more interesting than that. Carlos Acosta actually didn't want to be a ballet dancer, and tried to stop being a dancer several times. He almost succeeded.
The book isn't really about dancing. You don't need to know anything about dancing to appreciate the soul of this man. Acosta could have had the same life and travels and written the same basic book even had he been a swimming star, a soccer star, film star, baseball star, a great break dancer or singer. The core question of the book would still have been the same: What use is ambition and earthly success if you lose your family and your sense of belonging in the world? Does having talent give you a responsibility to fulfill your potential?
Acosta comes off as a very likeable guy, even as he describes himself doing rather unlikeable things, at times. He is poor but does not hate poverty. He has troubles in his family but still feels that he belongs with them. He has troubles with his country but wants to stay. He acknowledges that he's in the minority-- that lots of his countrymen want to escape. He paints no rosy picture of life in Cuba. He sees the problems, he just doesn't mind them.
His family, teachers, and friends relentlessly push him to fulfill a destiny that they insist is his. At times he also becomes ambitious to dance well, but his thoughts always return to his family and the beloved dirty, terrible, dangerous neighborhood of his childhood. He travels far, but always finds a way to go back home. Perhaps the title should have been No Way to Stay Home.
I like Acosta because he doesn't buy into the philosophy of ambition for ambition's sake. Yet to please the people he loves he must leave the people he loves and appear to love something else. How he comes to terms with this makes for a book I felt compelled to read in one sitting.