As I write this, the summer Olympics are just around the corner. So it is an ideal time for this memoir to appear. Dominque Moceanu remains the youngest American gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal. Of Romanian heritage, she was raised in what she describes as a harsh environment with cultural traditions that set her apart. She also had a very strict father prone to rages, a domineering coach, and a strange childhood.
I'm not sure why Moceanu decided to open her book with a chapter titled, "Sisters", a section focusing on the discovery of a sister she'd never known before and one who was given up for adoption by Moceanu's parents. She does introduce the chapter by listing the highlights of her life - winning an Olympic gold medal, a court battle against her parents, etc. Still, the discovery of her sister is an intriguing and somewhat baffling choice for the start of the book. Instead, the saga of meeting her sister - and their continued connection- could well have made a fascinating book by itself.
It isn't until the second chapter that Moceanu describes her background and roots - her parent's courtship and marriage and Moceanu's birth (which is only noted at the end of the chapter).
And then...finally...the book focuses on Moceanu. Quite logically, she begins with her childhood. She felt very different, an outsider. Because of her parent's traditions, the food, clothing, and customs at home were unlike her peers. She took solace in gymnastics and was fortunate enough to excel at the sport.
When she was accepted by the Karolyis, she found Bela Karolyi to be a tyrant who was all too eager to tell Moceanu's father about any mistakes, however small, in the gym. Memories of a turbulent life are mixed in with chapters focusing on Dominique's sister. I found this to be somewhat confusing and out of sequence..
But Off Balance still held my attention. Although gymnastic routines may be beautiful, the brutal world in the gym, the long hours, and working through extreme pain add perspective to life behind the beauty. Most of Off Balance is grim but at moments there are flashes of joy. This is Moceanu's truth and while readers may hope for a different view the life described seems honest and real.
I have no idea if the facts are accurate when it comes to gymnastic training. But her resilience and courage, hard won, is inspiring. I've left out many details because I don't want to spoil some surprises, especially one about Moceanu's sister. There is also a deeper look at Moceanu's home life, her experience with Karolyi, and participation in the Olympics. I'm deducting one star because of the uneven pace and chronology.