A Princess Found:
An American Family, an African Chiefdom,
and the Daughter Who Connected Them All

by Sarah Culberson and Tracy Trivas

St. Martin's Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-312-37879-0.
Reviewed by Penny Leisch
Posted on 10/09/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

As a bi-racial actress, dancer, and teacher, Sarah Culberson gradually comes to realize that she wants, and needs, to know her biological and cultural background. Her need isn't born of deprivation or secrecy. She loves the white family that adopted her as a baby and raised her in West Virginia. Her quest is about personal growth and the truths that make adults feel complete and comfortable in their own skin. This book is a wonderful journey of courage and discovery.

Like all adopted children, Sarah built fantasies and illusions about her biological parents and her adoption. As an adult, she began to understand this and to want to replace myths with facts. Since her adoption was a closed, her parents don't have much information to offer. However, they openly answer Sarah's questions as best they can. To learn more, a search for her birth parents is Sarah's only option. Thought gradually evolves into action after a fellow church member tells Sarah that she knew her birth mother.

The warm welcome she received from her birth mother's family, along with the love and support of her adoptive family, left Sarah hungry to know more and ready to take the risks, although the search wasn't always smooth. At one point, she met with the rejection she feared most and it caused her to back off from her search, but eventually, she faced her fear. She also received encouragement from unexpected places. One such person, a hairdresser from Nigeria, knew African culture and customs and assured Sarah that she'd be welcomed.

As I read about her birth father, Joe Kposowa—his youth, his immense responsibilities, and the gigantic cultural differences—there's no doubt that he made the right choice when he signed the papers to relinquish his right to be Sarah's father. In fact, she may owe her life to that decision. His life story, which is interspersed with Sarah's in alternating chapters, is an incredible battle to survive and serve his people during eleven years of war in Sierra Leone. The colorful detail and depth of information about the war and culture put the reader alongside Joe on his frightening journey.

You'll laugh and cry with Sarah, as you relive her experiences, emotions, struggles, and shock. From meeting a huge new family, being honored with the head of an animal on a tray, phone calls at 3 a.m. requesting money for a bicycle, and introducing her adoptive family to her biological families, this story is a roller coaster ride with all the jolts and jars of a trip down the Bumpe road in Sierra Leone. Fortunately, there are also happy endings.

Sarah's story is an informative journey through history, as well as an enlightening glimpse into the lives of her families as they build a future together. This living history lesson shows the reader how events and decisions that seem far removed from real people can affect everyday life. This is a lesson most of us never internalize. The colorful descriptions and meticulous cross-cultural interpretations by the authors enhance this account and make it accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. My only wish is that the authors had included a bit more information about the correct pronunciation of the interesting African words.

Sarah Culberson is a professional dancer, who grew up in West Virginia. She won an acting scholarship to attend West Virginia University where she earned a B.A. in theater. She graduated from The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco with a Masters in Fine Arts and joined the Los Angeles professional acting and dance community. As co-founder of the non-profit Kposowa Foundation she heads up fundraising to support the children of Sierra Leone.

Tracy Trivas is an English major and author, who lives in California. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College; she won a Dartmouth Graduate Fellowship to study Victorian Literature at Oxford University. She received her Masters Degree in English from Middlebury College.

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