The House at Sugar Beach

The House at Sugar Beach

In Search of A Lost African Childhood

Book - 2008
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Baker & Taylor
The author traces her childhood in war-torn Liberia and her reunion with a foster sister who had been left behind when her family fled the region.

Simon and Schuster
Journalist Helene Cooper examines the violent past of her home country Liberia and the effects of its 1980 military coup in this deeply personal memoir and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Helene Cooper is “Congo,” a descendant of two Liberian dynasties—traced back to the first ship of freemen that set sail from New York in 1820 to found Monrovia. Helene grew up at Sugar Beach, a twenty-two-room mansion by the sea. Her childhood was filled with servants, flashy cars, a villa in Spain, and a farmhouse up-country. It was also an African childhood, filled with knock foot games and hot pepper soup, heartmen and neegee. When Helene was eight, the Coopers took in a foster child—a common custom among the Liberian elite. Eunice, a Bassa girl, suddenly became known as “Mrs. Cooper’s daughter.”

For years the Cooper daughters—Helene, her sister Marlene, and Eunice—blissfully enjoyed the trappings of wealth and advantage. But Liberia was like an unwatched pot of water left boiling on the stove. And on April 12, 1980, a group of soldiers staged a coup d'état, assassinating President William Tolbert and executing his cabinet. The Coopers and the entire Congo class were now the hunted, being imprisoned, shot, tortured, and raped. After a brutal daylight attack by a ragtag crew of soldiers, Helene, Marlene, and their mother fled Sugar Beach, and then Liberia, for America. They left Eunice behind.

A world away, Helene tried to assimilate as an American teenager. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she found her passion in journalism, eventually becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She reported from every part of the globe—except Africa—as Liberia descended into war-torn, third-world hell.

In 2003, a near-death experience in Iraq convinced Helene that Liberia—and Eunice—could wait no longer. At once a deeply personal memoir and an examination of a violent and stratified country, The House at Sugar Beach tells of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence with unflinching honesty and a survivor's gentle humor. And at its heart, it is a story of Helene Cooper’s long voyage home.

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2008
Edition: 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed
ISBN: 9780743266253
Characteristics: 354 p. : ill., map ; 21 cm


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Oct 19, 2017

recommended by wendy L

zenzee Jun 29, 2015

Once I began the story I could not place the book down. Yes, it is a tough read and bittersweet but so is life. It was refreshing not to have yet another "immigrant tale" and "American dream" narrative. Instead the author takes you on a personal journey of growth, courage and perseverance. She shows you several women learning to survive against the improbable odds of civil war and social unrest. In the end the family remains intact and growing.

hbrown10011 Jun 29, 2015

In all sincerity, I read through one third of this book and was completely underwhelmed. No tension, no conflict, no nothing on which to go on. The author seems to just ramble on and on about her rich, privileged life.

Hang in there, however, as this memoir turns out to be insightful and inspiring. Now I want to learn everything about the history of Liberia.

WVMLStaffPicks Oct 26, 2014

You will learn about the tragedy of a war-torn Liberia in Helene Cooper's moving memoir. When rebellion broke out in 1980, her "Congo" (direct descendants of freed American slaves) upper-middle-class family was forced to flee Liberia, leaving Eunice, her adopted Liberian sister, behind. Highly recommended.

Jun 16, 2014

This poignant memoir is essentially in two parts. The first part deals with the author Helene Cooper's privileged childhood in Liberia and the second part her ascension as a journalist in the U.S.
In the first part we hear of Helene's life at sugar beach - her home which has 22 rooms and is a mansion by the sea. Her family also has flashy cars and are tended to by servants. She even has a foster sister to be her companion. Unfortunately this blissful childhood came to an abrupt end when ca coup overthrew the ruling party and Helene and her family had to flea Liberia.
The second part deals with Helene's angst in her U.S schools and then her meteoric rise in the world of journalism which culminates in her return to Liberia as a U.S citizen. She confronts the dangers of civil war torn Liberia and sets foot at her home, Sugar Beach. She can now cherish the memory of her childhood, "A beautiful dancer disrobing as we bounced along the road away from civilization."
I enjoyed the book and it gave me a good idea of Liberian History.

ChristchurchLib Jun 09, 2014

"In The House at Sugar Beach, diplomatic and political correspondent Helene Cooper evokes the soul of Liberia and details its terrible devastation led by rebel leader Samuel K. Doe. When Doe accomplished a coup against Liberia's elite leadership, "American Liberian" families like Cooper's suffered injury, rape, and death. The Coopers fled to the U.S., leaving behind a foster child, Eunice, and establishing a new life for themselves. Journalist Cooper avoided reporting on Liberia -- until she realized she had to return there to revisit her childhood home and try to find Eunice. "Elegant and eloquent," says Kirkus Reviews." History and Current Events June 2014 newsletter

Jan 08, 2012

Cooper is an adept story-teller, and her prose kept me riveted and curious. I lived not far from Sugar Beach in Monrovia and loved the colloquial Liberian English and reminders of landmarks. A great story with important lessons. I highly recommend this easy read.

kelleypoole Oct 29, 2011

EXCELLENT READ! I'm not much on autobiographies but this is so engaging!!! Definitely recommend it.

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