Customer Reviews for

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper

This is a fascinating memoir by Helene Cooper, a girl born in Liberia, who escapes her homeland to come to the United States as a young teenage. Helene's family are called "Congo People," the privileged descendants of freed American slaves, who founded Liberia in 1822. ...
This is a fascinating memoir by Helene Cooper, a girl born in Liberia, who escapes her homeland to come to the United States as a young teenage. Helene's family are called "Congo People," the privileged descendants of freed American slaves, who founded Liberia in 1822. Her adopted sister, Eunice, is native, or "Country People," and joins the Cooper family as a young girl when her mother gives her up in hopes she will find a better life. Living under the same roof, the girls become the closest of friends, like ordinary pre-teens... before the government upheaval occurs.

Cooper not only tells stories of her youth, but explains the history of her home, especially the politics that surrounded her childhood. She divides the book into two parts, Liberia and America. In Liberia, she lives with her family in a 22-room mansion on Sugar Beach, goes to a private school and knows many men in her family who hold high positions in the government. After the coup in 1980, she arrives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her mother and younger sister. Later, she moves to Greensville, North Carolina, and lives with her father. When she graduates from high school, she enters journalism school at Chapel Hill. I won't go into too many details, because I don't want to ruin the story for those who want to read the book.

One thing I kept wondered about was how Helene was going to follow her dreams and be a foreign correspondent, with all the legal implications of being a Liberian resident. She doesn't go into too much detail about the trials of citizenship, but does tells a story about becoming an U.S. citizen on May 13, 1997.

When I started the book, I had a hard time reading her "Liberian English" and thought it was unnecessary. Halfway through, though, the rhythm of the Liberian voices grew easier to understand, and by the end of the book, I understood her reasoning behind the language she used. What a wonderful story - I highly recommend it!

To learn more about Helene Cooper, listen to an interview she did with Tavis Smiley on Sept. 24, 2008.

posted by storybeader on January 2, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Inspiring

Great memoir.

posted by rudegal on August 30, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Good description of Liberia and the people.

    I learned a lot about the country of Liberia and the life of the people as well as the politics over several generations. The main characters were very well developed. I felt like I lived the experiences presented in this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper

    This is a fascinating memoir by Helene Cooper, a girl born in Liberia, who escapes her homeland to come to the United States as a young teenage. Helene's family are called "Congo People," the privileged descendants of freed American slaves, who founded Liberia in 1822. Her adopted sister, Eunice, is native, or "Country People," and joins the Cooper family as a young girl when her mother gives her up in hopes she will find a better life. Living under the same roof, the girls become the closest of friends, like ordinary pre-teens... before the government upheaval occurs.

    Cooper not only tells stories of her youth, but explains the history of her home, especially the politics that surrounded her childhood. She divides the book into two parts, Liberia and America. In Liberia, she lives with her family in a 22-room mansion on Sugar Beach, goes to a private school and knows many men in her family who hold high positions in the government. After the coup in 1980, she arrives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her mother and younger sister. Later, she moves to Greensville, North Carolina, and lives with her father. When she graduates from high school, she enters journalism school at Chapel Hill. I won't go into too many details, because I don't want to ruin the story for those who want to read the book.

    One thing I kept wondered about was how Helene was going to follow her dreams and be a foreign correspondent, with all the legal implications of being a Liberian resident. She doesn't go into too much detail about the trials of citizenship, but does tells a story about becoming an U.S. citizen on May 13, 1997.

    When I started the book, I had a hard time reading her "Liberian English" and thought it was unnecessary. Halfway through, though, the rhythm of the Liberian voices grew easier to understand, and by the end of the book, I understood her reasoning behind the language she used. What a wonderful story - I highly recommend it!

    To learn more about Helene Cooper, listen to an interview she did with Tavis Smiley on Sept. 24, 2008.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2009

    The House at Sugar Beach was good but could have been great.

    Having spent 10 days last December in Liberia working with an NGO to establish medical clinics, and having seen the devastation sixteen years of anarchy brings, I was interested in Helene Cooper's perspective as a native Liberian. I found the first 100 pages of early Liberian background,and the development of class differences enlightening. Cooper finally began to share her personal reactions the last 50 pages writing of her return visit to Liberi. In between I found an average memoir of the successfull American imigrant story. What I did not see in Cooper's story was a revelation that the huge class differences that developed in Liberia, and the upper class childhood she took for granted was a significant part of revolution and devastation that came to the country she loved.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2009

    Fascinating and Enlightening

    I've always enjoyed Helene Cooper's writing in the Times and her book lived up to my expectations. It was completely absorbing and moved at a good pace. I'm ashamed to admit how little I knew of Liberia. Ms. Cooper's forebears and the country's history are closely intertwined and the story is compelling. The book reads like a novel. There's suspense, charm and resilence.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    Must read this enlightening memoir!!

    Before reading New York Times correspondent Helene Cooper's compelling memoir, I knew next to nothing about Liberia. Now after, I feel I have a deep understanding of Liberia's history, people and its culture. What an incredibly moving story of struggle, courage and determination! Ms. Cooper, a descendant of Liberia's colonizing families, shares her poignant memories of growing up in a wealthy, upper class family. She thoroughly relates the intriguing history of her homeland. In 1980, a bloody coup triggers a shockingly brutal, horrific Civil War and her family immigrates to America. Years pass during which she graduates from college and becomes an Iraq War correspondent. Following a near-death experience, she feels the need to return to her native land, confront her past and search for her long-lost foster sister. Ms. Cooper has magnificently written her inspirational story. It provides a powerful and honest insight into war and the bloodshed and havoc it causes. While her story is distressing and sorrowful at times, it shows the courage and resiliency of the human psyche. Both Ms. Cooper and her mother demonstrate awe-inspiring bravery during times of terror and complete chaos. I absolutely loved this insightful memoir. Liberia's political and historical details were extremely fascinating. The family photographs were very interesting and embellished the story nicely. I highly recommend this captivating book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Inspiring

    Great memoir.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    This book definitely became one of my all time favorites.  Helen

    This book definitely became one of my all time favorites.  Helene truly has a way with words and really makes you feel like you are right there in Liberia with her.  Some parts of the book brought tears to your eyes, while some caused you to actually laugh out loud.  I also loved the way she managed to combine the history from the very start of Liberia with the story of her everyday life.  One part of the book that especially stuck out in my mind was when the four soldiers came to Helene’s house.  The amount of bravery her mom showed when they made their demands, was something we all hope we would be able to do as mothers.  She did not even think twice to keep her daughters safe and out of harms way.  Even after the rape had happened, her mother showed little to no weakness in front of the girls, which after something like that, is very commendable.  I enjoyed I lot about this novel, but one part I specifically enjoyed was Helene’s life in America.  I really connected with her experience of trying to familiar with high school as a teenage girl.  When Helene went to college at UNC, she really made you feel how she felt while still trying to adjust from being so far away from her family.  Her adventures as a “wandering journalist” which was the newspaper’s nickname for her job, always intrigued me.  I loved this part of the story so much, it sparked an interest in me to think about a journalist as my career choice.  I think everyone of all ages should read The House at Sugar Beach.  It is a story of a young girl growing up into a woman and all of her struggles and endeavors along the way.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2012

    Great!

    While your reading about her life you learn a lot about Liberia. It doesnt read like a history book. Well written. Interesting all the way through.

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  • Posted May 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This is the memoir of a girl from Liberia, she lived a privilege

    This is the memoir of a girl from Liberia, she lived a privileged life up until the Liberian government was taken over and she moved to the United States at the age of 12 or 13. The book was interesting, but there was too much information on the ancestry of the author. If this weren't a book club selection, I wouldn't have finished and that would have been a shame because in the end I'm glad I read it.

    I had trouble deciding what to rate this book. It is split into two parts, I decided that the first part was a two with the second part a four, that's how I came up with a three. There is a lot of what the author calls 'Liberian English' that I found difficult to understand, I had to read parts a couple of times to catch what they were saying. It wasn't that the first part of the book wasn't interesting, it just didn't flow.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2011

    excellent, a must read!

    do yourself a favor and read this well written, beautifully descriptive, peice of work

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2010

    A Must Read about Moving Forward!

    The House on Sugar Beach is a touching memoir about the journey of a resilient Liberian named Helene Cooper. She begins her story in Monrovia, Liberia as a young, naïve and extremely privileged girl. Her ancestors on both sides founded and settled Liberia, and had remained political strong holds since then. Her family also adopted Eunice after it was made clear Helene needed a roommate, playmate, and essentially a best friend. Helene's life had been all she had expected, until the corruption of the Liberian government. Thousands of innocent people were being killed, and their house on sugar beach was becoming rapidly unsafe. The raping of her mother and the shooting of her father by rebel soldiers were the turning points that made Helene, her Mother, and Marlene (her younger sister) flee from Liberia to America; leaving her best friend Eunice behind. Moving to America was a huge culture shock for Helene; she was no longer Liberian royalty but an American nobody. She did not fit in at any of the high schools she attended, and spent her lunches in the bathroom stalls avoiding the judgmental kids of the 80's. Years past by and Helene remained in America, even after her mother, sister, and father moved back and forth from Liberia, quickly losing her Liberian roots. In America, she had become a famous journalist writing for the Wall Street Journal, living comfortably in Washington DC with her mother and Marlene right across the street, and most importantly had become an American citizen. Liberia and their corruption were the least of Helene's problems until a life changing moment changed that forever, making her realize Liberia was her home and she needed to find her long lost sister Eunice. The theme expressed in this book is the importance of moving forward but not forgetting to look back. Helene had been put in situations that easily could have ended her life, but she kept moving forward focusing on the future. Helene Cooper did a great job making her memoir relatable. She incorporated humorous jokes, applicable scenarios, and most importantly universal ideas. For example, when she was a teenager in 1980 she talked about her first crush, her Michael Jackson Off the Wall album, and her disco go-go boots; topics everyone could relate to. The only downside to this book is the rushed pace the author is forced to go at in order to include all the important memories during her life. She did not include clear transitions separating important events, making them impossible to tell apart. Unfortunately, this is the only book Helene Cooper has written; however, I recommend this book to everyone who is looking for a light, yet touching read about the importance of moving forward, but not forgetting to look back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2010

    Liberia as seen through a child of the upper class.

    I found this book fascinating. Helene tells her story well, which is so intertwined with the story of Liberia that I got more of a history lesson then I was aware of. This book inspired me to read more about Liberia, it's history and it's people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    A Very Moving History Lesson

    I found Helene Cooper's The House at Sugar Beach very enlightening. It was a unique open window to Liberia. Although I had heard of the back to africa movement, I never new what happened when the freemen arrived. I found the book to be thought provoking and plan to recomend it to my friends and family.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A touching account of a forgotten american experiment

    This biography is fascinating as both a study of pre-conflict Liberia, as well as the society
    which was in power. Liberia is a forgotten, dare I say abandoned, late 1800's US experiment in righting the consequences of the slave trade. The authors personal account, written from the perspective of a young adolescent girl, is truly moving.
    This however, is a personal journey, albeit with great insights (particularly for those who read between the lines) of why this conflict occurred. There is limited discussion of the rise of the militia's etc which threw the county into such a long civil war. This is a fascinating book which will help one understand what Liberia has gone through,although it written from an upper class (elitist although native) perspective. A worthwhile read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2010

    The House At Sugar Beach

    I found this book disappointing. While the author gave a sense of what everyday life was like for her and her family, and gave an account of how her family came to be in Liberia, she did not describe anything concrete about the events leading up to her departure from her homeland, her new life and what led to her feeling an urgent need to revisit the country. She only alluded to these events, and this is not what I was expecting her to do, after reading the summary of the story. I actually thought that she was quite indolent in recounting her life story, and I was left wanting more.....much more!

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  • Posted January 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The House At Sugar Beach opens your eyes and tugs at your heart.

    Helene's touching memoir is honest and breathtaking, the descriptive accounts of her life lets you experience her world in both Liberia and America. A story so vivid and passionate your heart will ache for more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    The House At Sugar Beach

    It was an enjoyable and informative read. Very heartwarming, moving and real.

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  • Posted August 2, 2009

    memoir

    Helene Cooper, author of Sugar Beach has brought Liberia to those who really never knew what it was all about...including myself. In writing this book, she takes a journey back to her childhood in Monrovia where the untouched Liberia existed. While she relives the horrors and devastation of Liberia and it's people, she teaches the reader about the Liberian people their struggles and strengths.
    Looking at things through Helene's eyes makes you appreciate the human spirit. The Cooper family, especially, Mommee are strong, courageous people. Their love for each other, their love for their home and their faith in each other is well depicted in this book.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed this read. It has opened my mind to the suffering of others and shown me that obstacles can be blessings.
    I highly recommend this book to everyone and invite the reader to share this heartwarming journey with Helene and her family.

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  • Posted July 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful Book!

    it's no easy to forget the things that are truly important. It's even easier to ignore them. Helene Cooper not only did not forget, but she did something about it. Inspirational, well written, and gripping. Loved it from beginning to end...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

    I am confused

    What happened to Eunice? I ordered this book because I heard so much talk about it on the radio. After reading the breif description- I am asking "where is Eunice" I know I now have to read this book and find out what happened. Please tell me they found her!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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