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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.

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 he...
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!

posted by trini_jc on February 5, 2010

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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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  • Posted April 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An autobiography that reads like a novel...

    Helene Cooper's autobiography has all of the elements of a "can't put it down novel." She gives us the history of how Liberia was settled, up to the present, with the war-torn country and its images of child soldiers. One can empathize with her family, with its upper-class status, with whom she idenfies, but at the same time she understood that their days were numbered. When her family was enjoying its upper class status,one enjoyed hearing the language, saw the country and colors of Liberia and its relationship to Africa and America, and enjoyed the customs while knowing that a storm was brewing. One wonders and hopes that her family will survive the upheavals in Liberia.
    Everyone will root for the family as they struggle in America and try to decide which country in which to live.

    The portrait she gives of her family is uncompromising, but beautiful, from her parents to her sisters, cousins, grandparents and friends. I loved the way she dedicated the book to her mother, and after reading the book, I understand why. Her mother is a heroic African woman.

    I enjoyed the book very much and hope to read more from Helene Cooper, including her editorials for the New York Times as White House Correspondent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Excellent Book

    I enjoyed reading this book. It made me think back to my own childhood and imagine what it would have been like if I had gone through a similar situation. My only criticism is I felt the ending was a little flat. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Posted January 26, 2009

    A very different perspective on living in Africa...

    This is Helene Cooper's memoir of growing up Congo in Liberia in the 1970's. The first part of the book is a rare glimpse of the elite and privileged in Africa. Helene grew up in a 22 room mansion with servants and exotic vacations. I really enjoyed this very different perspective on living in Africa and I felt that Helene does a commendable job of writing as honestly as possible, even when it shows herself or her family in a poor light. <BR/><BR/>Much of this part of the book includes history of her family and that of Liberia. Her ancestors were freed blacks from America who returned to Liberia to start over. <BR/>Then, in 1980, there was a brutal coup in Liberia and many of the wealthy elite were murdered. Helene fled the country with her mother and sister leaving behind an adopted sister. The second half of the book is a look at what its like to be an immigrant in America. Helene has to deal with an abrupt and difficult change in her status and lifestyle. Additionally she struggles with feelings of guilt and fear for her family still in Liberia, especially Eunice. Eventually she becomes a journalist and returns to Liberia. <BR/><BR/>With this book Helene Cooper introduced me to Liberia. Her willingness to be honest and revel the most personal details of her childhood make this an extraordinary read. I listened to the audio version of this book which is read by Helene herself. Hearing the lyrical Liberian English really added an extra level of personal connection for me. Helene is the rare author who is also a superb reader. I hope she continues with the story of her life! I am interested to hear where she, Eunice, and Marlene end up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Eye-opening look at life in Liberia

    Though Helene Cooper readily admits that her view of life in Liberia was very different than that of the "Country People", her ability to recall her perceptions of complex events through the eyes of a child is quite remarkable. Though I have known a few people from Liberia in my lifetime, they have not shared much about their lives before coming to the United States. I have a newfound respect for the hardships that Liberians endured during the coup d'etat and subsequent deterioration of the country's economy and infrastructure. Helene Cooper seems to have fully embraced her new American identity, but we must not forget that there are still millions of Liberians were not fortunate as she was in obtaining citizenship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2008

    An Eye-Opening Read

    I just completed this book and thank the author for sharing such a personal story that weaved together so many elements of American and Liberian history and pride. I learned much that I did not know in reading this memoir and it far exceeds the typical recollection of stories and events. Helene Cooper goes above and beyond to make sure the reader has context for her family's story and the Liberian political climate that was the source of her American citizenship today. Brilliant writer! Brilliant read! Thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2008

    Looking for a great read--read here!

    This was a really great read. I love reading about other cultures, historical events, and just having a great story. This book includes all of those things. Written with grace, the author is honest about her opinions and memories of Liberia. Definitely check this book out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    IT IS A GREAT BOOK

    I picked this book up at a starbucks hoping it might keep my interest. Well i was right it can grab you and really keep you reading. It is informative, educational, loving, and sad. She really can describe everything, you can almost see all of it especially sugar beach. Try it you will lke it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2008

    More than you Paid for It

    I don't think I can fully do justice in a review to this book. I'm a lower class, white female, and let me say, it does not matter one iota your gender, class, or race when you read this book. We ALL can learn, realize, and give thanks for this book. Helene Cooper is so candid, and remarkably intelligent. Yet she conveys her privileged upbringing, her turbulent move to the States, and her search for the redemption she so clearly think she needs, with the simplicity of a child, and the grace of an artist. I know you will not regret reading this book.

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