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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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  • 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
  • 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2014

    Absolute Amazing and wonderful

    One of the best books I have EVER read and I read constantly. You won't be sorry after reading it too. You will laugh, and you will cry. You will be in love with Liberia and you will hate it for what has been done. This is a beautiful memoir by a talented author. In light of the recent ebola outbreak, i think about Eunice and her family and pray they will be able to overcome another tragic chapter. Read this book. Now.

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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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  • 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 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 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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  • 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 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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