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

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

by Helene Cooper
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Overview

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


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 nolonger. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743266246
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Helene Cooper is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, having previously served as White House Correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, and the assistant editorial page editor. Prior to moving to the Times, Helene spent twelve years as a reporter and foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of the bestselling memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, and Madame President, a biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lives in the Washington, DC area.

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House at Sugar Beach 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
storybeader More than 1 year ago
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.
HT16 More than 1 year ago
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.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
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!
rudegal More than 1 year ago
Great memoir.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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Jacquelyn Lee More than 1 year ago
do yourself a favor and read this well written, beautifully descriptive, peice of work
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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