Tag Archives: Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach – Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach

From the Publisher:
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.

My Thoughts:

I kind of liked it.  I’m not quite sure why though.  It was an easy read, I’ll give it that.  I also liked the fact that she inserted snippets of history in the memoir.  As for the memoir part, she focuses too much on her childhood (where she presents herself as a spoiled brat), and skips over most of her teenage years and adulthood.  I wish she would have included more details.  There’s also too much repetition, i.e. when talking about her great-great grandparents and other relatives, etc.  I’m divided over whether or not I enjoyed reading this.

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