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The House at Sugar Beach: Book summary and reviews of The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach

In Search of a Lost African Childhood

by Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper X
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2008
    368 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"The stories themselves are fascinating, but a flatness prevails - perhaps one that mirror's the author's experience." - Publishers Weekly.

"A great book discussion selection" - Library Journal.

"Starred Review. Elegant and eloquent, and full of news from places about which we know too little." - Kirkus Reviews.

You must read Cooper's wildly tender memoir. It's that rarest of things, a personal story that transcends the people, the place, the world it is talking about and becomes a universal tale about the thousands of segregations, small and large, subtle and obvious, that shred all of us. It is beautifully written, utterly unselfconscious, and without a hint of self-pity. Cooper has an unfailing ear for language and a poet's tender heart. A powerful, important book that will teach you not only something about war and love, race and power, loss and hope, but also a great deal about yourself." - Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood and The Legend of Colton H. Bryant.

"Among Cooper's aims in becoming a journalist were to reveal the atrocities committed in her native country. With amazing forthrightness, she has done so, delivering an eloquent, if painful, history of the African migratory experience." - Ms. Magazine.

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