Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The House at Sugar Beach” as Want to Read:
The House at Sugar Beach
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The House at Sugar Beach

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  5,986 Ratings  ·  858 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published September 2nd 2008 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2008)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The House at Sugar Beach, please sign up.

Recent Questions

This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Blood River by Tim ButcherThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieChasing the Devil by Tim Butcher
1,296 books — 1,336 voters
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsBreaking Dawn by Stephenie MeyerThe Host by Stephenie MeyerThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferCity of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Best Books of 2008
1,556 books — 6,878 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 31, 2009 Cassy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cassy by: The unversity's Common Reading program
If you enjoyed this book, you should check out My Colombian War by Silvana Paternostro. Their stories are remarkably similar: (a) the narrator is part of the rich, privileged class in a predominantly poor country. (b) Her ancestors are important founders of her country and she lives a charmed childhood up until increasing violence forces her to flee the country in her teens – (c) leaving behind the lower-class girl her parents had semi-adopted to be her friend. (d) She immerses herself in the Am ...more
Nov 10, 2008 Nathaniel rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa
This book is soft, tentative and predictable. It is 85% Helene Cooper and 15% Liberia. Though Cooper is a reputable journalist, this is her memoir; it lingers on her girlish crushes, her favorite dresses and the troubled marriage of her aristocratic parents. The second part is an unexceptional account of Cooper's semi-assimilation into American culture, starting midway through her high school years and tracing her deliberate mission to become an influential foreign correspondent. Throughout this ...more
Sep 10, 2008 Demetria rated it really liked it
If you are interested in learning a thing or two about Liberia, definitely pick up this book. Helene Cooper does a wonderful job of telling her family's very interesting story while putting everything into a historical context. I learned a lot more about Liberia by reading this book and it has inspired me to learn more.
Oct 16, 2008 J.I. added it
Shelves: read-2008
Liberia, if you didn't know, and I sure didn't, was founded by free slaves in the 1800's. Like most civilizations, they immediately divided the country into a caste system, the cultivated American born and the native, "country" people. According to history, this eventually resulted in a coup, no real surprise.

This memoir is written by one of the little girls that grew up in the upper class of this society until she was a teen. Her family had more or less adopted a "country" girl, and they became
Nov 16, 2008 Elie rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
I'd like to excuse Cooper's failure to grapple meaningfully with the themes that should be all over a book about a girl growing up in pre-war Liberia as a character weakness, which is how she presents it, but I can't. To constantly focus on the superficial as a defense mechanism against disparity and atrocity makes for a poor memoir. The "Acknowledgments" section is full of thanks to people who encouraged her to delve deeper and talk about the big picture - I can only imagine what a disaster an ...more
Mar 25, 2008 Angela rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2008
I nabbed this book from my husband's to-read pile one afternoon, thinking I'd read a few pages. I had a hard time putting it down and had to claim it as my own for a few days.

Ms. Cooper's memoir is gentle and wry, which is probably pretty difficult to do when you are writing about one of the most volatile areas in recent memory.

I liked it best when she wrote about her family and her own experience, but the "history lessons" she inserted were relevant, and certainly necessary for a reader (like
I am going to respectfully give this book a miss for now. I started reading the book and just could not connect to it. Not the right moment to read it. The violence and journalistic approach to the story is getting me down.

Will try again later.
Oct 06, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2013
4.5 stars, rounding up to 5. Sometimes books make you confront uncomfortable truths about yourself, such as how impossibly narrow your world view might be. I’m ashamed to admit I knew little of Liberia and its history other than “Scary place…I think you get murdered there?” I had no idea it began with freed slaves from America, that it was contemplated as an American colony. No clue.

The author is a well-respected journalist who grew up in Liberia’s upper class, her origins a self-described “one
Feb 07, 2013 Glen rated it really liked it
It has been my privilege and pleasure to know many Liberians who have moved to the Spokane area in the past several years. Some are among my dearest friends. I knew quite a bit, I thought, about the dreadful civil war that fragmented their country and sent so many into exile and still many others to their graves from conversations and participating in gatherings with them. Books like Russell Banks' novel "The Darling" filled in some blanks, and my own research filled in still others, but Helene ...more
Aug 25, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: memoir lovers, those who enjoy reading about Africa
Helene Cooper lived an idyllic life in Sugar Beach, Liberia a proud descendant of Liberia's founding fathers. The trouble begins when Helene's parents divorce, and shortly after a coup takes place upsetting all semblance of order for the wealthier segment of society to which Helene's family belongs. The book details the fight for power between the Country folk and the Congos and the resulting pain and persecution by the winning faction, Helene's family's resulting journey to the U.S. and her dis ...more
Melissa Andrews
Apr 08, 2009 Melissa Andrews rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I never paid much attention to the various struggles going on in Liberia and this provided a graphic picture. It also gave unique insight into the creation of Liberia as an American "colony".

The book touches many issues that could generate interesting discussions:

* Why would blacks who knew first-hand the problems with slavery and class institute those same structures in their new country?
* Why do people think they should go into other people's countries/lands and take them
Nov 27, 2009 Kristy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. In spite of a slow start, this was a beautifully written and poignant memoir. I not only felt like I experienced an important history lesson in learning about Cooper's rich family tree and the founding of Liberia, but I also felt like I came to understand more deeply the way in which history constantly demands that women carry profound emotional burdens.

Cooper, who grows up as a happy Congo person in Liberia, has to flee the country with her mom and her sister after a major coup turns the c
Julie Christine
What a tremendous memoir. It is vivid, full of life and passion, taking the tragedy that is Liberia and wrapping it in memories of a childhood graced with laughter and love. Cooper tells her unique history, as a child of privilege and opportunity living in a family compound outside Monrovia, Liberia in the 1970s. She is forced to flee with her mother and youngest sister in 1980, after Samuel Doe and his rebel soldiers staged a coup d'etat and assassinated President Tolbert; she would not return ...more
Reading this little gem, divided into bite-sized chapters of varying topic and portent, was akin to chatting with Ms. Cooper over afternoon tea. Quite enjoyable; though not always the topics. Riots and war are nothing to chuckle over. Rather, Cooper's candid openness about her childhood was the joyous element. Which often entailed a few humorous antics or spoiled-brat self-incriminations.

Prior to reading The House on Sugar Beach, I knew very little about either the author or Liberia and its Ame
Mar 19, 2009 Karlan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, ya
This extraordinary memoir deserves all the rave reviews it has received. The author skillfully combines stories about her own life with the history of Liberia. The destruction of the country during the fighting seems inevitable as she describes the problems which existed there from the early 19th C. on. Don't miss this one.
Jan 20, 2013 Beth rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, memoir
Before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about Liberia. Just a vague sense that its recent history had been violent, and the recollection that it was the African country where Lincoln had wanted to relocate the freed slaves after the Civil War. I had no idea that its history was so tied to America — that a group of freed slaves left the coast of the United States in the 1820s and crossed the Atlantic to establish a colony on these West African shores. By the 1970s (when the story in this ...more
Faith Spinks
Helene Cooper grew up in Liberia the daughter of two historically important Congo elite families. However her idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end on April 12, 1980 when Liberia's civil war began. As members of the Congo class were being imprisoned, shot, tortured or raped Helene and her family fled to the US but left behind in Liberia their foster daughter Eunice.

Helene's memoir recounts the cultural history of Liberia alongside anecdotes from her own childhood, through her relocation to the
Oct 27, 2010 Ann rated it it was amazing
I have been fascinated with Liberia since I read Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's autobiography, "This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President." and saw the documentary, “Pray the devil back to hell.” They were stories about how the courageous women of Liberia went on strike to stop the endless wars, a marvelous example of non-violent protest that led to the election of Ellen Sirleaf.

We hear about Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and the Civil War protests here in the 196
Sep 10, 2013 Vanessa rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
Good book overall, but waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much history in the beginning. I found the history very early on in the book to be interesting (especially about how Liberia came to be) but then she gets mired down into way too much detail. I couldn't keep any of the people straight or what their significance was. I finally had to start skipping through all the history parts until I came to dialogue. We read this for book club and only 2 out of 7 people finished the book because they couldn't ...more
Stacey Peters
Apr 23, 2010 Stacey Peters rated it liked it
Shelves: black-experience
I have always been interested in the Liberian "experiment" and how it started. This book gives an interesting historical background of the founders. After that, I was really disappointed with the memoir aspect of this novel. The author gives a very detailed perspective on her life and her people, less on the indigenous natives of Liberia or "townies". Something was missing, a sort of compassion for the people who could not/ or would not leave. It was written so matter of factly. As a youth, she ...more
Mikey B.
This is an autobiography of a girl who grew up among the privileged classes of Liberia. Her family had servants for cooking, doing the dishes… Her entire world vanished abruptly in 1980 when a coup forced them to flee to the U.S. The events around the coup convulse the life of the author. This and the description of her return to Liberia 23 years later to re-visit her native land are the most intriguing and personal parts of the book.

The narrative concerned with her years of entitlement in Liber
Oct 03, 2008 Dave rated it really liked it
This tender memoir shows us a side of society that exists in many African countries but is seldom portrayed--the upper middle class. I found it refreshing to read about the lives of Africans of means who aren't embezzlers and tin-pot dictators or blood-crazed war lords bent on carving out a kingdom from the flesh of their victims. Helene Cooper's family certainly had its share of flawed characters, but their lifestyle wasn't vastly different from Americans in similar economic circumstances.

Just A. Bean
Jun 05, 2014 Just A. Bean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Excellent exploration of both Liberia's history and a young woman's struggle figure out what that history means to her, and how she defines herself in regard to it. The author did a great job of weaving the two together, so we could see at the same time what she was seeing at the time v. what people from other classes were seeing v. the wider political and historical context. Very compellingly written, and had the kind of self-awareness that I don't see in enough memoirs.

I had this read aloud by
Jan 13, 2009 Staci rated it liked it
Recommends it for: most people
I liked it. Didn't LOVE it. It was an easy read, thanks probably to the fact that the author is a journalist. I appreciated the history in the book. Rather than just launch into what a crazy time it is in Liberia, she sets up the book very well by telling how it came to be that way. I was amazed at how a small turn of events can cause chaos that lasts decades. The author herself admits that when things get tough, she focuses on other things, and I think that comes across in this book. Even thoug ...more
May 21, 2017 Bonnieb rated it liked it
A Wall Street Journal reporter tells her story of growing up Liberian and escaping the violence and revolutions of the 1980s. One of this memoir’s greatest strengths is the evolving story of the insanity of Liberia as it devolves into chaos and anarchy. It is also a mirror into what it means to be a refugee in America, especially one of color. Cooper fought hard to be an ‘American’, trying to forget her genetic and cultural background...but slowly ’succeeds’. The greatest strength of this memoir ...more
Barbara Nutting
May 22, 2017 Barbara Nutting rated it it was amazing
Having just read The Underground Railroad this book is almost slavery in reverse. They both begin in the 1820's - UGRR is the escaping of slaves, while Sugar Beach is the story of freed slaves leaving America to colonize in their native Africa. This book covers the same time frame and events as Madame President but from an entirely different viewpoint. What a remarkable woman to get from war torn Liberia to the top of her career at the WSJ and NYT. That's determination! Ms Cooper has done for Li ...more
Apr 12, 2017 Jessica rated it really liked it
Reading it now. Currently crossing into that rubicon where I can't put the damn thing down. Dishes piled in my sink will have to wait. The author is a friend of a friend. The author's sister once saved me from an angry neighborhood dog. In a way I'm reading this out of nosey neighbor-ness, and in another way I'm reading it because, well, hell, I do love a well-written memoir.
Jeffrey Taylor
May 12, 2010 Jeffrey Taylor rated it did not like it
I was supremely disappointed by this book. It tells us little of value about the author. It probably misleads us about the revolutions in Liberia. It's writing style is simplistic. It's a vacuous text told by and empty voice.

Like the good pre-revolutionary aristocrat, Cooper tells us about her social position and her family network before she begins to describe herself. She derives importance and self worth from her roots. Her roots were deeply embedded in the exploitation of native Liberians wh
Oct 11, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it
i loved this book, but I have to admit that I listened to an audio edition read by the author and I think that added to the impact of the story. Hope, I have the audio and will lend it to you if you would like. Helene Cooper is a daughter of Liberia. In fact, she is "Congo people"--a privileged member of the ruling elite in Liberia. The Congo people are descendents of the free blacks who were transported back to Africa in the 1820s and 1830s by the American Colonization Society which purchased l ...more
Jan 20, 2010 Becky rated it liked it
Recommended to Becky by: book group
"I did what I always did when something seismic happened that I couldn't deal with. I concentrated on the superficial."
- This quote describes a good half of the book. It's a story about a girl growing up, but she just happens to grow up in Liberia and her childhood gets stolen from her by the horrors of war.
Having not known much about the events of Liberian history, this memoir made the situation there very real to me. I am amazed at the ability to survive that the people there have. I don't ha
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
African-American ...: My opinion of The house of Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper 1 14 Apr 28, 2016 04:07AM  
Memoirs and Biogr...: Present Day Liberia 1 9 Oct 24, 2015 12:46PM  
Who read The House at Sugar Beach? 3 5 Aug 21, 2015 11:51PM  
Eunice 1 1 Mar 31, 2015 10:44PM  
  • Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge
  • Singing Away the Hunger: The Autobiography of an African Woman
  • Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm
  • When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race
  • Reading the Ceiling
  • My Fathers' Daughter
  • Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience with Development and Decadence in Deepest Africa
  • The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir
  • Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President
  • Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir
  • The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest
  • Emma's War
  • The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and into Legend
  • Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali
  • The Mottled Lizard
  • A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
Helene Cooper is a Liberian-born American journalist who is a White House correspondent for the New York Times. Previous to that, she was the diplomatic correspondent for the paper based in Washington, D.C.. She joined the Times in 2004 as assistant editorial page editor.
At The Wall Street Journal, Cooper wrote about trade, politics, race and foreign policy at the Washington and Atlanta bureaus fr
More about Helene Cooper...

Share This Book