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

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  4,561 ratings  ·  773 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 wi...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published September 2nd 2008 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2008)
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Nathaniel
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
Angela
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...more
Elie
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
Demetria
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.
Cassy
Jul 12, 2014 Cassy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jason
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...more
Judy
Aug 29, 2011 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Glen
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
Michelle
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...more
Kristy
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...more
Stacey Peters
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
Staci
Jan 26, 2009 Staci rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Karlan
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.
Jamie
I read about this book in a magazine and was intrigued by its concept: a memoir written by a Liberian woman who returns to the country in search of her sister. Truthfully, the book is very light on the "returning to Liberia" part of the story. The memoir is really about Helene piecing together her childhood in Liberia and telling her story.

I learned quite a bit about Liberia and at times skimmed the extensive (and a little excessive) history of Liberia in her book. It was really interesting to l...more
Melissa Andrews
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...more
Jeffrey Taylor
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...more
Judy
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
Julie
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
Nakia
I really enjoyed this memoir. Prior to reading "The House at Sugar Beach", my knowledge of the African country of Liberia was miniscule. Helene Cooper did a great job of explaining the history behind the development of Liberia by freed American slaves. I also enjoyed her take on daily life growing up as a wealthy member of the Congo elite. Her experiences as an American immigrant after the coup that sent her family fleeing their homeland we very eye opening as well.

I love this book for showing...more
Beth
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...more
Becky
Jan 20, 2010 Becky rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Ann
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...more
Vanessa
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
Melissa
I liked this book mostly for it's historical content rather than the biographical information which was shallow and unaware, her unemotional voice lacks a connection to her experiences. This quote from the book sums up her attitude.
"I did what I always did when something seismic happened that I couldn't deal with. I concentrated on the superficial."
She continued to deal in the superficial which was the loss in this book.

It took me until about page 150 when the coup started to want to continue r...more
Betsy
Liberia was new to me so this memoir by a journalist taught me a lot about the African nation's interesting history (as an American colony of sorts settled by freed slaves) and its mortifying recent history. It's written by a journalist who grew up well-to-do (and oblivious to the less-well-to-do's seething resentments) in a beach house near Monrovia until she was forced as a teenager to flee to the U.S. with her family during an insanely violent coup. Like a good reporter, Cooper offers a compe...more
Rosanne
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, especi...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...more
Pat
This was a haunting read. While in college we had a number of Liberian students who were living in my dorm. I was so impressed with their drive for education and objectives of improving the Liberian educational system.
Then to read this book and realize that I had no idea of what had happened in Liberia and the trials they were going through. Although I feel I have some what of a knowledge of the wider world, this was a real wake up call...I really have no idea of what has gone on since I took hi...more
Dave
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.

Their...more
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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
More about Helene Cooper...
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