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The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a…

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

by Helene Cooper

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5883116,752 (3.81)50
  1. 00
    My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou by Kadiatou Diallo (meggyweg)
  2. 00
    A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (meggyweg)
  3. 00
    Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (littlemousling)
    littlemousling: Fuller's experience as a middle-class white child in (then) Rhodesia and several other African countries is an interesting contrast to Cooper's experience as an upper-class black child in Liberia.
  4. 00
    Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm by Lauren St. John (JGoto)

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An excellent book, and a memoir. I learned so much about Liberia and events that happened in my early 20s there, that I knew nothing about. The author is an excellent writer and kept me engrossed for the whole book. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
An excellent book, and a memoir. I learned so much about Liberia and events that happened in my early 20s there, that I knew nothing about. The author is an excellent writer and kept me engrossed for the whole book. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  sandra.k.heinzman | Apr 2, 2015 |
This 2008 book by a woman born in Liberia and descended from ex-slaves who came to Liberia from the U.S. in the 1820's is a gripping memoir of the fourteen years she lived in Monrovia--in luxurious circumstances, as the descendants of American slaves tended to do before the dire events of 1980 and the Doe coup. I was especially interested since Cecil Dennis was a fellow student at Georgeton Law when I was there and since I knew him well. On April 22, 1980 he (then Foreign Minister) and the president of Liberia and 11 other officials of the Government were executed after drumhead trials on the beach in Monrovia. The author was able to escape Liberia, attended high school and college in the U.S. and went on to become an ace reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The account is gripping and extremely poignant , as she tells the ordeals that her parents underwent. I found myself eager to keep reading and the book is more touching and attention-holding than even I expected. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 4, 2013 |

Cooper's memoir of growing up in, fleeing from, and returning to make her peace with Liberia. Some reviewers have been unhappy that Cooper did not focus more on Liberia's internal conflict, but this is a memoir, not a journalistic appraisal of a country's political and social problems. It's appropriate to her chosen genre that Cooper focuses on her recollections of childhood, preoccupations and relationships, and life experiences, set inextricably in the context of her country's growing strife. There seemed to be plenty of history and commentary on Liberia, with the familial emphasis you would expect in a memoir.

Other reviewers have criticized her as lacking emotional expression, which is not what I see. Many memoirs of traumatic events are narrated with a superficial distance but are nonetheless very emotionally evocative, and that is the case for this life story as well.

My complaints about the book have nothing to do with the content. There are a few egregiously bad typos ("who's" for "whose" is an example), but this is the editor's oversight, not Cooper's. The typeface in the hardback is a thick, serifed style that is hard on the eye. As a narrative, however, I found it interesting and engaging.

( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
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 me) who didn't already know the horrible details of recent events in Liberia. (And it's just me calling them "history lessons" - Cooper does a nice job of weaving important details in with her family story, as her family were important figures in the founding and governing of Liberia).

I highly recommend this book - I think it will appeal to current event buffs and folks who like personal memoirs and books about family relations.
( )
  periwinklejane | Mar 29, 2013 |
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The Public have been already informed of the strenuous exertions of the United States Government, in enacting numerous laws for the purpose of suppressing the Slave Trade; and of the successful vigilance of our naval officers, in detecting those desperados, the slave-traders, and bringing them to justice.

The Public have also been informed of the benevolent operations of the American Colonization Society, in endeavoring to form a settlement on the western coast of Africa, composed of those free people of colour who choose to emigrate thither. It is moreover known that this settlement, if established, may prove an asylum for those Africans, who shall be recaptured by the United States cruisers, and sent to the coast.

There is reason to hope that these acts of mercy will contribute to meliorate the sufferings of a large portion of the human race, by the final abolition of the Slave Trade, that scourge of Africa and disgrace of the civilized world; by introducing the arts of civilization and the blessings of the Christian religion, among a race of beings who have hitherto lived in heathen darkness, destitute of the light of the Gospel, or knowledge of a Savior, by teaching the children of Ethiopia to stretch fort her hands unto GOD.

- Abstract of a Journal: Ephraim Bacon, Assistant Agent of the United States to AFRICA, 1821
For my parents, John Lewis Cooper Jr. and Calista Dennis Cooper, and the family they raised at Sugar Beach: Vicky, Janice, John Bull, Marlene, and Eunice.
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This is a story about rogues.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743266242, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:22 -0400)

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The author traces her childhood in war-torn Liberia and her reunion with a foster sister who had been left behind when her family fled the region.

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