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The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood Hardcover – September 2, 2008

175 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Cooper has a compelling story to tell: born into a wealthy, powerful, dynastic Liberian family descended from freed American slaves, she came of age in the 1980s when her homeland slipped into civil war. On Cooper's 14th birthday, her mother gives her a diamond pendant and sends her to school. Cooper is convinced that somehow our world would right itself. That afternoon her uncle Cecil, the minister of foreign affairs, is executed. Cooper combines deeply personal and wide-ranging political strands in her memoir. There's the halcyon early childhood in Africa, a history of the early settlement of Liberia, an account of the violent, troubled years as several regimes are overthrown, and the story of the family's exile to America. A journalist-as-a-young-woman narrative unfolds as Cooper reports the career path that led her from local to national papers in the U.S. The stories themselves are fascinating, but a flatness prevails—perhaps one that mirror's the author's experience. After her uncle's televised execution, Cooper does the same thing I would do for the rest of my life when something bad happens: I focus on something else. I concentrate on minutiae. It's the only way to keep going when the world has ended. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

In her warm, conversational tone, Helene Cooper vividly evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of Liberia for readers as she describes the customs, history, and culture of her native land. Indeed, she has a great deal of background information to convey to Western readers unfamiliar with the country, but she folds this material masterfully into the narrative. An accomplished storyteller, Cooper relates the arrogance and excesses of her family during her early years without losing her readers’ sympathy, and she likewise depicts the joys of friendship and the horrors of war without becoming melodramatic or maudlin. Like the best nonfiction—and journalism—Cooper’s gripping coming-of-age story enlightens and inspires, often reading like a novel. In sum, it is a very personal and honest memoir from a gifted writer.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743266242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743266246
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Helene Cooper is the White House correspondent for the New York Times, having previously served as the diplomatic correspondent and the assistant editorial page editor. Prior to moving to the Times, Helene spent twelve years as a reporter and foreign correspondent at the Wall Street Journal. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 134 people found the following review helpful By The Elephant's Child on September 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Cooper's story is, in so very many ways, my story, too. I grew up in Liberia, a "second-class" American because we were missionaries and not American Embassy personnel. My years at the American Cooperative School overlapped hers; I had the same first grade teacher as her little sister. I bought ice cream at Sophie's (mind the flies!) and ate hamburgers at Diana's. How many times I drove past that same three-headed palm tree! Like her, I left in my early teens, without properly saying goodbye.

Samuel K. Doe's coup d'etat stole Ms. Cooper's childhood; Charles Taylor's invasion in late 1989 stole mine.

Much has been said about Liberia's descent into chaos. But what is never spoken of, in all the reports and documentaries, is the old Liberia - the Liberia that I love, the Liberia of my heart, the Liberia of people who have never given up hope, even in the darkest hour, that they can rebuild out the ashes of evil.

It will be several years yet before I can make the trip that Ms. Cooper has, and return home. I'd like to stand in our old house on Old Road, if only just to prove that the first 15 years of my life weren't a dream. Maybe the mango tree is still there. In the meantime, I have her book, to help me remember that I have come from somewhere. Home is still there, in the coalpots and red dirt roads, in the potato greens and the palm butter, in the sound of the ocean at night.

For all the horrors that war has visited upon my hometown, Liberia stands. The rice bird still sings.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By T. Tomaszkiewicz on September 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I eagerly awaited the release of Cooper's book after reading the excerpt in the New York Times Magazine earlier this spring. The book arrived and did not disappoint. I could not put the book down and finished it in one sitting. Cooper's writing is honest, sincere and raw. I found myself drawn to her childhood and her adventures as if they were my own. While Cooper leaves out answers to many questions I had about her life in high school and college, she does come full circle in acknowledging the impact of her childhood on her life today. A masterful book. I was left wanting to read more about the Coopers.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on December 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Covering the Middle East War in 2003, correspondent Helene Cooper had memories of another war; the war that tore her away from the place of her birth, Liberia. In The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood Cooper wrote a gripping memoir that is not only a family history, but a social, cultural and historical account of this country.

Cooper is a direct descendant of the first black Americans who migrated to Liberia in the 1820s to establish a haven for freed blacks. Elijah Johnson, her maternal ancestor and Randolph Cooper, her paternal ancestor, were pioneers in the Back to Africa movement with help from the British government to start over in West Africa. Within a few years, the new settlers succeeded in not only building a new community, but became the ruling class with all of the privileges and advantages that came with it. A class divide emerged and the newcomers were deemed "Congo" while the natives were called "Natives" or the derogatory term "Country." Cooper's family lived in a twenty-two room mansion by the sea called Sugar Beach replete with servants and a privileged life that included private schools and a summer home in Spain. Her father was a government official and many other family members had positions of power in the cabinet.

When Cooper was nine years-old, her family took in a girl from the Bassa tribe to be a companion to Cooper and her younger sister, Marlene. It was common practice for Congo people to "adopt" Native children; the Congo family got help and the Native child was taken out of impoverished conditions and given an education. Eunice was an integral part of the family for the most part but when a coup occurred in 1982, Cooper's family fled Liberia, leaving Eunice behind.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Drinnen on September 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I finished The House at Sugar Beach in a day an a half; I just could not put it down. Helene Cooper objectively and clearly paints a picture of privilege and wealth of the Congo People in the country of Liberia, West Africa, as they lived and interacted with the poverty and subjugation of the Native people. She is able to make the reader see and feel the emotions and tensions of the country just before it's entire infrastructure was destroyed by a horrible Civil War. She reminisces through her childhood in want of nothing, and carries the reader along as she struggles with fears of the unknown spirit world, the pomp and formality of her social strata, and the joy of life that was so abundant in everyone during those prewar years. We get to intimately know her family and their outstanding importance to the history of the settlement of the country. She helps us understand how the tensions arose that caused such devastation to the only country in Africa that America helped settle; and she describes the horrors the War brought to her family as they fled the country in fear of their lives. As she noted, her family "boarded the plane in Liberia as "privileged, elite Congo People", but arrived at their destination in America as "African refugees."

Cooper then tells us about her adjustments and growth in her new home; and about the schools and attitudes in the South about the "new kid" with the funny accent. It took a while, but Cooper comes full circle with her emotions and finally was able to return to her country and face her beloved, but destroyed past. She finds satisfaction in the fact that the country of Liberia has survived along with a few faithful people who represented a vital part of her family.
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