The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
In Search of a Lost African Childhood

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Synopsis

Journalist Helene Cooper examines the violent past of her home country Liberia and the effects of its 1980 military coup in this deeply personal memoir and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

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.
 

About Helene Cooper

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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.
 
Published September 2, 2008 by Simon & Schuster. 372 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

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A Country man with a Harvard doctorate, notes the author, would still rank below an Honorable “with a two-bit degree from some community college in Memphis, Tennessee.” In childhood games, it was the Honorables who got to shoot the Country people, and the Country people who got to play dead.

Mar 15 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

The New York Times

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$25 First Chapter: ‘The House at Sugar Beach’ (September 7, 2008) Up Front (September 7, 2008) Times Topics: Liberia An Essay Adapted From ‘The House at Sugar Beach’ in The Times Magazine Articles by Helene Cooper in The Times While Cooper’s memoir is mesmerizing in i...

Sep 05 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

The New York Times

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$25 First Chapter: ‘The House at Sugar Beach’ (September 7, 2008) Up Front (September 7, 2008) Times Topics: Liberia An Essay Adapted From ‘The House at Sugar Beach’ in The Times Magazine Articles by Helene Cooper in The Times In her masterly memoir, Helene Cooper bri...

Sep 05 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

Book Reporter

But her childhood companion, Eunice, was still in Liberia, and thereon hangs the completion of Helene Cooper's inner journey, one last trip to the house at Sugar Beach.

Jan 22 2011 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

Entertainment Weekly

Though many terrible things happened to Cooper — including the gang rape of her mother — she was perhaps most affected by Eunice's decision to remain in Liberia.

Sep 01 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

Christian Science Monitor

Working at The Wall Street Journal, Helene Cooper mightily enjoyed her status as one of a small group of reporters likely to go anywhere.

Sep 02 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

About.com Bestsellers

In The House at Sugar Beach, Cooper delivers personal memoir, historical perspective, and journalistic reporting in one book that you won't be able to put down.ProsThe reader is swept up in the sights and smells of Helene Cooper's childhoodConsThe stark violence of civil war makes this book inapp...

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Bookmarks Magazine

Caroline Elkins Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars "In this shimmering, lyrical, conversational saga of her life and family, disastrously uprooted by wars and crazed militias led by Samuel Doe in 1980 and the infamous Charles Taylor in 1989, Cooper explores her childhood.

Sep 01 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

Story Circle Book Reviews

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Story Circle Book Reviews

Cooper has penned the story of her Liberian childhood, its affluence brought about by choices of her ancestors: newly-freed, early nineteenth-century slaves who returned to Africa, purchase large tracts of land, and build the new nation of Liberia.

Dec 27 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

APOOO Bookclub

By Dera Williams • Dec 9th, 2008 • Category: Book Review • Email This Post • Print This Post Covering the Middle East War in 2003, correspondent Helene Cooper had memories of another war;

Dec 09 2008 | Read Full Review of The House at Sugar Beach: In ...

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