The House on Sugar Beach, is a thought provoking memoir about an African childhood in Liberia.
Helene Cooper was born to a wealthy, and politically powerful Liberian family. Her family were descendants of freed American slaves. Her mother's ancestor, Elija Johnson actually founded Libiera. When her ancestors were given a choice: Africa or America --they chose Africa. According to Helene, "Because of that choice, I would not grow up 150 years later as an American black girl, weighed down by racial stereotypes about welfare queens".
There were basically two classes of people in Liberia --Congo people - the newcomers who were upper middle class, buying up all the property, and then there were the Country people --Liberians--the have nots. The family moved to Sugar Beach, into a remote, twenty-two room mansion overlooking the Atlantic ocean, when she was young. There they lived a life of luxury.
Helene was just nine years old when the family took in Eunice, an eleven year old Bassa tribe girl as a playmate for Helene and her sister. It was common practice for Congo people to adopt tribe people. Eunice and Helene became very close.
In April of 1980 however, the world as the Cooper's knew it changed forever. During a coup, the President of Liberia was killed, as was the Cooper's cousin, who was a foreign minister, as well as many other government officers. When Mrs Cooper was gang raped by intruders, she and the girls were able to flee the country for America.
Helene and her sister were schooled in the US. They lived at different times with both of their parents. Helene pursued a career in journalism and worked in Rhode Island for the Providence Journal, and later secured high profile positions with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
In 2003, while on assignment in Iraq, Helene Cooper narrowly escaped death. Upon her return she was determined to return to her native Liberia to find Eunice who had been left behind.
The House on Sugar Beach was one of the best written memoirs I have read in a long time. A powerful, honest, first-person account that revealed both the class differences, and the turmoil of war in a way I've never read about previously. Such a personal story, almost perfect in every way. The only thing the story was missing was an epilogue, to let the reader know what has happened since Helene's visit to Liberia in 2003, as I felt a few questions that I had were unanswered. Other than that, this is a highly recommended memoir.
(Thank you Simon & Schuster for sending this book to me).
Rating - 4.5/5 stars; Completed 7/29/09; REVIEW