The House at Sugar Beach

the house at sugar beach

by Helene Cooper

Reviewed by The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club    

The author of this autobiography is Helene Cooper, the White House correspondent for the New York Times.  She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lived in a privileged class.  Her home was a 22-room mansion at Sugar Beach.  Living by the sea, with her parents, her sister Marlene, and her foster sister Eunice, provided an idyllic existence of wealth and privilege.  Their fall from grace occurred when President Tolbert and his entire cabinet were executed, and the government was seized in a coup.  The author’s class, called the “Congo” class, was now on the run.  Her family fled to America for safety.  Eunice, her foster sister and close friend, belonged to the Bassa tribe and chose to stay behind.  Cooper went from high school to college, fell in love with journalism, and developed a career in which she traveled and reported on everything, except Africa.  Although she missed the sister they left behind, she made no attempt to contact her.

            The first part of the book talks about the history of Liberia and Cooper’s own family history.  It also introduces her family and friends, explaining how her view of the world changed when the coup took place.  Her mother, Mommee, was a strong figure in her life.  Mommee had “gumption” and helped her family survive the roving bands of soldiers, or more correctly thieves and rapists.  Her mother made a deal with a gang, allowing the soldiers to rape her if they would allow her daughters to be left in safety. 

Cooper then describes coming to America and her experience in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1980.  This was the first time she attended a public school system, and she was “the girl from Africa.”  Eventually, her father got an accounting job in Greensboro, North Carolina.  She became involved in her school Journalism class after being inspired by reading “All the President’s Men.”  At first she wrote reviews of TV shows.  She also became involved in the school’s “High IQ Team,” similar to current Scholastic Quiz teams.  She was accepted at the University of North Carolina in 1983, and, of course, majored in journalism. 

Throughout her new life in America, her family maintained their ties with Africa.  Her father, who had a drinking problem, experienced a difficult time making it here, so he headed back to Africa where he would be “a bigger fish in the small pond of Liberia” rather than “trying to swim upstream in the United States.”  Cooper, however, did not go back.  She would not communicate with her sister, Eunice.  It took a near-death experience while she was reporting on the Iraqi War to make her realize that she had unfinished business in Liberia.  The last part of the book describes her reunion with Eunice and with her family’s culture.         

Key Ideas from different club members

 Tells about the history of Liberia, interesting that it was settled by American slaves; Interesting story of the family’s struggle during the civil war; Very informative; Her language was a bit difficult to understand; Horrific and deplorable living conditions seen through the eyes of a young girl; Not easy to get into this book; Disappointed; Some parts were just boring; Thought there would be more about her life as a reporter; Slow; Easy to put down and not pick back up.

The Club Members Rating of this Book: 

Linda Bowman, Pat Gombita, Mona Herell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, William Simmons, Helen Skalski, Barbara Swanson, and Linda Troll

 Club’s Average Rating: 2.5 of 5           Rating Range:  2.5 to 4   

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books

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