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Publisher's Summary

Helene Cooper grew up at Sugar Beach, a 22-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. But 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.

©2008 Helene Cooper (P)2008 Simon & Schuster Audio

Critic Reviews

"Rendered with aching nostalgia and wonderful language [it] is a voyage of return, through which the author seeks to recover the past and to find that missing sister, even as the war deepens over the years to come." ( Kirkus)
"Among Cooper's aims in becoming a journalist were to reveal the atrocities committed in her native country. With amazing forthrightness, she has done so, delivering an eloquent, if painful, history of the African migratory experience." ( Ms. Magazine)
"Helene Cooper's memoir is a remarkable page-turner: gripping, perceptive, sometimes hilarious, and always moving." (Jeffrey D. Sachs)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Taryn
  • Suffern, NY, United States
  • 03-25-16

Can't recommend it

I listened to this for my bookclub. I am not sure if the author reading it herself was what made it fall flat for me or if I just didn't like her writing. The topic was interesting but her writing didn't compell me to keep listening- I only finished it because I had to. First off the beginning was extremely boring and should have been edited better. The history lesson was great but the repetitive descriptions of child's play was snooze worthy. The horrific experience of her mother at the hands of the soldiers was not infused with the emotion that it must have generated. There is no passion in her writing and it was hard to believe that she is such a successful journalist. The only 2 people in the book I felt any sympathy for was her mom and of course her adopted sister Eunis. Helene had a privileged childhood and became a privileged American. Despite the tragedy of her family she survived and thrived and I really wanted to connect with her, however her writing didnt allow it to happen.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Reader made this book for me.

Helene Cooper has basically written an autobiography set in Liberia. Her voice, especially when she uses Liberian English, is wonderful. This book covers history of Liberia, which is little known to most Americans. She is a journalist and perhaps that is why the words flow so smoothly. I highly recommend this as a book more enjoyable to listen to than to read just to fall under the spell of her cadence.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • jo
  • 01-12-10

excellent

i loved this book. i read the first fifty pages because my girlfriend has it and then bought it on audible to listen to the rest and i'm so glad i did. the narration by the author makes the liberian english come alive. reading "i hold your foot" and hearing how she says it are like two different phrases, one seeming strange and one sounding perfect. also knowing that the voice you are hearing narrate is the same person who experienced the events is moving in a way reading the book cannot be. that said, the narration would be less relevant if the writing writing wasn't really, really good.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jamie
  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • 07-20-09

Utterly compelling

This is a fascinating, sharply-written memoir of a privileged childhood in Liberia, interrupted by a coup and the upheaval of immigration. Cooper's depiction of her childhood is a skillful blend of warm remembrance underscored with a growing sense of trouble and fear, lit with flashes of humour. She makes you care -- about her individual family members, about her struggle to adapt to her new life in the United States, and especially, about the history of Liberia. Oh -- and Cooper's narration is fantastic! I didn't want to miss a single word.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The House at Sugar Beach

What makes The House at Sugar Beach such a worthwhile and meaningful book, is its many layers. It is a memoir, a history of Liberia and its realationsnip to America, a coming of age story, a story of family, separation, loss, and just like in fiction, triumph. Listening to Helene Cooper's narration of her book, brings it to life as she seemlessly floats between "regular" English and Liberian English. This book is a gem!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Thankful!

I'm thankful Helene and members of her family are here to share their story. I am thankful that Eunice lives, with love surrounding her. I'm thankful Helene truly is an American story come in a strangely wonderful circle of hope escaping or triumphing through pain. I'm thankful to discover Liberia, our corporate homeland. Thank you, Helene for sharing your memoir with us.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

10 Stars

This well may be the best book I've listened to in many years. Having the author narrate this book is definitely a bonus because she speaks in the native language throughout the book and it really adds to the experience. Wonderful story.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

The history of Liberia through character.

This book offers an interesting perspective of the author's familial and personal history and how they fit within the broader aspects of Liberia's social and political evolution....Great read.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Wow!

The author was the perfect narrator for her memoir. This is my third or fourth listen in the years since it first came out. It remains a riveting story.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent!

Descriptive and moving, although the first section started out slow. The story and the author's ability to flawlessly move between languages is captivating. I hope the author writes a follow up book!