Monday, March 22, 2010

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach is Helene Cooper's memoir of her childhood in Liberia, Africa and continues through her college years in America and eventual American citizenship.

For whatever reason, I continue to be drawn to books with African cultures at the center. And this was no exception. I had absolutely no knowledge of Liberia going into this book. I found its history very interesting. Freed slaves from America were shipped back to this country to settle and start life again causing dissension between the people already inhabiting the area and the new settlers. The tension appeared to escalate in the late 1980's and 1990's causing great violence and civil war in the area.

Helene Cooper's family dates back to the original ship arriving with freed slaves. She grew up living in a mansion and having a grand life compared to people in the area. Often the wealthier families in Liberia would accept children from the "country" people or the native cultures into their homes and raise them as their own. This gave the children a better life than they would have otherwise. This is how Eunice came to live with the Coopers. She and Helene became sisters almost as if they were blood.

As the violence grew and her family was no longer safe (in fact her mother was raped), they moved to America and settled in the south. Unfortunately, Eunice was sent back to her family and did not travel to America. While Helene finished out her high school years and then college she would write letters to Eunice until they just lost touch. Helene went on to become a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal and other papers.

The House at Sugar Beach recounts all of these events in great detail. I found the book to be interesting, but to a point. I felt the first half about her childhood dragged a bit. I admit I skipped 100 pages (102-202) in the middle. And I don't feel like I really missed out on much except reading about the violence against her family. I actually prefer not to read that and was happy I could gleam what happened from tidbits later in the book. I enjoyed reading the second half more than the first. Overall, a mediocre read. Not sure what my book club will think about it. I anticipate it will be a DNF for many. Although, not the greatest book ever, I don't think it was a waste of my time. I did learn about a country and its history that I knew nothing about before. And that's never a waste of time! :-) And it was also interesting to read about a woman as strong as Helene Cooper.

Source disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library.

1 comment:

Carol Z said...

I have a friend who is from Liberia, so I know a bit about the country. I just requested the book from the library and look forward to reading it.