Thursday, February 3, 2011

The house at Sugar Beach | Helene Cooper

I like autobiographies because everyone has a story to tell, but only some people get around to writing them. Helene Cooper has an amazing story to tell of her childhood in Liberia in the 1970’s. It begins in idyllic childhood memories of a well off family who were part of a big extended family, integral to local high society, local business and were very well regarded.
Her ancestors were from the founding fathers of Liberia, freed slaves who deliberately and determinately forged a free nation of Africans. From this strong foundation came a strong nation which tore itself apart in a civil war which lasted 25 years.
Helene and her family are persecuted and dispossessed and flee to the United States. She writes with detail and feeling about what it was like before and after the war and we get a real sense for the hardship many families went through in her country.
Cooper writes well and we can see, smell and hear the things she experienced.
In America she has to reinvent herself, no longer part of the privileged elite. She becomes a journalist with The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and while in Iraq on assignment the Humvee she traveled in was crushed by a tank. That moment was like a catalyst for her to confront the past and write her story, and it gave her the impetus to go back to Liberia. She returns to the ruins of the House at Sugar Beach, she discovers her foster sister and other survivors of the war and the years of poverty which followed in the wake of Charles Taylor’s government.
This memoir is well worth reading and insightful into a nation we don’t hear a lot about.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood
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