The House at Sugar Beach

The House at Sugar Beach

When Helene Cooper was 8 years old, her mother bought her a playmate. At the time, Cooper — enjoying a privileged childhood as the daughter of a wealthy Liberian family — was marooned at the family’s flashy new 22-room Sugar Beach mansion, far from the bustle and hum of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. With only her scary cousin Vicky (who ”saw” spirits) and her baby sister Marlene for company, Cooper was lonely. So the skinny, bowlegged tribal girl named Eunice who appeared one day in 1974 became a sister in every sense but one: When a bloody 1980 coup d’état sent the country’s political system reeling, and soldiers began butchering most people in Cooper’s moneyed class, Eunice was not forced to flee to the U.S. with the rest of the family but was able to stay behind. Though many terrible things happened to Cooper — including the gang rape of her mother — she was perhaps most affected by Eunice’s decision to remain in Liberia. ”In my sheltered existence, I had never dug deep enough to wonder how much native Liberians resented us,” Cooper writes. ”I had been shocked [to learn] the level of hatred…. Did Eunice feel that way too?” Unbelievably, Starbucks has made The House at Sugar Beach its fall book pick, so it may actually be bought and read — a boon for any book, but especially nice for this slim, searing little memoir. To understand what happened in Liberia is to understand what has happened in much of Africa, and Cooper tells it not like a seasoned journalist — which is what she is — but like a poet. A-

The House at Sugar Beach
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