The House at Sugar Beach
“The House at Sugar Beach” is a factual yet fascinating book that was written in 2008 by Helene Cooper and published by Simon and Schuster. The book started out quite slow with an unexciting plot that didn’t hold my interest. Fortunately, it took a turn for the better about half way through the book.
The House at Sugar Beach is a memoir about Helene Cooper that begins with her as an eight-year-old child and progresses through the rest of her life. Helene grew up being part of the “Congo” stature. That meant she and her family were rich and powerful, and their descendants were slaves that came from America. The poor, powerless people whose descendants had always lived in Liberia were called “Country people”. One of the main themes of the book was the discrimination and controversy between those two social classes. Since Helene’s family, which consisted of her mother, her father and her little sister Marlene, was one of the wealthiest in all of Liberia, the house that they moved into at Sugar Beach when she was eight years old was enormous. Despite its size, Helene did not like the house. She shivered under her blankets every night; terrified that someone would come and attack her. That was why her mother and father adopted an older Country girl named Eunice. Like the house, Helene hated Eunice at first. It was not long, though, before they became best friends.
Other than the fact that Helene’s parents got divorced, the entire Cooper family lived happily and peacefully until the year of 1980. That was when a Country man named Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe killed the Liberian president and changed the lives of everyone in Liberia for the worse. Doe’s main objective was to kill all of the most powerful Congo men and torture the women and young girls. The night of April 12, 1980 was when several of Doe’s soldiers came to Helene’s house and raped her mother. Soon after that, Helene, Marlene and their mother moved to America, leaving Eunice behind with her birth mother. Although they were not wealthy anymore, the three of them were safe and happy. Once Helene completed high school, she went to college to become a journalist. As she went on to become a well-known journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Helene slowly began to forget about Liberia and Eunice all together. It wasn’t until she was almost killed during a tank accident while reporting in Iraq that she realized that she could not abandon Eunice and her true home. She thought to herself: “If I’m going to die in a war, it should be in my own country. I should die in Liberia.” That truly supports one of the main themes that I think Helene Cooper was trying to bring out of the book: sometimes you do not always know what you want or what is best for you, so you need to be open-minded about every aspect of life. For example, Helene hated the House at Sugar Beach when they first moved in, but when she had to go to America she did not want to leave it behind. Also, she did not like Eunice when she first met her, but they eventually became best friends. Another theme that is found throughout the story is the segregation between the Congo and Country people, which was very important to the plot because it served as the main conflict.
While reading the book, The House at Sugar Beach, I felt like I learned a lot about Liberia’s history. I also think that learning its history through the eyes of someone’s personal experience made it so much easier to understand. Unfortunately, the first half of the book contained too much history to hold my interest. Helene described how her descendents had come over from America and what the government was like before and after Sergeant Doe and his followers sabotaged Liberia. She also explained many other parts of Liberia’s history that made her personal story much less confusing, yet also much less interesting. When Doe took over the government and Helene’s life changed forever, the book became more riveting. It flowed quickly through Helene’s high school years and her adult life. I also thought that the book ended phenomenally, tying together all of the main events, ideas, themes, and even the title into the last seven pages. It ended with Helene in Liberia visiting Eunice, and the two of them going to see what had become of their old house at Sugar Beach. The book starts in that house with Helene hating it and ends in that house with her remembering how much she loved it. The last line of the book is “This is my story, this is my song” which is from “Blessed Assurance”, a song Helene and Eunice used to sing in church every Sunday. As a memoir, I could not have thought of a better way to end the book, and I found myself reading and re-reading that last line. The ending of a book is the most important part because that is the part that leaves the biggest impression. I will probably remember it as a good book because of the wonderfully written second half and the ending. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about African hardships, class separation, or anyone who enjoys books that are touching and personal.
Although the beginning of the memoir The House at Sugar Beach was not very interesting, overall, it was a book that I learned a lot from and was enjoyable to read. It was not something I would normally read, but I am extremely glad I did. I do not think I will ever forget it.