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Extended Audio Sample The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood Audiobook, by Helene Cooper Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (3,468 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Helene Cooper Narrator: Helene Cooper Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2008 ISBN: 9780743579520
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A poignant memoir of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence told with unflinching honesty and gentle humor

Helene Cooper is “Congo,” a descendant of two Liberian dynasties—traced back to the first ship of freemen that set sail from New York in 1820 to found Monrovia. Helene grew up at Sugar Beach, a twenty-two room mansion by the sea in a childhood 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 Bassa girl named Eunice.

For years the Cooper daughters—Helene, her sister Marlene, and Eunice—blissfully enjoyed the trappings of wealth and advantage. But on April 12, 1980 a group of soldiers staged a coup d’etat, assassinating Liberian President William Tolbert and executing his cabinet. The Coopers and the entire Congo class were now the hunted, being imprisoned, shot, tortured, and raped. Helene, Marlene, and their mother fled Sugar Beach for America. They left Eunice behind.

A world away, Helene tried to assimilate as an American and discovered 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. 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 to which her own family is inextricably linked, The House At Sugar Beach is the story of Helene Cooper’s long voyage home.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Masterly…Nothing short of billiant.” 

    New York Times Book Review

  • You must read Cooper's wildly tender memoir. It's that rarest of things, a personal story that transcends the people, the place, the world it is talking about and becomes a universal tale about the thousands of segregations, small and large, subtle and obvious, that shred all of us. It is beautifully written, utterly unself-conscious, and without a hint of self-pity. Cooper has an un-failing ear for language and a poet's tender heart. A powerful, important book that will teach you not only something about war and love, race and power, loss and hope, but also a great deal about yourself. Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood and The Legend of Colton H. Bryant
  • Helene Cooper's memoir is a remarkable page-turner: gripping, perceptive, sometimes hilarious, and always moving. Her keen eye, fierce honesty, and incisive intelligence open a window on war-torn Liberia, America, and the stunning challenge of a life that straddles these deeply intertwined societies. Jeffrey D. Sachs, special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and author of The End of Poverty
  • The tragedy of Liberia -- the most American of all the African tragedies -- is brought painfully to life in Helene Cooper's memoir. Her work is an antidote to statistics and headlines and the blur of Africa's sorrows, a reminder that history and war proceed one family at a time, one person at a time. They are never abstract, always personal. Arthur Phillips, author of Prague, The Egyptologist, and Angelica
  • “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

  • “As Coopers tale unfolds, her intimate reading draws listeners into the family as their journey begins. Cooper may not read with a lot of frills and thrills in her somber voice, but the experience is affecting and indelible.” 

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “ Rendered with aching nostalgia and wonderful language— 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. Elegant and eloquent, and full of news from places about which we know too little.” 

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • One of the 2008 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Amaliya | 2/17/2014

    " I enjoyed this biography. I think Helene Cooper had difficulty stepping outside her reporter role as the story was intriguing but kind of just the facts and not a lot of emotion. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Richard | 2/4/2014

    " Memoir, history lesson and current affairs all wrapped up nicely in this book by Helene Cooper, a Liberian immigrant. Besides telling about her childhood, the book provided an interesting look at the Liberian history and culture. The only thing that made reading this book difficult was when the author quoted people speaking Liberian English... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kate | 1/31/2014

    " In reading this book, I not only enjoyed a great story but received a valuable history lesson. Well done! After finishing, I also learned that I'm "three degrees of separation" from the author. It's a small, small world. Thank you for sharing your story. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Arlene | 1/25/2014

    " Helene Cooper's personal memoir narrates the role of her ancestral people in the founding and development of the American spawned country of Liberia. She glides you through her happy young life in Monrovia, the capital, and then carefully takes you to the shocking coup d'etat and resulting personal tragedies which changed her life forever. There is no self-pity in this storytelling, just plain realism that makes you reflect on your own life and how you tie yourself to your country. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Montgomery | 1/20/2014

    " This was the Stephens College one-read last year so I read it when Emma was home this summer. I sort of remember seeing bits and pieces about Liberia on the news when I was growing up. This really brought the turbulent history of that country to life. Highly recommend this book! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Yasmin | 1/7/2014

    " Helene Cooper writes a very interesting book about a memoir/history of the blacks taken back to Africa in the early part of the nineteenth century. A very detailed book. Although out of a sort of fear it took the author a very long time to return to Liberia after leaving in 1979, she never actually touches on in as much detail as to what happened to the country. Well there may be no straight answer as to what happened and what continually happens to countries like Libera, Haiti, Rwanda etc. with their governments and societies. There was in Liberia a large obvious unequality amoung the people that had gone on for hundreds of years. But even that does not justify the murders, maiming and disapperances of countless people in Liberia or anywhere of a similar background. When I read about the people taken to Liberia at the early part of the 19th century I have always been left wondering what happened to them, like a chapter unfinished, now I know. It is a moving and at times funny as well as sad life story. But then I don't believe there are many lives that are not moving, funny and sad at the same time. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Linda | 12/29/2013

    " I knew nothing about Liberia,I learned that this African country was started in the 1800's by freed black slaves from America. An interesting memoir, worth reading. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ruthie | 12/22/2013

    " An in-depth view from the other side of Liberia's war. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cheryl S. | 12/21/2013

    " Helene Cooper's account of being one of the children of a privileged family in Liberia, fleeing the country at the time of the coup, and then growing up in America to eventually becoming a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Fascinating and well written. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Nathan | 12/19/2013

    " Just finished. It's a very readable memoir of life in Liberia, and then as a refugee in America. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cheryl | 12/7/2013

    " After reading The Darling, I became fascinated by Liberia, a country about which I knew almost nothing. This is a book about power, corruption and the lives of those who cannot escape. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Thorn MotherIssues | 11/6/2013

    " Enjoyed the "you're soaking in it" view of privilege and the analysis (again, from privilege) of the tradition of fostering in Liberia. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Maisha Miles | 11/4/2013

    " Loved it. This is an engaging, though heart-wrenching, memoir. Many of the conversations were written in Liberian English. I found a youtube of the author reading her book, so I could get a real sense of how she and her family talked. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cheryll | 10/9/2013

    " This reporter tells her story of being a black from Liberia during a tumultuous time and coming to America. A story I didn't know anything about so interesting. You get a strong sense of her culture. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Owana | 10/1/2013

    " Really liked the book. It's very sad to hear what happened and the decline of the country. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Courtneyreedjenkins | 7/17/2013

    " A strong memoir set against the backdrop of a sixteen year civil war. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Amanda | 7/6/2013

    " An engaging read-- history brought to life. I hope I run into her in DC sometime! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jacqueline Greer | 6/29/2013

    " I really enjoyed this book. It gave fascinating insight into Liberia from an intensely personal perspective. I strongly recommend reading it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 C.M. Mayo | 9/30/2012

    " A story every American should read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Whuski | 9/15/2012

    " an eye-opener for sure, i really liked this book a lot. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gayle | 8/17/2012

    " Why didn't I learn the history of Liberia in school? This is a must-read. Excellent writer, riveting story, important history lesson. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bess Newman | 6/6/2012

    " I knew nothing about the history of Liberia before I read this book. It's a moving story, a fascinating life, and extremely well written. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Maureen Matthews | 3/28/2012

    " A sad read at times but excellent "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Paula | 2/25/2012

    " A very worthwhile read! I highly recommend it! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Meryem | 7/17/2011

    " Listened to the author reading. For the most part, an enthralling memoir with references to Liberian history. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Becka | 7/14/2011

    " Yet another African issues piece of literature to add to my growing collection. Very journalistically written while also honestly self-aware and perceptive. I now understand the "American colony" of Liberia and I feel like I got an insider's perspective - even better! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cynthia Naden | 6/17/2011

    " I met this author at a book signing and discussion. She signed my book and initially had a hard time getting into it. However, last November read it for our Amnesty International Group and finally finishing it - came together for me. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Linda | 5/19/2011

    " WONDERFUL true story account of life in Monrovia in the 70s. It is written from the point of view of a "Congo" girl but her childhood stories take you into the hinterland a little as well as give you a little insight into local beliefs. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shereekjohnson | 5/14/2011

    " I love reading about other cultures and this didn't disappoint. Fascinating to read how "Americanized" the upper class of Liberia was/is. I wish I knew more about the family in our church who are refugees from there. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mona | 5/9/2011

    " good insight into what happened in Liberia and with the Congo - and is still going on "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Melody | 4/17/2011

    " On of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read. It was incredible to so deeply experience Liberia a part of the world for which I knew too little about. I highly recommend listening to it as the author reads it and includes the wonderful accents and emotions that flavor this tale. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carol | 4/12/2011

    " A memoir of growing-up in Liberia during the coup of 1980. Well written! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jacqueline | 4/10/2011

    " I really enjoyed this book. It gave fascinating insight into Liberia from an intensely personal perspective. I strongly recommend reading it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Deliak | 4/6/2011

    " good but not as good as "Just Kids" "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Maisha | 3/22/2011

    " Loved it. This is an engaging, though heart-wrenching, memoir. Many of the conversations were written in Liberian English. I found a youtube of the author reading her book, so I could get a real sense of how she and her family talked. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Sue | 3/20/2011

    " Bad reviews at Book Club for the writing style - not poetic enough, just plain storytelling, but the situation itself was compelling to read about. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cgalikin | 3/19/2011

    " A moving autobiography depicting the journey of a truly remarkable woman. Helene Cooper is a great contemporary role model for young women everywhere. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sharon | 3/19/2011

    " I thought I knew Liberia until I read this book. A good combination of research, journalism and the perspective of a teenager shines a light on Helene's home country. I enjoyed her story and learned so much. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 C.M. | 2/28/2011

    " A story every American should read.
    "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tina | 2/27/2011

    " A good read about a subject I was not overly familiar with. The author weaves a good story while sharing rich detail of recent history. "

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About the Author
Author Helene CooperHelene Cooper is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, having previously served as White House Correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, and the assistant editorial page editor. Prior to moving to the Times, Helene spent twelve years as a reporter and foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of the bestselling memoir, The House at Sugar Beach (Simon & Schuster, 2008). She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lives in the Washington, DC area.