I first heard of, and got interested in, The House at Sugar Beach (2008) by Helene Cooper from a review on Pajiba. I can't even remember what the review said, besides being positive, but it obviously caught my attention because I picked it up from the library to see what it was all about. And I'm very glad I read it. I'm always interested in honest, insightful memoirs, and Cooper did not disappoint.
Helene Cooper is a happy child growing up on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa in the 1970's. Her family is one of the privileged elite of Liberia, with both sides of her family having helped to found the country back in the 1800's when they came over from America to form a colony of freed slaves. She lives with her parents and sisters in a large and luxurious house outside of the city. But her life comes crashing down right before her fourteenth brithday after a coup d'etat in 1980. With her family in danger and government officials being killed, they flee to America. Helene Cooper's family is split apart and she loses everything she ever knew. Eventually Cooper adopts the United States as her home, but she's pushed to the back of her mind everything she never dealt with back in Liberia. Near the end of the book, Cooper finally goes back to the increasingly ravaged and war-torn Liberia: back to find a lost foster sister, back to see her old house that had been turned into an execution site, and back to face what happened.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was interesting, moving, and informative. Mixed together is an honest and often funny coming-of-age story, some history and culture of Liberia, a family drama, and the horror and effects of war. But even with the subject matter, Cooper never resorts to sensationalism, and her view of the ethnic disparities and conflicts in Liberia seem honest and balanced. I've always been pretty interested in Africa, so I especially enjoyed this book, but I would still recommend it to anyone.