The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper is among my top five favorite books of all time. I read this book in 2008 immediately following its release. A work colleague read the book review in the Washington Post and decided to share the article with me because both Cooper and I are both Liberian. Intrigued by the review, I recommended and bought copies for my roommate at the time, as well as my paternal grandmother. I read the book in a week's time and attended Cooper's book-signing event at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, DC. During the Q&A session, I expressed how much I enjoyed the book, we whispered a few words in Liberian- English up close, and I left the event pleased with three signed copies of the book; one for me, my roommate, and grandmother.
The book is a historical memior written through the eyes of Cooper's childhood self. It also examines the complicated development of Liberia including circumstances leading up to and during the violent nearly two-decade-long conflict. Cooper, like many fortunate Liberians, sought refuge in the USA during the war where she completed her studies and leads a successful career as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The story is also about Cooper's relationship and separation with her foster sister during the war. Cooper's near-death experience reporting in Iraq motivates her to return to Liberia in search of her foster-sister.
As a Liberian, who was also affected by the civil conflict, it was easy for me to identify with Cooper's story. I was inspired by her courage to recount details of her personal story as well as discuss the complexities of Liberia that we (myself included) try to hide, forget, or discredit. Liberia, Africa's first republic spared from European colonial rule, developed and built by both former slaves of the USA and indigenous groups; while rich in history also has had an ugly past. The country is still struggling to progress today.
You do not have to be Liberian to enjoy this book. The story is heartfelt, funny, relatable, rich in history , and remains at the top of my favorite reads. I highly encourage you to add this to your reading list.