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  • Writer's pictureGeorgie Davis

The House At Sugar Beach

In 2009, I sat on my couch, turning page after page. With each scene, I envisioned myself. A child growing up in Liberia—as Helene described in her book the stages of her childhood and adolescence that were so strikingly similar to mine. I've read The House At Sugar Beach multiple times and recently perused it again. It's one of my favorite memoirs.

With each scene, I envisioned myself. A child growing up in Liberia.

For the most part, the author's life and mine were in contrast. She was born in Liberia as ‘Congo,’ (an Americo-Liberian)—her great-great-great-great grandfather, Elijah Johnson, was one of the founding fathers of the country.

I was also born in Liberia, but was American. White. And the daughter of foreign missionaries. Nonetheless, we share memories: rogues, country devils, "Old Man Beggar," Relda theater, luscious beaches, up-country, war, exile—and a return visit.

I wasn't prepared for the book to conclude as it did.

The book begins with Helene, a young girl living in a twenty-two-room oceanfront mansion on Sugar Beach in the West African country of Liberia—complete with all the luxuries granted the life of the country's wealthy elite. The details are enchanting, reminiscent of a fairy tale. But the gradeous life is drastically altered when the government is overthrown by the "Country People" (descendants of the indigenous people) in a bloody coup. Helene's family and the entire ‘Congo’ class of people find themselves on the run. She moves to America, leaving a beloved half-sister behind, until one day, decades later, she returns to Liberia— searching for her sister, and a lost childhood.

I admit, I wasn't prepared for the book to end as it did. An additional chapter may have tied off the concluding details with greater ease. I wanted to know more. Even so, it doesn't detract from the overall brilliance with which this unique piece of personal history is written.

The author’s persistence in both historical research and years of drafting should be commended for its accuracy and creativity. The House At Sugar Beach should be required reading for anyone studying African history and/or the African-American experience. It brings the story of slavery full circle in a surprising and engaging perspective.

~ Helene Cooper is a Pentagon correspondent with The New York Times. In 2015, she was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, for her work in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic.

Note: My "what I'm reading" posts are unsolicited

Another great memoir by Tara Westover


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