Friday 8 February 2013

The House at Sugar Beach, 2008, Helene Cooper *****

My first non-fiction of the year is about Helene Cooper, the so famous journalist of whom I have never heard about, until now. She is a descendant of the American freed slaves that colonised, settled and founded Liberia in the 1800s. They ruled one-sidedly. They acquired most of the lands, for generations they were the elite political ruling class of the country. On the other hand, the natives Liberians were derogatively regarded as the country people. They were servants, the poor lower class who worked on the farms and in the houses of people like Helene Cooper. Therefore, this blatant social inequality was the cause of an ongoing resentment harboured among the indigenous community. As a result, the native Liberian soldiers took advantage of the growing bitterness and carried out a  sanguinary coup d'état against the government which triggered the civil war that ravaged Liberia for good fourteen years.

Both Helene who was fourteen and her family were victims of  the blood shedding and brutality of the coup. They were robbed of their good life, before they could finally make their way to the U.S.A. Over there, living was tough at first, nothing compared to her life in Liberia; however, Helene, with the help of her parents, succeeded in making a good life for herself working as a journalist. Twenty-three years later, after an incident where she almost lost her life while reporting in Iraq during the war, she realised it was time to visit all that she had left behind before being smuggled out. Most importantly, she wanted to meet once more her foster native sister. And as well, visit her family house on Sugar Beach. In short,  Helene wanted to reconcile with her past.

If you are an avid reader as myself, you would notice that Helene's writing style is nothing compared to Achebe, Adichie, Emecheta, Amadi and the rest who are novelist by profession. As we all know, they are poetic, elegiac, lyrical and so on and so forth. Even so, Helen did not disappoint with The House at Sugar Beach. Yes, her story grabbed my attention from the first page, it quite often kept me on the edge of my seat. For this reason, it is rated five stars and worth reading, an interesting insight into the history of Liberia. I recommend it to all and sundry. What an easy read!

At long last,  I believe now, the Native and Americo Liberians alike have understood that resources and opportunity in their small country would be distributed on an equal basis.

Even though I derive so much pleasure from reading fiction novels, I am as well a non-fiction lover. Two novels of this genre made it up to my top ten must read 2012. They were A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah and Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Two of which I hold in high esteem; hence, the old adage the truth is stranger than fiction is eventually consolidated. The House at Sugar Beach now pertains to this category. In order to see other non-fiction I have read so far please click here. Hopefully, this year I am looking forward to reading as many of this genre as possible. Of course, in the African literature.

An addendum: another recommendation of mine to the Library.

Below is a video to view Helene talk about her novel.


  1. A fine review, mary. Never heard of Helene. I will be on the lookout for her as I love non-fiction too. Thanks

    1. Afua, Helene Cooper I later found out, I guess is a popular journalist in the USA, it seems some people have seen her on TV. The novel is pretty interest, if you ever lay your hands on it, grab the opportunity to read it.


  2. Mary thanks for reminding me about this book. I posted a link to your blog here:


  3. Hi Mary, your review was interesting. Tanks for reminding me about this book. I'm not so sure Helene is as popular as your response to the last comments suggests -- it just makes reviews like your more important.

    I too was on Shelfari looking for books by people from Africa or of African descent. I was lucky enough to find your blog. I posted a link to it here:

    1. Hello Troy,
      Thanks a lot for stopping by. (laughs) I was not sure how famous Helene was. Thanks for the compliment.

      I am glad you found my blog, because I was on Shelfari for good 3 years and was not lucky enought until I started my own blog. And African lit bloggers started popping up from every where. Amazing isn't it?

      I am going to check out your sight.

  4. Great! It is so beautiful that you draw our attentions to such insightful books.
    It bothers me that most Africans have not developed a good reading culture.
    I love your dedication to this course and I believe that you will inspire many to improve.

    1. Hey Tee,
      Thank you for those beautiful words. I try my best. I also enjoy and learn a lot from these books, if along the way, people are inspired, I am more than glad.


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