by Helene Cooper
started 8/18 finished 8/28
It’s difficult for me to read a straight history book. The ones written by scholars can be boring and they make me feel like I am in school again. I like reading for pleasure, not because I have to. Reading memoirs set around important historical events has been much more effective in teaching me history. Granted, it may seem like you are just getting one person’s view, but if the writer is good enough they can express the facts effectively.
Helene Cooper is a journalist who has traveled the world writing for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The House at Sugar Beach is her memoir about growing up in the privileged class in the West African country of Liberia. Now, the one thing I did remember from history class (or somewhere else, considering they don’t teach African History in American public schools) is that Liberia was used as a repatriation spot for American free people of color. With slavery soon to be eradicated in America, some people thought that it might be dangerous for newly freed slaves to fraternize with those who had been free for some time. So, ships began to sail back across the Atlantic to find a place for these freemen to settle.
Cooper is a direct descendant of two of those founding families. She grew up in a mansion by the sea, waited on by servants, went to private school and vacationed in Spain. In 1980, some “Country” (the original inhabitants of the land and therefore less prosperous) stage a coup that sent the idyllic lifestyle of the Coopers into turmoil. They flee to America where Helene begins the long process of assimilation while still trying to reconcile what’s going on in her home country.
This memoir taught me much about what happened (and is still happening) in Liberia since it was all but ignored in most of the American press. Cooper’s personal story, along with her family’s, is at once heartbreaking and hopeful.
Sidenote: For those of you that watch Project Runway, Liberia is where Korto hails from. Reading this book may give you more insight into her story as well.