Day 10: The House at Sugar Beach

Across the first month of 2020, Sophie Baggott is sharing her thirty favourite books by women from across the world. Find out more about her project to read women writers from every country worldwide here.

Born in Liberia in 1966, Helene Cooper’s memoir-history is an intimate and insightful lens on her experience of living through the country’s coup d’état as a member of society’s elite – it is at times humorous, at times deeply moving. I came to the book knowing very little of Liberia’s history and learned a lot in the process of reading it.

A fascinating memoir
A fascinating memoir

In a nutshell: This memoir covers some distance – from a wealthy childhood among Liberia’s ‘Congo’ class to a (post-coup) adolescence in the US, it’s an unflinching reflection on destructive divisions within societies and families.

To pluck out a line“‘What makes us not refugees?’ ‘Because we paid for our own plane tickets.”

If I had to choose one image: Cooper recalls her classmates trying to make sense of soldiers’ extreme violence against their families during the coup d’état, with the kids themselves having been beaten and violated.

Sharing a thought: Ahead of describing the mass executions, persecutions and humiliations that came with Doe’s military coup in 1980, Cooper makes many observations on the inequality & injustice of society before the coup as well – she doesn’t mask the fact that her elite class ignores the immense poverty of the ‘native Liberians’ who were colonised when American black freemen (one of who was her direct ancestor) founded Liberia.

Fact: Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence (in 1847, from the US) and is Africa’s first & oldest modern republic.

If you’d like to read The House at Sugar Beach, please visit here.

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