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The House at Sugar Beach

A US journalist tells her story as one of Liberia's fallen elite.

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Working at The Wall Street Journal, Helene Cooper mightily enjoyed her status as one of a small group of reporters likely to go anywhere. Cooper headed off to Venice as readily as she jetted to Riyadh or Mauritius.

But it was in Iraq, as the US invasion began in 2003, that she thought about the one story that she wasn’t writing. “If I’m going to die in a war,” she realized, “it should be in my own country. I should die in a war in Liberia.”

Although she’d become a US citizen after college, the US wasn’t Cooper’s native land. She was born to parents of two of the most highly pedigreed families in all of Liberia – the closest thing that small West African nation had to royalty.

In The House at Sugar Beach Cooper tells the story of her privileged childhood – and of its abrupt end as Liberia shattered around her.

Cooper is a journalist by trade and a storyteller to boot. Drawing on these skills, she crafts a tale of 1970s childhood complete with details that will feel oddly familiar to US readers. She lived in a luxurious “22-room behemoth” outside Monrovia, with shag rugs underfoot and Nancy Drew books and Jackson 5 albums at her disposal. What’s most surprising about Cooper’s story, however, is that she is able to tell it without losing our sympathy.

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