Picks and Pans Review: A Childhood Remembered

updated 09/08/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/08/2008 01:00AM

THE HOUSE AT SUGAR BEACH
by Helene Cooper |

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REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN

MEMOIR
A diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times, Cooper documents the diversity and dramatic intensity of life in Africa in this affecting memoir about her childhood. Her parents were glamorous, descended from Liberia's first settlers: "We had a house in Spain, multiple houses and farms in Liberia, and our palace at Sugar Beach. We were Congo royalty," she writes. But the author also was fascinated with the variety of Liberian tribal cultures—with their superstitions and prejudices and their distinctive dialects. Her closest companion was Eunice Bull, a young Bassa girl who became her foster sister. The author sets sweet, funny stories about their coming-of-age against the darker canvas of the Coopers' divorce and a 1980 coup d'état during which their mother makes a stunning sacrifice for her daughters. Nearly three decades after fleeing Liberia, Cooper offers an indelible view of her homeland and makes palpable the pain that she felt when she lost it.

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