Saturday, June 13, 2009

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper *****

Helene Cooper, black, African, princess, is not some primitive native living in the jungle. She is from Liberia, settled in the early 19th century by freed slaves from the United States. She can trace both sides of her family back to the 1820s when Liberia was founded.
Those two men [Helene's distant grandfathers] handed down to me a one-in-a-million lottery ticket: birth into what passed for the landed gentry upper-class of Africa's first independent country. None of that American post-civil war/civil rights movement baggage to bog me down with any inferiority complex. ... No European garbage to have me wondering whether some British colonial master was better than me. Who needs to struggle for equality? Let everybody else try to be equal to me.
This is her story: part Liberian history and part memoir. The story opens with her idyllic childhood: extended families, European vacations, private schools, and lots of servants. All this changed when she was in high school with the Rice Riots in 1979 followed by more than a decade of brutal civil war - executions, rapes, and chaos as competing tribal groups terrorized each other and the civilian population.

Much like the Diary of Anne Frank, Helene illuminates a horrific period through the eyes of a single girl. This is a story of pathos, irony, humor and humanity. Excellent.

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