Monday, June 11, 2012

Audio Archive: The House at Sugar Beach


June is Audiobook Month.  Regular readers of Lakeside Musing know my love of audiobooks has been well-chronicled over the years. In celebration of Audiobook Month, I will post a review from my audio archives each Monday. This week I continue with The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper, originally reviewed 7/9/10. Keep up with all Audiobook Month activities on twitter by following #JIAM2012.


The House at Sugar Beach:
In Search of a Lost African Childhood
by Helene Cooper
read by the author
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2008
9 hours and 30 minutes

Publisher's Description:
In this poignant memoir, New York Times journalist Helene Cooper tells the story of her privileged Liberian childhood cut brutally short by a bloody 1980 coup, her family's escape and survival, and twenty three years later, her return to her native country to find the foster sister her family left behind.

My thoughts:
The cheery yellow cover prominently displayed in area Starbucks first caught my eye, but it would take another year to download the audio version from audible.com.  Although my knowledge of Liberia is limited, Cooper provided just the right amount of historical background to make sense of the political unrest, coups, and years of civil war. What I found even more fascinating, however, was the juxtaposition of political tensions with typical teenage concerns. While Cooper was growing up, the riots and executions occurred alongside the Sadie Hawkins dance, a new crush, and her reading of the latest trashy romance novels.

Cooper's family belongs to the elite group known as "Congo" people. Their ancestry can be traced to the first settlers of freemen that came from New York in 1820 and founded Monrovia. She was raised in a mansion with servants and attended private school. As was often the custom, the family took in a Bassa girl, named Eunice, as a foster child and raised her as their own. Her relatives held high government positions before the coup. Afterwards, some were executed and some fled. Eunice went back to her village when the Cooper family left in 1980.

"When we climbed aboard Pan Am 150, we were privileged, elite Congo People. When we arrived in Knoxville, we were African refugees."

Cooper's high school and college experience, cultural assimilation, and career in journalism (inspired by reading All The President's Men) is the focus of the rest of the book. A job with The Wall Street Journal job allowed her to travel the world, but Cooper would not go to Africa. It was a near-death experience in Iraq ("wrong country, wrong war") that finally convinced her to return to Liberia... and Eunice.

Bottom Line:
This was an excellent audio production. The author has a captivating writing style, but her own voice, especially when it came to Liberian English, added much to the experience. However, I also borrowed a print copy from the library since photos, maps, and a family tree are included.  Highly recommended.

10 comments:

  1. I remember when a number of you were reviewing this book. I love a good memoir...makes it fun to Google things and look at pictures of real people, which lights my brain on fire. I'm always impressed, too, when the author can narrate and pull it off.

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    1. Sandy - As far as memoirs go, this is really a good one and has the added benefit of teaching a little history. The author's voice added SO much to the overall experience!

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  2. Great review and another one to add to my audible.com wishlist. I'm glad to read that the author's voice added to the experience of this audio!!

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    Replies
    1. Staci - I remember that it took me a little while to adjust to the author's voice/delivery, but it was a great audiobook!

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  3. I loved this book (print version). Glad to here the audio was great as well.

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    Replies
    1. Diane - The author's voice was a huge draw for me, but I was glad to have the print copy for photos, etc.

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  4. I've been meaning to read this book forever now. Since the audio book is such a win, I'm going to try it that way.

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    Replies
    1. Vasilly - Give the audio version some thought... the author's voice took a little while to get used to, but it added SO much to the overall experience. Made it seem much more real for me.

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  5. I'm glad to hear June is Audiobooks Month. I've only in recent years begun to listen to them. I think it takes getting used to... a good reader with a good voice sure can lead to more enjoyment, but if not I could easily be turned off. So it really depends on the voice, I think. Now, I'm thinking of reviewing two audiobooks. If I do, is there any place I could link my review post to for this Audiobook month event? (I know Devourer of Books wants a daily review, which I don't think I'll have time for.)

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    1. Arti - You are absolutely right - the reader can make or break an audio experience! As you continue to sample audiobooks, you'll begin to collect a list of favorite narrators that never disappoint. You can link a review to Devourer of Books Sound Bytes feature any Friday. That can also include reviews posted earlier in the week. It's my understanding that she will post a review link-up every day during Audiobook Week, but there is no obligation for participants to post a review daily. It's mainly to find other listener's reviews and to be entered in daily prize drawings. Can't wait to hear what you've been listening to!

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