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The Secrets of Mary Bowser Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 15, 2012
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“Masterfully written, The Secrets of Mary Bowser shines a new light onto our country’s darkest history. Balancing fire and grace, the story of Mary Bowser is an ethical journey we won’t soon forget, one that takes us from hatred to courage to love.” (Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places)
“The Secrets of Mary Bowser is a good old-fashioned historical novel packed with drama, intrigue, love, loss, and most of all, the resilience of a remarkable heroine who forges her own destiny from the first page. What a treat!” (-Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott)
“Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Told with clarity, confidence, and courage, The Secrets of Mary Bowser illuminates an untold and important story about slavery, the Civil War, and the role of women in achieving emancipation. A riveting and powerful book.” (Naseem Rakha, internationally bestselling author of The Crying Tree)
“Lois Leveen has written a captivating novel...[she] demonstrates considerable skill bringing the historical period to life. Mary’s world is nuanced and complicated, but the reader is thoroughly drawn into it, never lost. The narrative voice carries with it a seamless authority, rare in novels of this type.” (Oregonian)
“Deftly integrating historical research into this gripping tale of adventure, love, and national conflict, Leveen brings Mary to life and evenhandedly reveals the humanity on both sides of America’s deadliest war.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The Secrets of Mary Bowser is not only fascinating reading, but also historical fiction of the highest caliber.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
“Author Lois Leveen’s meticulously researched historical fiction is best consumed with sweet tea and a porch swing.” (DailyCandy.com)
“This novel will sweep you into the world of Mary Bowser without making you feel as if you’re sitting in school instead of on the beach.” (Statesman Journal (Oregon))
From the Back Cover
Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman's willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history
All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.
Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father—and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command.
Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost—even freedom.
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Top customer reviews
I have gotten way more interested in the Civil War the past year or so. It began 25 yrs ago with the Ken Burns series The Civil War on PBS but stopped there. I was so glad that was recently rereleased now that my interest has grown. Also I have found Confederate Civil War records of some of my ancestors, which really drew me in. I've read several excellent books on the Civil War & The Secrets of Mary Bowser will certainly always be among my favorites. I especially loved the last sentence! What a great way to end the book!
Lois Leveen's first novel, "The Secrets of Mary Bowser (P.S.) is a story not often told, one of the many facets of the American Civil War, slaveholders and abolitionists, and African-Americans vs. European-Americans. One cannot help but admire author Leveen's courage in tackling the enormity of all these forces in a single book. The story includes the north versus south and the struggle for power among peoples on both sides of the issue during the period before and during the civil war.
Basically, the story involves a southerner who frees her slaves and details the life of this one bright, talented woman sent north to freedom and education and the many others with whom she interacts along the way - southern families black and white, slave and free, and the northerners she meets in school and out, religious and not. "The Secrets of Mary Bowser" also follows the underground railroad and its workers and stations and dedicated abolitionist north and south as well as the armies, federal and confederate with the carnage they create and experience. Startling, too, is a first-hand look at this brave former slave's active work in espionage for the north.
"The Secrets of Mary Bowser" is fascinating, too, for readers who want to know about the development of attitudes and how such attitudes are both born and become powerful enough to fight and die for. The first person style also brings you up close to the action and the loaded emotions of the participants.
A good book, particularly for those interested in the period 1855-1870 and America's most tragic military action. Although I enjoyed this impeccably researched historical account, I also felt the work as a novel moved too slowly and the raw emotions were blunted by the telling of the history. Even so, there is much to be learned from "The Secrets of Mary Bowser."