The true story of two African American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.
The year was 1899, and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.
Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "ambassadors from Mars". Back home their mother never accepted that they were gone and spent 28 years trying to get them back.
Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2016 Beth Macy (P)2016 Hachette Audio
"'It's the best story in town,' a colleague told Beth Macy decades ago, 'but no one has been able to get it.' She now has, with tenacity and sensitivity. She gives a singular sideshow its due, offering these 'Ambassadors from Mars' a remarkable, deeply affecting afterlife." (Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches)
"Nonfiction storytelling at its finest.... It does what the best business books should: It delivers a heavily researched, highly entertaining story, at the end of which you realize you've learned something.... This is a great American story, the kind that we don't read often enough." (Bryan Burrough, New York Times)
"Macy vividly illustrates circus life during the 1920s, and she movingly depicts how the brothers' protective, determined mother, Harriett, eventually discovered and rescued them almost a decade and a half later.... A sturdy, passionate, and penetrating narrative. This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited, determined reportage." (Kirkus)
First a caveat: Author Beth Macy is a dear, long-time friend of mine. It will be easy to read this review as "a favor for a friend." It is not. Beth would not like it if it was.
Beth Macy has an uncanny knack for turning a story inside out. She's not afraid to interact with the telling of it, including bits of her own discussions with people being interviewed and how she came to find them. This gives the reader a rare glimpse of what it takes to write a history of two obscure people with a scant paper trail across an entire century. A quarter of that century was spent collecting the story and earning the trust of the community that keeps the memories of George and Wilie Muse alive.
The story itself is pretty amazing — two young brothers whisked away to the circus by scruple-free carnies, their mother's unlikely showdown with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, and the constant grip of fear and injustice under Jim Crow. The stuff of regional legend for many decades, Truevine maintains the mythic feeling of a verbal retelling, while setting straight some of the misconceptions surrounding the family's adventures. The book crackles with many vivid characters and offers more than a timid peek into the sideshow tent.
But most of all, Truevine is an emotional train ride through history and hatred, culture and redemption. It's as American a tale as you're likely to find. As I listened to the final minutes, in the back of a Metro bus on the way to work this morning, I found myself looking at our city around me as it was many decades ago. Here was where the Big Top probably had stood. There was the bridge leading to Harriet Muse's bleak neighborhood. And I was struck by how fortunate it is that someone with Beth Macy's determination and caring wrote their story down. Fortunate for our community. And now, fortunate for you.
My only complaint is a minor one. I wish like crazy that audiobook narrators would learn how to pronounce "Appalachia." It's "apple-ATCH-uh." Beth would NEVER make that mistake.
Report Inappropriate Content