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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"'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)

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What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Vicki
  • Montpelier, VA, United States
  • 02-02-17

Fascinating story hidden in tedium

I love the story of this book and have a deep admiration for the work and years it must have taken to dig out the details of what happened to the Muse brothers. Given that the story begins in the early 1900's, that was a daunting task. My problem with the book is the amount of other information and tedious detail added. The brother's story alone wasn't enough for a book so there's every detail about circus life, the KKK of Roanoke, sharecropper life, the railroad, you name it.
I'm glad I read it because it's a bit of history about the area where I grew up that I didn't know, but I think I would have preferred a magazine article to the rehashing of the racial history, railroad history and development history of the area. In the end I'm not really sure what her underlying objective was in writing the book. Was it to tell the Muse brother's story and everything else was filler or was it a racial history with the Muse brothers as exhibit A. Either way, it was kind of a slog to get through.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Cashing In: There's One Born Every Minute


This is how long it took me to put away my Christmas decorations, 11 hrs. but on 2x speed. Why do I mention that mundane fact? Because I had no knowledge of George and Willie Muse prior to reading this book and picked this title based on the praise from publishers as well as the high ratings here, and I was so preoccupied with my task that I endured more than enjoyed the time spent with this story. That is not to say I wasn't impressed with the author and her facts, but Macy's talent and research was a volume of impressive local stories and research more worthy of a conference of likewise minded reporters, or George and Willie enthusiasts. I felt at times like a deer in the headlights, caught in an outpouring of information intended for a specific target group. What kept me engaged in this book (besides my wrapping and boxing) about a subject I had no desire to delve into was the underlying social questions. The author is careful not to steer your thinking in any direction, and objective enough to offer the reader a wider look at possibilities. The period of time (1899/Jim Crow South) was already a socially taut timeline and -- worth mentioning, prior to the Disability Rights Movement. Enter the most popular entertainment of the era: for one thin dime, the spectacle of the Circus and the freak sideshows.

The multiple dilemmas were more interesting to me than the maze of trails Macy sleuthed down to uncover the *facts*. Imagine the difficulties a young African American mother faced hoping to provide a future for her two albino African-American sons, a sharecropper and daughter of slaves herself. I did, with the solid possibilities Macy provided. I even caught myself paying less attention to those delicate ornaments while I listened more closely. Weirdly fascinating to me at times though ultimately, I was not the specific target group to view this as the greatest show on earth. I recommend to that specific target group, and Roanoke locals interested in the history of the area.

6 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The Circus, Kidnapping and the Jim Crow South!

Man's inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze! Put together the violent, ferocious and uncaring Jim Crow South with those
people wanting to make a buck on the backs of the weaker and you have a wonderful log and accounting of what happened to these black albino twins.
Definitely a s story that needed be told!

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Don't Read

This book is poorly written and hard to follow. The author was all over the place in terms of characters and history.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Excellent history of African Americans in VA

A detailed history of how African Americans have been treated since the Civil War, with specific information about two albino brothers that spent most of their lives in various circuses. The author spent years researching and interviewing people connected to these brothers and their extended family living in the Roanoke, VA area. A tragic story of discrimination.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

EXCELLENT READ

although hard to follow at times, i thoroughly enjoyed this book abt loved how all the characters came together at the end. I loved Harriet And her love for her boys.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A beautiful story that reminds me of my grandma.

My love for the circus and carnival and the memories of my youth in the late 50's in Winston-Salem, not that much different from West End in Roanoke was East Winston in my home town. A well written story about racial prejudice and and a loving mother's determination triumphs.

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  • Audra
  • Lewisville, NC, United States
  • 04-02-17

Wonderful!!

This book was well written and researched. I learned so much about the area, the history and the brothers. Can't wait to read Beth Macy's next novel!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Truly Eye Opening

This book was truly eye opening. As someone who lives in the area where this story takes place it was interesting to learn about the racial history. I had no idea because it's not talked about. This story was so very interesting. Helped me to gain a better understanding of the history of this area that I call home.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great listen!!

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the writing style. The reader of the book was outstanding.