Monday, May 21, 2012
Review-The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen
THE SECRETS OF MARY BOWSER,
2012, pb, 496pb
Lois Leveen will admit that when she studied The Civil War in school she found it to be rather dull. For the author, it wasn’t until she began to examine the social and cultural climate during the war, rather than specific battles that defined the war that changed her opinion. Fortunately for the reader, Leveen begins a search to answer a few curious questions. The result is a blend of known history and her imagined historical fiction surrounding the lives of three people who spied for the Union they were Mary Bowser, Elizabeth “Bet” Van Lew and Thomas McNiven.
This story takes place in Richmond Virginia where Mary is a house slave for the affluent Van Lew family. The Van Lew’s have a daughter Elizabeth who has strong abolitionist views. It is “Bet” who notices that Mary is quite bright. Although she can not read, she has a unique memory and demonstrates a quick mind. When Elizabeth manumits Mary, she arranges to send her to live in Philadelphia to attend school. Years later, Mary returns to Richmond to join with “Bet” to spy for the North. Mary, assumes the identity of a slave and works for Jefferson Davis and his wife. With clever irony Mary assumes the part of an illiterate and simple minded slave who actually has a photographic mind, is highly educated and has a natural mature poise. “Bet” Van Lew is believed to be pro-South, but is a true abolitionist. With her Southern charm and hospitality she apparently eludes suspicion.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an irresistible story of espionage and bravery. Leveen has opened up the souls and minds of people who lived during this divisive war. Whether slave, abolitionist, soldier, slaveholder, woman, freed African American, northerner or southerner, the Civil War impacted peoples’ lives beyond each gruesome and gory battle in disparate ways. To this day, there is an unquenchable allure for books, articles, photos and anything about the Civil War. What makes this period of American History so compelling? Perhaps it is a desire to seek understanding as we unravel the evil mark that slavery left on our history. The Secrets of Mary Bowser will satisfy those seeking historical fact and lovers of historical fiction who search for any perspective that will move us a step closer to understanding the disunion to e pluribus unum.
Wisteria Leigh, May 21, 2012
Copy of book received from TLC Tours for review.
Alternate copy purchased :Kindle edition.
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