The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel

The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel

4.2 24
by Lois Leveen
     
 

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“Masterfully written, The Secrets of Mary Bowser shines a new light onto our country’s darkest history.”
—Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader

“Packed with drama, intrigue, love, loss, and most of all, the resilience of a remarkable heroine….What a treat!”
—Kelly O'Connor McNees

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Overview

“Masterfully written, The Secrets of Mary Bowser shines a new light onto our country’s darkest history.”
—Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader

“Packed with drama, intrigue, love, loss, and most of all, the resilience of a remarkable heroine….What a treat!”
—Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Based on the remarkable true story of a freed African American slave who returned to Virginia at the onset of the Civil War to spy on the Confederates, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is a masterful debut by an exciting new novelist. Author Lois Leveen combines fascinating facts and ingenious speculation to craft a historical novel that will enthrall readers of women’s fiction, historical fiction, and acclaimed works like Cane River and Cold Mountain that offer intimate looks at the twin nightmares of slavery and Civil War. A powerful and unforgettable story of a woman who risked her own freedom to bring freedom to millions of others, The Secrets of Mary Bowser celebrates the courageous achievements of a little known but truly inspirational American heroine.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Leveen's rich debut is a fictional retelling of the life of Mary El, the tenacious Virginian slave turned spy. Mary was born into bondage, but when her master dies, his daughter Bet, a fierce abolitionist, frees Mary and her family and sends the young woman to school in Philadelphia. There, Mary discovers the pervasiveness of prejudice—even in the North—and begins shuttling slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, work that tests Mary's courage and ability to function in dangerous situations. But when her mother dies, Mary must return to Virginia to care for her ailing father. As the Civil War approaches, Mary courts and weds Wilson Bowser, and with the help of Bet, poses as an illiterate slave in the house of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, using her photographic memory to relay crucial information to Union forces. 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. (May)
Oregonian
“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.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Secrets of Mary Bowser is not only fascinating reading, but also historical fiction of the highest caliber.”
DailyCandy.com
“Author Lois Leveen’s meticulously researched historical fiction is best consumed with sweet tea and a porch swing.”
Statesman Journal (Oregon)
“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.”
Brunonia Barry
“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.”
Naseem Rakha
“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.”
-Kelly O'Connor McNees
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!”
Kirkus Reviews
Set free by her mistress, can a young slave find true freedom up North? Or will she discover that there is more than one way to be enslaved? Leveen's debut novel brings to life the true story of a young slave woman. Her abolitionist-leaning mistress, Bet Van Lew, sets Mary and her mother, Minnie, free. Yet Mary's father and Minnie's husband, Lewis, remains enslaved as a blacksmith to his master. So freedom proves more difficult than either woman had anticipated. Under Virginia law, Mary and her mother may stay in the Commonwealth only a year after being set free. After that mark, either could be resold into slavery. Unwilling to leave her husband, Minnie chooses a dangerous path of deception, pretending to still be a slave. Hoping for a better life for their daughter, Lewis and Minnie send her North to be educated in Philadelphia. Once north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Mary swiftly learns that racism persists, even among the freed slaves themselves. She gains a fine education and deep friendships. Yet Mary must also learn to negotiate the bewildering rules of living in a racist and classist society: being exiled to the Negro benches, enduring unwarranted insults and having to hide her own family's secrets. After her mother dies, Mary realizes that time is wasting. She begins to see clearly that true freedom depends on everyone being free. After rejecting a flattering--yet essentially insulting--marriage proposal, Mary discovers the courage to return to Virginia for her father, to work with the Underground Railroad for other slaves and even to spy for the Union army. And along the way, she finds true love. Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman.
Kelly O'Connor McNees
"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!"

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062107909
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/15/2012
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
185,421
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 7.76(h) x 1.25(d)

Meet the Author

Award-winning author Lois Leveen's work has appeared in the New York Times, on NPR, and in literary journals and anthologies. A former faculty member at UCLA and Reed College, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

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