Thank you to NPR for introducing me to this book. When I read the interview with the author I found the story of George and Willie Muse fascinating. The Muse brothers were albino African American sons of a poor sharecropper named Harriet Muse who were kidnapped and placed in the circus freak show. I found the most amazing part of their story was their mother Harriet Muse. She never gave up searching for her sons and she did find them. She also took on Ringling Brothers circus for the boys back pay and won! The story of the Muse family takes many twists and turns but while I was reading this book my heart went out to George, Willie and Harriet. I couldn't help but want them to be reunited and to succeed. I wanted them to not feel the pain of living in Jim Crow south since they had already been through so much in their life. I feel this is a book you have to read to truly understand the scope of their lives and it is worth the read.— Heather G.
October 2016 Indie Next List
“Award-winning journalist Macy is an unrelenting researcher who combed through a wide variety of primary sources to tell a fascinating and heartbreaking story. In the early 20th century, Albino African American brothers are kidnapped by unscrupulous and racist circus managers who not only steal their earnings from their work as freak show performers, but also tell their mother that they are dead. This occurs during the height of the Jim Crow South, when black lives didn't matter and lynching was at its peak. The mother's persistent and heroic fight through legal channels to recoup her sons' wages and achieve a better standard of living is at the heart of this true story, an inside look at the historical depths of American racism.”
— Joan Grenier (E), Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
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.
About the Author
A New York Times Notable Book of 2016
One of Janet Maslin's Top 10 Books of 2016 in the New York Times
One of The San Francisco Chronicle's Top Ten Books of 2016
One of the Best Books of 2016 - Amazon, Kirkus, The Tampa Bay Times, The Houston Chronicle, BookPage, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A Kirkus Prize Finalist
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Named one of fall's most anticipated titles by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus, The Millions, Literary Hub and others!
"'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
"Taking us into the dark corners of American history that are discussed only in whispers, Beth Macy shines a bright light on the racial profiteering of circus freak shows and the Jim Crow South. In the remarkable Truevine, Macy manages to do what all the exploitative showmen wouldn't dare; she humanizes the Muse brothers, and in doing so, she has written an unforgettable story of both heartbreak and enduring love."—Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove
"Macy's exploration of the long-hidden fate of two young African Americans and how that fate illuminates the atrocities of the Jim Crow South is as compelling as Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks...both are absolutely stunning examples of narrative nonfiction at its best...Certain to be among the most memorable books of the year."—Connie Fletcher, Booklist (starred review)
"If over a hundred years ago there had been Black Lives Matter, the mother of George and Willie Muse would have joined and marched for the safe return of her sons. Back then, almost a century ago, she could only keep learning and finding folk who agreed she had a right to her family...a right to the love and protection of her sons. Beth Macy in Truevine has given us a stirring story of the persistence of faith...the strength of love...in this tale of a mother's journey to reclaim not only her sons but her right to them."—Nikki Giovanni, poet and one of Oprah Winfrey's "Twenty-five Living Legends"
"You may find yourself wanting the tale of the Muse brothers to emerge as a simple tale of inhumanity and injustice. There's a certain satisfaction in that. But the story is too thorny and complicated for that approach, and Macy, whose last book was the New York Times bestseller 'Factory Man,' does us the favor of respecting that complexity."—Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News
"Truevine...not only puts the real faces and lives of George and Willie to the legend, but also speaks to the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States."—Allison McNearney, Time
"Truevine is a moving attempt to reconstruct this David and Goliath story...If even "Eko and Iko" can be given back their stories, there might be hope for us all."—Julian Lucas, The New Republic
"An inarguable page-turner, Truevine is a fascinating and shocking account of Jim Crow's legacy and America's strange (and often brutal) past."—Dianca London, Lenny Letter
Praise for Factory Man
A New York Times Notable Book of 2014
One of Janet Maslin's Top 10 Books of 2014 in the New York Times
One of The Christian Science Monitor's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2014
One of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014: Nonfiction
"In a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit" and Katherine Boo's "Behind the Beautiful Forevers": These nonfiction narratives are more stirring and dramatic than most novels. And Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won't be putting this book down."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
"A truly remarkable work of researched narrative nonfiction, one the probes every corner of its topic and values every subject who has something to say.... Factory Man does justice to every hidden corner of the story. It's a book that leaves you feeling better for having read it."—Lucas Mann, San Francisco Chronicle