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 true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a twenty-eight-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.