The Secrets of Mary Bowser – Lois Leveen

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (24 May 2012)
    My Rating = 4 stars
  • Based on the true story of Mary Bowser, a slave in Richmond, Virginia, this powerful debut novel focuses on the dark side of American history during the Civil War.

    Mary spends her early years as a houseslave in Richmond alongside her mother but Bet Van Lew, her owner’s spinster daughter, emancipates Mary and sends her to school in the free state of Pennyslvania. This “free” life is not without hardship but she is an excellent student equipped with a photographic memory – a skill which will be invaluable when she later returns to Virginia to spy on the Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

    Leveen certainly has an enviable starting point with this ready made story of hardship, heartache and political intrigue but she excels at weaving together all the strands of a very complex story set during a complicated period in history. She wears her considerable research lightly without letting it encroach on the personal tales of Mary, her family and friends – no mean feat considering the ramifications of the North-South Divide.

     An intriguing, engaging read which will be an excellent catalyst for reading group discussion.

    My thanks to Newbooks Magazine for sending me this review copy.

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