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The Secrets of Mary Bowser

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In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next 14 years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis' darkest secrets. Those secrets — and the nurse's deep personal grief — erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter and a family. By turns sensual, tragic, and comic, Lois Leveen's Juliet's Nurse (Atria) gives voice to one of literature's most memorable and distinctive characters. Exploring the romance and intrigue of interwoven loyalties, rivalries, jealousies, and losses only hinted at in Shakespeare's play, this is a never-before-heard tale of the deepest love in Verona — the love between a grieving woman and the precious child of her heart.

Staff Pick

Based on the true story of an emancipated slave who risked her life to spy on the Confederacy for the Union during the Civil War, this book is a must-read. Written with grace and passion, fantastic historical detail and fully realized characters, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is immensely enjoyable. I'd also recommend it for young teens, 15 and up, who are interested in history and looking for a gripping read.
Recommended by Sheila N., Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman's willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history

All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.

Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father — and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command.

Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost — even freedom.

Review:

"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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

"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." Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places

Review:

"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!" Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Review:

"Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"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." Naseem Rakha, author of The Crying Tree

Synopsis:

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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About 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.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Patricia Ridgley, January 31, 2013 (view all comments by Patricia Ridgley)
This historical novel is based on the true story of Mary Bowser, who as a child lived as a slave in
antebellum Richmond, Va. She was freed by her owner, and urged and supported by the owner to go to Philadelphia,
where she was educated--avid and quick to learn and to soak up all that a world of "freedom" offered.
When the War broke out, she returned to Richmond, eventually "passing" once again as a slave, and thereby
helping pass important war information to the Union, at great risk to her life and that of others
with whom she worked, white and black. I found this a delightful, intriguing story---and was deeply
touched to once again discover such courageous,selfless, yet all-but-unknown persons in our history.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Mary Kathryn Olney, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Mary Kathryn Olney)
This was a wonderful imagining of a real, but lost, herstory. I learned more about the Civil War than any history class ever taught me, and loved the very real characters that the author created to tell Mary's story...or what might have been her story.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 2 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780062107909
Author:
Leveen, Lois
Publisher:
William Morrow & Company
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
20120531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
496
Dimensions:
8 x 5.3125 x 1.11712 in 10.4 oz

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The Secrets of Mary Bowser Used Trade Paper
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Product details 496 pages William Morrow & Company - English 9780062107909 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Based on the true story of an emancipated slave who risked her life to spy on the Confederacy for the Union during the Civil War, this book is a must-read. Written with grace and passion, fantastic historical detail and fully realized characters, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is immensely enjoyable. I'd also recommend it for young teens, 15 and up, who are interested in history and looking for a gripping read.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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!"
"Review" by , "Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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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