Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.
"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
"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
"Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman." Kirkus Reviews
"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
“Lois Leveen has written a captivating novel...[she] demonstrates considerable skill bringing the historical period to life. Marys 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.” Oregonian
“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 Americas deadliest war.” Publishers Weekly
“The Secrets of Mary Bowser is not only fascinating reading, but also historical fiction of the highest caliber.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Author Lois Leveens meticulously researched historical fiction is best consumed with sweet tea and a porch swing.” DailyCandy.com
“This novel will sweep you into the world of Mary Bowser without making you feel as if youre sitting in school instead of on the beach.” Statesman Journal (Oregon)
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.
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.