With the rich detail of Cold Mountain, the strong female bonds of The Help, and the untold history of The Warmth of Other Suns, comes a powerful debut novel about the secrets a woman keeps, and those she will risk everything to tell.
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.
Lois Leveen takes a little-known historical figure and makes her come alive in The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Working carefully researched events and other historical figures together with richly nuanced creative details and fictional elements, Leveen weaves a wonderfully engaging tapestry that honors her subject and treats difficult material with sensitivity and honesty. Through Mary's experiences, the reader is compelled to confront the usual ideas about North and South, slave and free, and comes away with a completely different understanding of this complex period of history. This is historical fiction at its best: it teaches, enlightens, delights, challenges, and entertains (DawnEllen J). (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
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.
Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman.
Teresa Majury, Newbooks
Leveen excels at weaving together all the strands of a very complex story set during a complicated period in history... An intriguing, engaging read that will be an excellent catalyst for reading group discussion.
Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader
Masterfully written, The Secrets of Mary Bowser shines a new light onto our country's darkest history.
Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Packed with drama, intrigue, love, loss, and most of all, the resilience of a remarkable heroine... What a treat!
Book Group Books
A fascinating read about slavery, war and love. Lots to enjoy here, plenty to learn too and good scope for debate.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Dorothy T. Great historical fiction This novel drew me in from the start, and kept my interest right through to the end. It deals with real people that I am sure most readers have never heard of; in fact, I was never really aware of the spy ring in the South that assisted the North... Read More
Rated of 5
by Louise J A Novel You Won't Soon Forget!! This is the true story of Mary Bowser, a freed slave who spied for the Union during the Civil War.
This was a well-researched book filled with familiar and imagined historical events. Lois Leveen has written a novel that will grab you in at... Read More
Rated of 5
by Diane S. The Secrets of Mary Bowser I have read many novels about slavery and the Civil War but what sets this novel apart from others is that it encompasses so much and so it so well. That Mary was an actual person and that the letters and newspaper articles were factual just adds... Read More
Rated of 5
by Karla M. (Sicklerville, NJ) Glad I Kept Reading I found the first portion of the book a little slow but I'm glad I stuck it out because this was a great book. The story is wonderfully told and all the characters are so full of life you can't help but feel like you are right there with them. I... Read More
Rated of 5
by Kimberli M. (Jessup, MD) It pulls you in I would highly recommend The Secrets of Mary Browser. It is written with incredible detail that not only tells you a story, but teaches you about a period of history in the United States that still influences our lives today. Mary was an... Read More
Rated of 5
by Jan M. (Jenks, OK) History made easy I'm not a good history student, so this book was a delightful experience for me. A history lesson made easy! Mary Bowser's "secrets" gave this reader a look at slavery and the civil war from an entirely different perspective. I was appalled by... Read More
Two Unlikely Spies: Mary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew
Lois Leveen's debut novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, is based on the real-life story of Mary Bowser, a woman born into slavery in 1839 in Richmond, Virginia to John Van Lew, a merchant. After Van Lew passed away, his daughter, Elizabeth Van Lew, freed his slaves and paid for Mary Bowser to get an education. She also helped procure a servant job for Mary in President Jefferson Davis's Confederate White House.
According to NPR's article entitled, "The Spy Who Served Me," when the two women spent time together, they weren't simply "exchanging recipes." They were, in fact, spies:
"Crazy Bet" was the spymaster and Mary Bowser was one of her best agents - part of a spy ring - white, black, slave and free - made up of servants, farmers, seamstresses, storekeepers, undercover Scottish abolitionists - working in plain sight in the South for...
In the midst of the American Civil War, a southern plantation owner's wife is arrested by her husband and declared insane for interfering with his slaves. She is sent to an island mental asylum to come to terms with her wrongdoing, but instead finds love and escape with a war-haunted Confederate soldier.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...