Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Release: The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Destined to be on many "best of the year" lists, Lois Leveen has truly brought history to life in The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Starting from the briefest of mentions of this remarkable woman in historical records, Leveen deftly fleshes out the story of Mary Bowser, a freed slave who was educated in Philadelphia and who returned to Virginia to become a spy for the Union during the Civil War. Exploring such weighty topics as slavery, abolitionism, religion and war, this is also a story about family, friendship and the spaces in between.

I know many of you may already have started seeing positive reviews about this novel and some of you might even have review copies. I strongly urge you not to put off reading this one. It does not read like a first novel at all thanks to Leveen's smooth prose and tight story. The story is, in fact, so believable that the reader must constantly remind herself that much of it is only supposition. But if Mary Bowser was even half the woman that she is made out to be, then she deserves to have her story told.

I also had the opportunity to meet Lois at Third Place Books on Tuesday night and hear her read from the book. I even asked a couple of questions, something I rarely do. It was an enlightening evening and led me to an even greater appreciation of the novel. If you happen to be in Birmingham, Alabama, you can go to one of her events tonight!

In awe of those who came before,


  1. This is the first time I've heard of this book, and now I really want to read it.

  2. This sounds terrific--I've been wanting to read a Civil War, slave-perspective novel since I just finished Team of Rival by Doris Kearns Godwin--and this sounds perfect.

    Good writing, hopefully, and a good, believable story.

  3. This sounds amazing! I think I'd love it- thanks for reminding me of it. I wonder if I can find a companion non-fiction novel to read around the same time. Hmm...

  4. Chris - Well then I'm glad to have shared it with you. I hope you read it and love it!

    Jane - It's a sort of half slave/half freed novel which is really interesting. That intersection was probably the most difficult. I'll look for your thoughts on it!

    Aarti - I think you would really like the strong female characters in the book. I wish I had a good non-fiction recommendation for you. Maybe a biography of Elizabeth Van Lew, the abolitionist former owner of Mary?