The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia, the heart of the Jim Crow South, where everyone they knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.
The Muse brothers, George and Willie, were just six and nine years old, but they worked the fields from dawn to dark. Until a white man offered them candy and stole them away to become circus freaks. For the next twenty-eight years, their distraught mother struggled to get them back. But were they really kidnapped? And how did their mother, a barely literate black woman in the segregated South, manage to bring them home? And why, after coming home, would they want to go back to the circus?
At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the colour of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even 'Ambassadors from Mars'.
The result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Truevine by author and journalist Beth Macy, tells the extraordinary story of what really happened to the Muse brothers for the first time. It is an unforgettable story of cruelty and exploitation, but also of loyalty, determination and love.
In the media
Macy is a gifted storyteller and a dogged researcher and readers will be riveted by Harriet Muse's struggle to find her sons.
New York Times
A sturdy, passionate, and penetrating narrative. This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited, determined reportage
"It's the best story in town," a colleague told Beth Macy decades ago, "but no one has been able to get it." She now has, with tenacity and sensitivity. She gives a singular sideshow its due, offering these "Ambassadors from Mars" a remarkable, deeply affecting afterlife.
As compelling as Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . . . both are absolutely stunning examples of narrative nonfiction at its best . . . Certain to be among the most memorable books of the year.
Connie Fletcher Booklist