If over a hundred years ago there had been Black Lives Matter, the mother of George and Willie Muse would have joined and marched for the safe return of her sons.”
—Nikki Giovanni, poet and one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Twenty-five Living Legends”
Beth Macy has a way of getting under the skin of American life, burrowing into the seemingly ordinary to find the weird and wonderful taproots of our society.”
—Hampton Sides, author of In the Kingdom of Ice, Blood and Thunder, and Americana
I was thrilled to see TRUEVINE chosen among “The 10 Galleys You Should Grab at BEA” for the 2016 Book Exposition of America in Chicago, where booksellers and book lovers converged recently to check out this fall’s forthcoming books. Entertainment Weekly name-checked it among its “11 best things” list of fall books, and kudos for warm shoutouts from Vulture and the BEA Show Daily.
Writes Megan Labrise:
Award-winning investigative journalist Beth Macy made a splash with Factory Man, a New York Times bestseller and “masterly feat of reporting,” we wrote in a starred review. Comprised of hundreds of interviews and decades of research, her sophomore effort is sure to make waves: Truevine is the story of George and Willie Muse, two African-American albino brothers kidnapped from their Virginia town, circa 1900, by a white man who forced them to perform as an international circus act. Their mother, Harriett Muse, spent the next 28 years trying to bring them home.
The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering Virginia tobacco community in the Jim Crow South, where everyone they knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.
TRUEVINE is the story of George and Willie Muse, two African American brothers who were kidnapped from a tobacco field and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother embarked on an epic, decades-long struggle to get them back — and to get justice for her family.
The result of hundreds of interviews and a quarter-century of research, TRUEVINE is a journalistic triumph. Though the Muse brothers’ narrative has been passed down for over a century, no writer has ever gotten this close to the beating heart of their story, and its mysteries: Were they really kidnapped? How did their mother, a black maid toiling under the harsh restrictions of segregation, bring them home? And why, after getting there, would they ever want to go back?
At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for British royalty and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were fine musicians and global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success hinged on the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even “Ambassadors from Mars.”
Beth Macy is a master chronicler of life in the South, and her exclusive interviews and sources make for a riveting American story about race, greed, and the human condition. The full story of what happened in Truevine, Virginia is unforgettable, a book that will shock readers even as it warms their hearts.
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.”
—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer-winning author of The Witches
This compelling account of one family’s tragic exploitation provides an important lens through which America’s tortured racial history and the cruel legacy of Jim Crow can be seen anew.”
—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative
Taking us into the dark corners of American history that are discussed only in whispers, Beth Macy shines a bright light on the racial profiteering of circus freak shows and the Jim Crow South. In the remarkable Truevine, Macy manages to do what all the exploitative showmen wouldn’t dare; she humanizes the Muse brothers, and in doing so, she has written an unforgettable story of both heartbreak and enduring love.
—Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove