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Truevine: Feedback

This is a page where I plan to document the feedback I get from the book. Feel free to post your own comments below. Thank you.


Meet A.J. Reeves who, at 102, is still making and fixing clocks in the workshop behind his Truevine, Virginia home. Here he is, in the video above, answering a recent question I put to him, “So what’d you think of the book?”

Below is an emailed review I received from a Muse relative, 18-year-old Erika Turner.

Erika Turner, proud descendant of George and Willie Muse.

She’s the great-great-great niece of George and Willie Muse;  she and her sister visited him often as little girls. Now a freshman at Old Dominion University, Erika is quoted a couple of times in “Truevine” and e-mailed me her thoughts after reading a galley copy of the book. When I complained to Nancy Saunders that the brothers’ interior existence was hard to report on, Nancy told Erika: “If she thinks it’s hard of her to write this story, just think how hard it was for Uncle Willie and Uncle Georgie to live it! She better pick her ass up!”

Earlier this summer, Ethel Fralin, greeted me at Truevine Missionary Baptist Church with a new wrinkle in the story of Willie and Muse. As a child growing up in Truevine, her mother talked often about how the brothers were kidnapped by a circus agent from outside this very church while their parents were inside worshipping. Fralin is third from left in the photo, wearing her trademark color (purple), and flanked by A.J. Reeves and his wife, Lillie. Pastor James Perkins welcomed me at the church, as did Deacon Joe Cobb who cautiously noted, “We don’t really know yet what’s in her book!”


The amazing Rev. Bill Lee, who read an early copy of “Truevine,” invited me last Sunday to come to his Loudon Avenue Christian Church in Roanoke’s West End (not far from the Muse family’s neighborhood, Jordan’s Alley), where he deftly wove in lessons from Charlotte with lessons from Nancy Saunders, the great-niece of George and Willie Muse: “Some of the things you’re dealing with growing up just make you tougher.” We are better than what we see in the media, Lee added. “I know racism is real, but every white person is not bad, and every policeman is not out to get somebody.” And: “Everybody can’t be on the ground in Charlotte, but everybody can do something.” Afterwards, I got a big hug from Eunice Becker (above, right), whose late mother was a cousin of the Muses, whose names were not Eko and Iko. “I wanna put it on record today that they got real names,” Lee said, to thunderous applause. (He retires after his last sermon, Oct. 23, and I suggest y’all go before he does.)

At my recent book launch party, Radford University professor Dr. Reginald Shareef had this to say (below) after glorious music by Roanoke’s Men of Distinction gospel choir and a blessing-to-end-all-blessings by the Reverend Bill Lee, who asked God for a bestseller (“to blow even ‘Factory Man’ outta the water!’) then had the crowd deliver aloud The Lord’s Prayer because it was Willie Muse’s favorite. Photo by Meredith Lovegrove Roller

So what happens when an idealist writer and charming person like Beth (let’s call her the “irresistible force”) meets a hardworking, nonsensical woman named Nancy Saunders (let’s call her the “immoveable object”) who is the pragmatic matriarch of her family? Nancy was determined that this story of human tragedy and suffering be told in the family’s VOICE and “restored the love, respect, and dignity that had been stolen from Uncles George and Willie as children?

An idealist like Beth and a pragmatist like Nancy view time and space very differently. Beth wanted the world to know this unbelievable story of overt racism and economic exploitation. Conversely, Nancy Saunders has lived a lifetime of dealing with overt racism and economic exploitation – – she wanted someone she could trust to write the story accurately. Beth had to earn Nancy’s trust over two decades before she could write an authentic story about the lives of the men known as Eko and Iko. This is why it took 25 years for the book to be written.

The “Irresistible Force” meets the “Immoveable Object”: The first time I asked to write this story, around 1991, Nancy Saunders (right) told herself, “Scratch has met her match.” She pointed to a sign on the wall a customer had made for her that said, “Sit Down and Shut Up.”

I would often get frustrated telephone calls or emails from Beth when Nancy would not respond to her inquires or visits. I would just laugh and tell her that if she is still talking to you, you will get the story. The Saunders/Turner family pride themselves on “keeping it real” and if they like you, you know it. Likewise, if they don’t, you know it as well. There is no ambiguity when it comes to this family.

Nancy wanted this story told accurately because she wanted to bring human dignity to her uncles, men who had been described by various circus entities as “Ecuadorian Savages,” “Emigrants from Madagascar,” and “Darwin’s Missing Links.” Later, they were known as “Eko and Iko, Ambassadors from Mars.” The circuses had totally dehumanized these men.

Today – because of Beth’s and Nancy’s collaboration – we know them as George and Willie Muse, and the process of humanizing their lives and existence for the broader public begins with this book. …

— Dr. Reginald Shareef, Oct. 16, 2016.

Willie Muse singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”


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