The true story of two African American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.
The year was 1899, and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.
Captured into the circus, 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 color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "ambassadors from Mars". Back home their mother never accepted that they were gone and spent 28 years trying to get them back.
Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
"'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, author of The Witches)
"Nonfiction storytelling at its finest.... It does what the best business books should: It delivers a heavily researched, highly entertaining story, at the end of which you realize you've learned something.... This is a great American story, the kind that we don't read often enough." (Bryan Burrough, New York Times)
"Macy vividly illustrates circus life during the 1920s, and she movingly depicts how the brothers' protective, determined mother, Harriett, eventually discovered and rescued them almost a decade and a half later.... 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." (Kirkus)
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