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The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel by Lois…
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The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel

by Lois Leveen

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Interesting Civil War realistic fiction. ( )
  amazzuca26 | Jan 9, 2014 |
The Secrets of Mary Bowser imagines the life of a former slave, freed and educated in the North, who returns to Richmond right before the Civil War as a spy for the Union. I ran across the book as a Kindle Daily Deal, and I had to admit that the premise intrigued me especially since it was based on the life of a real woman.

The first and second parts of the book chronicle Mary's life as a slave and as a freewoman gaining an education in Philadelphia. I found both a bit slow, but was fascinated by the description of the life of free blacks in the north and their interaction with white society.

The story really picked up when Mary moves back to Richmond to spy for the north. Leveen's account includes richly drawn characters living through a treacherous time for all. I found Leveen's arguments among the characters most enlightening as each struggled to define what it meant to be pro-Union and anti-slavery in a place where being both could be fatal.

Good book. Recommended. ( )
  spounds | Jun 24, 2013 |
I don’t usually read historical fiction, but was intrigued by this having been based on a true story. It is an excellent historical novel, filled with drama and intrigue. Mary Bowser was a freed slave who spied for the Union during the Civil War. She had been educated in the North, but worked as a slave in the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis where she was able to gain access to important documents. None of the white people she worked for could imagine that a slave would be able to read, so she could memorize the documents, convert them to a code and pass them on to the Union leaders.
Because no records were maintained on activities of spies, I’m not sure that she had as great an effect on the war and its outcome as the author wants me to believe. However, it is a well-written book that held my interest and gave me a greater appreciation for the activities of African-Americans during the Civil War. ( )
  terran | Jun 15, 2013 |
Freed by her Virginia mistress while a teen, Mary is taken to Philadelphia to be educated. She later returns to Richmond, posing as a slave, in order to gather vital military secrets which are forwarded to the Union Army. In choosing Richmond as the novel's setting, Lois Leveen provides a refreshing change of perspective from the many Civil War novels set on Deep South plantations.The deliberate pacing of the story allows readers to be drawn into the danger faced by Mary as her espionage become increasingly urgent. ( )
  PeggyDean | May 27, 2013 |
Earlier last year I read [b:Miss Lizzie's War: The Double Life of Southern Belle Spy Elizabeth Van Lew|13092454|Miss Lizzie's War The Double Life of Southern Belle Spy Elizabeth Van Lew|Rosemary Agonito|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344670869s/13092454.jpg|18264296]. Elizabeth was a southern Unionist who spied for the Union. In this story, she arranged for her former slave, Mary Bowser, to serve in the Jefferson Davis household and gather information for the Union. I very much enjoyed that book, so when I saw this one telling the same story, but from Mary's point of view, I knew I wanted to read it. I enjoyed this book just as much! There were differences; the main one being that in the first book, Elizabeth, was the 'mastermind' of the espionage and in this one, Mary was the instigator. As the author explained, there isn't a lot of recorded history regarding former slaves, so the author got creative in telling this story. At times I had to remind myself that this is fiction, particularly at one point when Mary withheld information to manipulate the war. There is a lot of history in the book. There is also some insight into the lives of freed slaves and the difficulties they had even after gaining their freedom. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Civil War era. ( )
  Time2Read2 | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062107909, Paperback)

Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman's willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history

All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.

Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father—and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command.

Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost—even freedom.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:04 -0400)

"Based on the true story of Mary Bowser, a freed slave who returns to Virginia to spy on the Confederates, The secrets of Mary Bowser is the powerful story of a woman who must sacrifice her freedom to truly achieve it"--

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