THE EXTRAORDINARY TRUE STORY
"This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited, determined reportage." Kirkus
"As compelling as Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ... Certain to be among the most memorable books of the year." Connie Fletcher, Booklist
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 apre-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.'
The result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Truevine 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.
The lives and fortunes, or misfortunes, of Willie and George Muse two black albino brothers who were better known by their circus names, Eko and Ito constitute the underpinning of this ramshackle book by journalist Macy (Factory Man). In 1899 the brothers, both under the age of 10, were at work in a tobacco field in Virginia, when they were kidnapped. They were displayed as freaks for the following 13 years and exhibited in various circuses and sideshows. They were labeled sheep-headed men from Ecuador, ministers from the African kingdom of Dahomey, Ethiopian monkey men, and, most famously, ambassadors from Mars found in a wrecked spaceship. In 1927 the brothers were reunited with their mother after years of her strenuous efforts to get them back. They returned as side-show performers under better, though often disputatious, contractual conditions. There's a page-turner buried in Macy's meandering account, but multiple backstories circus history, Roanoke history, Jim Crow life for blacks and whites, Macy's personal memoir (growing up in Roanoke, writing this book, building a relationship with a surviving Muse family member), and snippets from scholarly writing disrupt the reader's focus.