Carol's Reviews > The Secrets of Mary Bowser

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen
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's review
Apr 12, 12

bookshelves: 2012, historical-fiction
Read from April 05 to 11, 2012

I think this book is one of the best historical fictions for 2012. Mary Bowser was real person, a freed slave who put her mark on history. With very few details about Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen brings to life a story of a woman with courage, intelligence and determination. I was sad to finish this page turner.

Born a slave in Richmond Virginia, she lived with her mother, in the attic of the Van Lew mansion. Her mother taught her riddles and later how to read by drawing the letters in the ashes of the fireplace. She taught Mary how to survive while living the double life of a slave.

Her father lived in his small cabin on a nearby property of a different slave owner. Even though her family could only be together once a week, Mary realized that she was very privileged to have both parents. So many slaves had been forcefully cut off from their families and forced to live among complete strangers. Even babies were sold away from their mothers to fatten the owner’s purse.

Bet, the spinster daughter in the Van Lew family had been educated up North and learned ideas about slavery that went against her father’s. But she was still very strict about getting everything just so. Mary couldn’t trust her because she did not really know what it was like to be a slave. But Bet changes in this book as time requires her to start making sacrifices and feeling the effects of starvation and poverty.

One afternoon, Bet was reading a newspaper article to her mother as she usually did. Mary latched on to one of the stories and was able to recite word for word, even though she could not read. Mary’s mother was quiet then but later revealed to Mary that it was as a sign. Her mother knew that someday, Mary’s gift of a strong memory would be important. But just like any slave, she would have to pretend to be ignorant and hide her gift.
Mary was forced to prove that she hadn’t read the article or she would have been severely punished.

Bet Van Lew later paid from her inheritance for Mary and her mother and sent Mary to Philadelphia for an education.

When the time came, Mary would use her gift of an excellent memory and her wonderful education to help slaves to become free.

I highly recommend this book to all interested in the history.
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Reading Progress

04/05/2012 page 10
2.0%
04/11/2012 page 496
100.0% "Review to come soon"
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