Beth Macy's book Truevine, is Ashe Library's 2017 Community Read selection. Truevine, a town near Roanoke, Virginia, is the place where this story begins. The time is 1899. Freed slaves are now working as sharecroppers for white landowners and enduring segregation and limited rights under Jim Crow laws. Macy’s book reflects her years of research into the lives of two brothers, George and Willie Muse and the cruel turn of events in their young lives that propelled them towards fame in Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey’s Circus Freak Show. Kidnapped by circus talent scouts from the tobacco fields where they worked, as circus entertainers these albino African American brothers were billed as “Ambassadors from Mars,” or with their unkempt dreadlocked hair, “Sheep-headed Cannibals from Ecuador.” The Muse brothers’ family spent years wondering what happened to the boys, and it wasn’t until thirteen years after their disappearance that their mother found them. She was able to help them gain control over their lives and rectify the exploitative way in which they were being handled.
|George & Willie Muse, a.k.a Eco & Iko|
It was certainly a big accomplishment for Harriet Muse, an illiterate maid, to fight for her sons’ freedom in the early 1900s. An oppressive social climate was fueled by white supremacist groups who began to dominate the landscape in the South. Klansmen and other groups started a violent campaign to disenfranchise, lynch, and terrorize African Americans. I marveled at Harriet Muse’s bravery, but I can relate to the fierce love a mother has for her children. This story is not just a story about “circus freaks”, Jim Crow days, underhanded business dealings, and social injustices. I think the core of this story is how the Muses’ mother went to such lengths to help her children. I was saddened by the lost childhood of these brothers and very touched by their emotional mother/child reunion years later. While reading this scene I actually had goosebumps when George is quoted “There’s our dear old mother. Look, Willie, she is not dead.”
This year’s Community Read is the first to engage our county with a non-fiction book. It is about history, family struggles, and a mother’s love. Although the brothers endured years of hardship, in the end George and Willie come out on top! Join us in reading, discussing and sharing this story during the month of May. A perfect choice for Mother’s Day reading!
Read-Share-Return Books are available at the library. Stop in and pick up a copy, then save the date for special related programming and a visit from the author. Community Read Theater presents a circus-themed interpretation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (another story about kidnapped brothers) at 7:00 p.m. in the Bowie Seagraves Memorial Park on May 12 and 13. Beth Macy visits the library for a presentation and reading at 7:00 p.m. on June 2 (pizza will be served). For those who wish to visit informally with Beth, call the library to register for Breakfast with the Author at 9:00 a.m. on June 3 (free event, but limited seating).
Community Read programming is made possible by fundraising efforts of Ashe County Library Friends. Thank you Friends … we appreciate you! We are also very proud of Ashe County’s Homeschool Drama Club (T.H.E.M.) and their wonderful leaders Ramona Renfroe and Gilly Macknee. You won’t want to miss their incredible performance in the park!