A true story of two albino African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a decades-long struggle to find them and to get justice for her family. The year was 1899, and the old people told the story: the place, a sweltering tobacco community in the Jim Crow South called Truevine, where everyone they knew was either a former slave or a child or grandchild of slaves. Though the narrative of George and Willie Muse has been passed down for over a century, no writer has ever gotten this close to the beating heart of their story and its mysteries: Were they really kidnapped and put into servitude by the circus? How did their mother, a black maid toiling under the harsh restrictions of segregation, bring them home? And why, after getting there, would they ever want to go back? At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for British royalty and headlined more than a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were fine musicians and global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success hinged on the color of their skin and on the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even 'Ambassadors from Mars." Beth Macy is a master chronicler of life in the South, and her exclusive interviews and sources make for a riveting American story about race, greed, and a mother's love. These were two little boys born in a brutal time, sharecropping a field in the segregated South, stolen away by a white man offering candy, and set on a path of events that would forever change their lives--and their family's destiny.--Adapted from dust jacket.
The author dug deep into this story, with a journalistic furor, interviewing descendants from the Muse family, similar to the approach of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She explores many issues and events from the early 20th century, touching on poverty and the rampant racism that flourished in the south. It also documents the bravery and tenacity of the boy's mother, as she never gives up hope, for her lost sons. Highly recommended.
All this sounds like a great premise for creative nonfiction, but the whole thing falls apart in the execution. The written documentation on George and Willie is meager, so author Beth Macy fills in the tale with long digressions, including a lot of Truevine and freak show history and details about people who remember when George and Willie were alive. Some of this material is interesting, but there is way too much of it, and it interferes with the dramatic arc of the story. I found this book disappointing.