Author Lois Leveen is giving a free lecture titled “What Difference Does Difference Make? Race, Social Justice, and Jewish American Literature” on Wednesday, January 16, 2013. The talk is at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen is thoroughly researched and fascinating on many levels. Set before and during the Civil War, it is a fictionalized true story of slave and Union spy, Mary Bowser. Bowser was admitted into the U.S. Army Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1995, 130 years after the war ended. No one in the group had heard of Mary Bowser before reading this, but we were drawn to her strongly principled character, intelligence and spunk. Most participants liked the novel.
- One aspect of the book we particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to learn about the time period from a new perspective. Most of us didn’t know that freed slaves couldn’t remain in the South for longer than one year before being sold back into slavery.
- A fact worth reflecting on: Bet Van Lew was Mary’s wealthy former owner who bought her freedom and helped her spy for the Union. Why is it that historians know so much more of Bet’s story than Mary’s?
- Much of our discussion centered on our own experience with race relations. Lincolnwood is bordered by Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the nation, so it is easy to see the work that still needs to be done.
This novel was lengthy, but it encouraged us to think about race and social justice, which undoubtedly makes for an interesting discussion. The Secrets of Mary Bowser is recommended for book clubs.
Get started on our October selection, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, and join the discussion!