The Schmooze

Author Blog: Truth That's Stranger Than Fiction

Earlier this week, Lois Leveen wrote about what makes a book Jewish. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. But it can be hard to tell.

I did an enormous amount of research for my book “The Secrets of Mary Bowser.” The novel is based on the true story of a woman born into slavery who was freed and educated in the North, and then became a spy for the Union army by posing as a slave in the Confederate White House. Historical fiction can be a powerful way to learn about the past. Thanks to “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosenay, readers around the world have learned about the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Bowser’s bravery, like the horrors enacted at Vel’ d’Hiv, should be more broadly remembered. But for authors, blurring the lines between history and fiction can still feel risky.

Quite a few of the facts that I incorporated into “The Secrets of Mary Bowser” — particularly the actions of Bet Van Lew, a pro-Union white Richmonder whose wartime escapades including digging up and reburying the body of a Union officer killed by the Confederates — were so bizarre, I feared readers would find them too implausible, even though they were true.

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Author Blog: Truth That's Stranger Than Fiction

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