Title: The Personal Librarian
By: Marie Benedict; Victoria Christopher Murray
Websites: victoriachristophermurray(.)com and authormariebenedict(.)com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray.
In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.
But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.
The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives. (Goodreads)
The Personal Librarian is the story of the Belle da Costa Greene (Belle Marion Greener is her birth name) and her journey as the curator at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. The book is written by two authors – Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. A very fine tale they have crafted. I am just getting into the historical fiction genre and I must say, I am very glad I was presented with the opportunity to read this book as it was a tremendously engaging read.
Set in the early 1900’s, this story chronicles the professional and personal life of Bella da Costa Greene as she rises to become a well respected, knowledgeable curator for the Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle Marion Greener had to learn early on to hide her authentic self if she was to succeed in the world to which she aspires – being a curator at a museum. Especially given that she is a woman… and a black woman at that. Though it should be noted that Belle is light skinned and passes herself off as a white woman. Belle is overjoyed when she secures the position of personal librarian for J.P. Morgan.
The reader is lead through Belle’s rise professionally as well as her personal life. I found the very divergent views of her parents and equality quite interesting. Their divisiveness led to a life for the most part without her father – which can be hard on a young family. Belle seemed to be under a lot of pressure to provide for her family – but she did it willingly as a result of the sacrifices that were made by the entire family.
I found Belle’s personal relationship with Bernard was interesting and a bit disturbing all at the same time. It was no surprise that Belle should fall in love and that an affair such as this may have been more common in these times than I would have thought – but the way everything played out was disconcerting to me (and yes – you will have to read the book to get the details).
I am sufficiently intrigued by Belle da Costa Greene that I will more than likely seek out further factual information about her life and life’s work for JP Morgan.
The writing flowed as well as the story. I enjoyed my first introduction to the writing of both Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. If you are interested in a well penned historical fiction (though very much based on the facts) – I suggest picking up The Personal Librarian and setting aside some quality time to read.