Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray
Did I visit the Morgan Library just to take this picture? Yes, but I cannot wait to go back after reading this! I will appreciate it so much more.
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.
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.
The Personal Librarian is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, J P. Morgan’s personal librarian who became one of the most successful women of her time while passing as white.
I could not put this book down. I became invested in Belle’s life and her relationship with J.P. Morgan. I loved reading about Belle’s rise in a world dominated by men. Her life was complex, and The Personal Librarian was well-executed, and as such, gave her story justice and authentication.
Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray did a wonderful job writing Belle’s life and giving it all it deserves. These authors ensured that the language and dialogue were accurate for this time period. I also really appreciate that Benedict found a Black colleague with first hand experience to help write this story of a Black woman. I wish this was always done.
The Personal Librarian was engrossing and provocative. My heart ached during and after this book – for the way things were and continue to be. Although Belle did not face much racism as she passed as white, she saw the world and also saw how being found out would destroy her, if not lead to her death.
Overall, I loved The Personal Librarian. It will likely be one of my top books of the year. I highly recommend it and urge you to also read the authors’ notes at the end. I cannot wait to read more of Marie Benedict’s work as it highlights women who are often overlooked in history. I am so glad there is now a book that brings Belle da Costa Greene’s story to the masses.
The Personal Librarian
June 29, 2021