Mini-Review — The Personal Librarian

26 Oct

My book club (IWBC — Interesting Women Book Club 😉 ) generally reads biographical fiction. We chose The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray because we have enjoyed novels by Benedict before and the subject matter, Belle de Costa Greene, was intriguing. We mostly liked the book — it was well-written and researched, even if we didn’t always like main character Belle. Belle is notable for being a highly influential black woman in the the art world of the early 1900s. However, no one, except her immediate family, knew she was black. She passed in order to achieve her dreams. The increased prejudice, even in the North, kept people of color from jobs and schools. Belle’s mother’s family was influential in the black community of D.C., but her mother did not think that was enough to protect her family. Belle walked a tightrope in her professional and personal lives, always on guard in an effort for her secret not to be found out. An added burden was that her father, Richard Greener, was a well-respected civil rights activist who opposed her mother’s decision for the family to live as white. There is definitely a lot of tension in the book. Belle yearns to be herself, yet knows that she can never disclose the truth of her heritage. As I said we mostly liked the book, but Belle was a frustrating character making terrible decisions in her romantic life. Because it is a biographical novel, The Personal Librarian also provides interesting looks into the lives of other famous people, J.P. Morgan for one. The book is an eye-opener and did foster a great deal of discussion about the time Belle lived in, the years in which we grew up, and modern-day struggles. Identity is often a buzz word today, but The Personal Librarian was a good look into how identity can determine one’s future path. We learned a lot from the book, as well as the Google searches the book inspired. 😉 I believe all of us would recommend this novel.

Recommended. (This is a general market novel and has adult situations and language, but is generally a clean read.)

Audience: Adults.

(I listened to the audiobook I purchased through Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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.

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms, who found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. Her mission is to excavate from the past the most important, complex and fascinating women of history and bring them into the light of present-day where we can finally perceive the breadth of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern day issues.

Victoria Christopher Murray is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 30 novels. Her novel, The Personal Librarian, which she co-authored with Marie Benedict was an Instant New York Times bestseller and her novel, Stand Your Ground won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction. Two of her novels, Lust and Envy have been made into TV movies for Lifetime. Visit her at http://www.victoriachristophermurray.com

6 Responses to “Mini-Review — The Personal Librarian”

  1. Cindy Davis October 26, 2022 at 8:01 am #

    Great review!

  2. Suzanne Sellner October 26, 2022 at 8:22 am #

    Such a fascinating work of biographical fiction!

  3. Gretchen October 26, 2022 at 2:55 pm #

    Sounds like an interesting read! Passing seems to be a topic that is popular in books right now. It is unfortunate that that was necessary, but it is fascinating to read about.

    • rbclibrary October 26, 2022 at 2:58 pm #

      I’ve read a couple more with that topic.

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