The Personal Librarian

Berkley. Jun. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780593101537. $27. F
Novelists Benedict (The Mystery of Mrs. Christie), who is white, and Murray (Stand Your Ground), who is Black, collaborate on an excellent book about Belle da Costa Greene, a powerful real-life figure in early 20th-century New York City. In 1905, J. P. Morgan hired Greene as the librarian to his private collection of art and rare books and manuscripts; she worked tirelessly (selling and acquiring millions of dollars of works) to turn it into the major public collection now known as the Pierpont Morgan Library. Greene became the first director of the Morgan Library when it was opened to the public. In Benedict and Murray’s novel, Belle enters a society dominated by men, where she makes her mark with her incredible knowledge of books, art, and people. But she fears that someone will learn her secret: that she is a Black woman in a white social circle. When Belle’s father left the family, Belle’s mother had moved them from Washington, DC, to New York, where, with their light skin, the family could “pass” for white. Belle doesn’t want to live a lie, but she knows that many doors would close to her if she revealed her origins.
VERDICT This fictional account of Greene’s life feels authentic; the authors bring to life not only Belle but all those around her. An excellent piece of historical fiction that many readers will find hard to put down.
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