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Book Review of The Personal Librarian

The Personal Librarian
VolunteerVal avatar reviewed on + 522 more book reviews

The Personal Librarian, written by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, is historical fiction inspired by the life of Belle Marion Greener (1879 - 1950) who lived her life as Belle da Costa Greene. A light-skinned Black woman who passed as white, she was the personal librarian of John Pierpont (JP) Morgan, curating his impressive collection of books, paintings, and other art pieces.

Ms. Greene's accomplishments are impressive given the prejudices against women and Blacks in her era, but were achieved at a high personal price. I can't imagine the pressures she shouldered, maintaining her persona as a white woman with constant fear her true heritage being discovered, enduring the misogyny of her employer, dealers, collectors, and others in the fine art world, and financially supporting her mother and sisters in the lifestyle to which they became accustomed. Plus dealing with the guilt and grief of denying her Black heritage including her father and other family members with darker skin.

I was fascinated by this novel which focuses on Ms. Greene's life and relationships and devotes less attention to the contents of Mr. Morgan's library. The audiobook narration performed by Robin Miles was perfect to convey Ms. Greene's poised persona.

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