The Personal Librarian

Historical fiction based on the life of Belle da Costa Greene by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

by Carol Low

I chose to read this because I fell for the book cover, and because of the word “librarian” in the title. Little did I know that this work of fiction is based on some real life characters.

This novel is based on the life of Belle da Costa Greene who was one of the most prominent librarians in American history, best known for managing and developing the personal library of J. P. Morgan. She built one of the most important collections of rare books and manuscripts in the US, and transformed it from a private collection to become a public resource.

The book tells her life story – how this coloured woman changed her identity to secretly pass as a White in a segregated and deeply racist society. She triumphed to be a celebrated successful career woman in a man’s world. For this, she sacrificed marriage and having a family, in order to bury the secret of being a black woman.

I enjoyed reading this work of fiction and appreciate what the authors have researched and put together so that we may get a glimpse of what Belle’s true life could have been like.

She had many complex relationships and I can’t say that I liked her much for it. 😅 But then again, she couldn’t really have led a normal life, so it’s all rather complicated in that way.

I would recommend this book for those who like art and history, as there’s plenty of it to be savoured in this book.

Truth be told, I started and ended the book thinking it’s a complete fiction. Only when I read the authors’ notes at the end that I realised the characters, book manuscripts, art pieces, and events described are based on real life history.

What a journey it’s been with this book. It’s definitely a story that will stick with me for a long time.

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