3.02.2022

finished reading

What I loved about this book is its history.  It's a story about race and class.  I thought it would be a book about books but she was the personal librarian for JP Morgan;  his collections of books and objets d'art.  

The era is evocatively brought to life and the social mores that went with each class.  And each race.  And Belle da Costa Greene is a witty, bold, fiercely intelligent figure.  Each success threatens to spill her secret of passing as white.  Everything she says and does is under a microscope because she's a woman navigating and thriving in a man's world.  And every nuance is scrutinized and self-contained because she's African-American passing as white.  

I loved the sense of bohemian life that Belle adopts.  I loved her internal struggle of passing as white for the opportunities and safety it affords her versus the moral dilemma of betraying her father--who is prominent as a civil rights activist.  There will be much for my book group to discuss.

From the publisher:
The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan's personal librarian—who became one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she kept in order to make her dreams come true, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict and acclaimed author 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 on the New York society scene 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 build 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 to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.
 







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