The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray was recommended at an online event. I wished I had read the historical notes in the back of the book first before reading the book because, at first, I was feeling quite dubious about the creative liberties of this novel. Admittedly, it felt a bit sappy. A relationship between Belle de Costa Green and J.P. Morgan? In the early 1900s? I didn’t know about Green, but I knew that Morgan was a financier and a collector of manuscripts, books, and art. Was this for real?
The tension of “passing as white” trope was woven throughout the novel. Different shades of skin color, as evidenced by the Green’s family members, impacted the social and economic opportunities the family pursued. As well as the necessity and power of “passing as white” versus sustaining cultural and racial identities on both personal and political levels, as evident between the relationship between Green’s mother and father. Green’s father was Richard Greener, who was the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality.
Even though this was written as a novel, it was still based on well-researched history. It speaks to our modern times too. A compelling story about where we were and where we are.