One can never truly understand what the life and hardships of another person are like. But The Personal Librarian endeavors to do just that and to share that information with the world. A wonderfully descriptive historical fiction, The Personal Librarian tells the story of a young black woman hiding her identity in order to follow her dreams.
Belle da Costa Greene (or Belle Marion Greener) is a young black woman in the early 1900s. While she grew up with others who shared her race, after a falling out with her dad (an activist), she and her family change their names and move into a white neighborhood. They are able to pass for white...and so they do.
But when Belle's dream job comes along and threatens her place in the world, she has to make a decision. The spotlight her job as J.P. Morgan's librarian brings may reveal a little bit more than she is willing to let on and she struggles to keep herself and her family safe while building the biggest and bestest personal library in the world.
I loved this book. As I continue to read historical fiction, I get more recommendations for them on platforms such as Goodreads. This was one of those recommendations. From the moment I read the blurb for The Personal Librarian, I knew I would fall for the person and story of Belle Marion Greener.
And I did. Bestselling author Marie Benedict pairs with acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray to write Belle's story authentically. The story is based on the real story of Belle Marion Greener and both authors did their research to make the story they wrote as close to the truth as possible. While they did take some artistic liberties and made some guesses, the author's note at the end of the book reveals just how close to the truth they stayed. Which, of course, impressed me. I loved reading about a strong female heroine who was an actual historical figure. Not only that, but she was a librarian. She bought and cataloged hundreds (maybe thousands) of rare and precious manuscripts and paintings. She was better than most of her (male) colleagues because she had to be. Neither her race nor her sex held her back and today, we can look back on this woman and say "Wow! Look at what she accomplished in a world that said she could accomplish nothing."
That being said, it makes sense that I would say The Personal Librarian is worth the wait. When I first read the blurb for the book, I quickly put it on hold at the Shasta Library. There were 9 or so people ahead of me and similarly to The Book of Lost Names, I waited months and months to read the book. By the time I read it, I was barely weeks away from leaving Redding (and the Redding Library). It was worth it, though. I loved this book and even went on to read one of Benedict's other historical fictions about the infamous Mrs. Einstein.
If you have any love for history or strong stories about women, this is definitely a book to check out. Belle Marion Greener will inspire you to push boundaries and go after what you want. If she did it when the whole world was against her, don't you think you could too?