The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a historical fiction that centered on Belle de Costa Greene and her time as the personal librarian of the private, later to become public library of JP Morgan. From being a smart negotiator and rather ruthless in securing rare and valuable texts for her employer to the full establishment of the renowned library, with her in charge, I loved every aspect.
What really made this particular novel stand out is the fact that she was not only female, rising to such an esteemed position, but the fact that she was, in fact, black. Light enough in skin color to pass as white, perhaps, but she was forced to hide that fact, changing her name and being very careful due to the time period.
It's several decades since the Reconstruction and the heady period of hope had become one of disgust for the Jim Crow laws, the street justice of casual, brutal racism, and a fairly vast backlash against all black folk. Of course, there were always a few bright communities and a great number of new highly educated and hopeful people, and Belle came from that background thanks to her father.
This was real history with a massive lean-in to what it would have been like to hide in plain sight from some of the worst racism in America.
The only thing I didn't really care for, honestly, was the romance angle. Give me books, give me a spotlight on injustice, but if the romance was ... not all that great, then I just wish the novel had focused only on its strengths. That's my opinion, of course.
Overall, it was pretty good, somewhat heartbreaking, but still a thing of hope... even if it was built entirely on a lie. Ability and intelligence SHOULD have been enough.
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