|“The Personal Librarian,” by Ms. Benedict and Ms. Murray is an absolutely wonderful novel, uplifting, unsettling, educational, despairing, a refection on a time that should have been glorious for all Americans, and yet the Supreme Court ruling in 1885 tore down “the Equal Rights Amendment,” passed in 1872 that was an outcome of the Civil War. Suddenly, slavery was replaced by segregation and the Jim Crow Laws, and its effect was not only in the southern states but in northern states such as New York.|
The novel is about Belle da Costa Greene, who is hired by the powerful J.P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and pieces of art for the newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. This amazing and talented lady never would have been hired, except for the fact that she was so fair skin she passed for white. A secret she would keep her whole life, always conscious that people would find out that she was a colored lady. Her mother raised her children, who were all fair skin, to be white and always on guard when around people. She knew what it was like to live as a colored woman after 1885 and she did not want that for her children.
The inter-play and affection felt by Ms. Greene and Mr. Morgan, working side by side in the library, is nothing short of fantastic, and in many ways it dominates most of the book. Mr. Morgan is Anti-Semitic yet he never says anything against colored people, and yet Ms. Greene goes to great lengths to cover her true background, insisting she is of Portuguese.
Ms. Greene becomes world famous for her intellect, ability to bargain for priceless articles, her wit and her beauty. If she was ever found out she would lose everything, despite her undeniable abilities and talents. Sadly, it is impossible to read this novel and not make comparisons between the world Ms. Green lived in and today’s America where white supremacists are back at it, and the Confederate flag has once again trespassed the halls of our capitol.