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Book - 2003
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Two light-skinned African American women try to pass for white to escape racism, and Clare Kendry cuts her ties to the past and to Irene Redfield, ignoring the fact that that racism exists. -- Novelist
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2003
ISBN: 9780143129424
Characteristics: xxxv, 122 pages ; 20 cm


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Nella Larsen's powerful, thrilling, and tragic tale about the fluidity of racial identity that continues to resonate today.

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Apr 26, 2021

My daughter read this in her book club and suggested it to me. Based on some of the comments, many readers are quite a bit younger than I. It has been at least fifty years since I've heard "passing" used in the sense of this book - usually it's a euphemism to avoid saying "death." The danger involved in passing is clearly elucidated in this book. Clare’s physical success has left a hole in her emotional life, not to say that Irene’s life is entirely satisfactory. This little psychodrama is written in stream-of-consciousness style that takes us through events by reflecting Irene’s conflicted and sometimes confusing thoughts. Although the novel is 100 years old, the style is modern and easy to read. Wondering why I had not heard of Larsen before this book, I found on Wikipedia that she had some racial conflict within her own life, which could have inhibited her output. A great background piece for the struggles that continue today.

Apr 07, 2021

Short novella modern Mrs Darcy

Mar 18, 2021

When I read Larsen’s Passing the first time, I was legitimately kind of confused because I was expecting some repressed lesbian sexuality subplot, but after reading the book a second time, I’m more appreciative of the subtleties in which it’s presented. There’s a lot of ambiguity about Irene’s sexuality, and I think it gives the book more weight as opposed to being written more explicitly when in the 1920s, this would’ve been taboo and illegal.

Mar 15, 2021

This was an intense short book about two childhood friend who reunite as young married adults. Claire has "passed" as white and is married to a racists man. Claire meets Irene who is also light skinned but living a tradition life w/ her Black family and friends. Claire tries to be a friend to Irene but she mostly pushes her way into Irene's life. Irene allows this to happen but has reservations which continue to grow. Loved the writing as the difficulties in their relationship unfold.

Mar 02, 2021

Although the story timely, writing engaging, I found the coup de gras was in the epigraph. Here were the meanings of words and phrases of the time depicting slang, locations, and other historical meanings.

STPL_JessH Jan 31, 2021

I recently reread Passing as part of preparations for our discussion of Vanishing Half in book club. This book could easily have been written in 2019 and I kept forgetting that it's almost 100 years old. Sadly, the discourse Nella Larsen explores is so very relevant now. This is an excellent novel that I hope many people will read before the film is released.

Jan 06, 2021

Passing by Nella Larsen follows the story of Irene and Clare, two black women. One of them, however, lives as a white woman, unbeknownst to her white friends and husband. This book is set in the 1920s, a time where living as a black human is to live as less than a human entirely. Many conflicts arise as one must face their inner demons, and the other must face the false identity they have created. It is fast paced and an eye opening story, with an interesting plot twist. I would highly recommend it if you enjoy short historical fiction.

Aug 13, 2020

This book tells the tale of 'passing' in America (in the late 1920's), which I believe is a topic many people are unaware of. It follows characters Irene and Clare, who are light-skinned African American women that could 'pass' as white if they wished. While Clare has 'passed', married a white man, and considers herself a white woman, Irene has chosen to embrace her African American heritage. When meeting by chance, both women develop a curiosity for each other's different lifestyles. With a surprising ending, this book definitely leaves readers wondering what will happen as they turn the page!

Aug 08, 2020

Set in the late 1920s in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, Passing centers on the reunion of two childhood friends- Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry- and the development of their reignited relationship.

Passing, in sociological terms, refers to the ability of someone who identifies with one identity group- such as racial identity, social class, or sexual orientation- who can “pass”, or be regarded, for another.

In the novel, both Irene and Clare are African-American/Caucasian biracial women who can pass for white. However, the greatest divergence of their relationship is that Irene has chosen to openly embrace her African-American ancestry whereas Clare has fully “passed over” and only identifies as white. Their reunion instigates a rapidly growing sense of curiosity for how the other lives in society.

Through Passing, Larsen, a biracial woman herself, expands on what it means to be biracial and how such categorization isn’t as distinct as most believe for it to be. In addition to the topic of race, Larsen seamlessly incorporates other themes- such as feminism, classism, sexuality, and mental illness- in the novel, providing for an intricately crafted text of intersectionality.

Furthermore, Larsen’s style of writing is very fluid and similar to that of someone’s running thoughts. For some readers, this may make the novel difficult to interpret, yet the constant hyphenation and deep introspection heightens the ambiguity of the plot, not unlike the concept of passing itself.

I highly recommend this novel because, despite its shorter length, it is rich with the discussion of so many important topics, and it encourages readers to further research and have open conversations about such topics.

Mar 02, 2020

Explores a complex topic with complex consequences. Language is real and tangible, with compelling characters and inviting story. Short and effective. An oft overlooked classic.

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