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Passing (Penguin Classics) by Nella Larsen

Passing (Penguin Classics) (original 1929; edition 2003)

by Nella Larsen (Author), Thadious M. Davis (Editor), Emily Bernard (Introduction)

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1,302429,179 (3.75)188
Title:Passing (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Nella Larsen (Author)
Other authors:Thadious M. Davis (Editor), Emily Bernard (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: 1, 160 pages

Work details

Passing by Nella Larsen (1929)

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Really good book about a woman living in the Harlem Renaissance whose childhood friend passes for white. Their lives intersect in interesting ways as the " passing white " friend becomes involved with her husband.
  JoshSapan | May 29, 2019 |
I am not sure how I feel. Most of the characters are not likable, it's not necessary but I need to feel some kind of connection to the characters, positive or not to engage the story, the writing. It felt so cold and rigid. These are well to do people, both white and black, in a time, 1928-1929, when misery is just around the corner. It's almost claustrophobic in a way. Irene is little by little, cornered, by Claire who is taking away her security, her husband, her standing. It wasn't an easy listen but in the end I am glad I did ( )
  writerlibrarian | Dec 26, 2018 |
Now THAT was a hell of an ending. ( )
1 vote jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
Written in 1929 during the Harlem Renaissance, Passing by Nella Larsen tells the story of two biracial and light-skinned black women who can pass as white. One, Clare, has married a racist white man who is completely unaware of her past and her identity. Irene, the other, has married a black physician and has no real wish to pass. However when she is tired after a shopping trip, she stops for tea at a whites only tea room where the two women encounter each other. They had grown up in the same neighbourhood but haven’t seen each other since childhood until this meeting. The encounter will lead to unexpected and eventually tragic consequences for both women.

Passing is a very short book that packs a huge wallop. It is an intriguing, surprisingly suspenseful, and very insightful book about racial identity and attitudes that still resonates today. There is also an exploration of the tensions that develop between women, between the sexes, and between classes. Irene acts as narrator albeit an untrustworthy one adding a layer of ambiguity to the story and this ambiguity is nowhere more evident than at the end, one that was completely unexpected at least by me. This is not an easy or even a comfortable read but it is an important one and I recommend it highly.

Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Restless Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review ( )
  lostinalibrary | Sep 22, 2018 |
Nella Larson's Passing paints a picture of life in the 1920s, a time when there was a very different sense of racial identity and awareness. This brief novel was very engaging. ( )
  CYGeeker | Sep 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nella Larsenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernard, EmilyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henderson, MaeForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shange, NtozakeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?
-Countée Cullen
Carl Van Vechten
Fania Marinoff
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It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0142437271, Paperback)

The heroine of Passing takes an elevator from the infernal August Chicago streets to the breezy rooftop of the heavenly Drayton Hotel, "wafted upward on a magic carpet to another world, pleasant, quiet, and strangely remote from the sizzling one that she had left below." Irene is black, but like her author, the Danish-African American Nella Larsen (a star of the 1920s to mid-1930s Harlem Renaissance and the first black woman to win a Guggenheim creative-writing award), she can "pass" in white society. Yet one woman in the tea room, "fair and golden, like a sunlit day," keeps staring at her, and eventually introduces herself as Irene's childhood friend Clare, who left their hometown 12 years before when her father died. Clare's father had been born "on the left hand"--he was the product of a legal marriage between a white man and a black woman and therefore cut off from his inheritance. So she was raised penniless by white racist relatives, and now she passes as white. Even Clare's violent white husband is in the dark about her past, though he teases her about her tan and affectionately calls her "Nig." He laughingly explains: "When we were first married, she was white as--as--well as white as a lily. But I declare she's getting darker and darker." As Larsen makes clear, Passing can also mean dying, and Clare is in peril of losing her identity and her life.

The tale is simple on the surface--a few adventures in Chicago and New York's high life, with lots of real people and race-mixing events described (explicated by Thadious M. Davis's helpful introduction and footnotes). But underneath, it seethes with rage, guilt, sex, and complex deceptions. Irene fears losing her black husband to Clare, who seems increasingly predatory. Or is this all in Irene's mind? And is everyone wearing a mask? Larsen's book is a scary hall of mirrors, a murder mystery that can't resolve itself. It sticks with you. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:13 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A light-skinned African American married to a white man unaware of her racial heritage, Clare has severed all ties to her past to become part of white, middle-class society. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, as light-skinned as Clare, has chosen to remain within the African American community. Married to a successful doctor and the mother of two boys, Irene refuses to acknowledge the racism she grew up with and that continues to set limits on her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others and the secret fears they have buried within themselves.… (more)

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