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Passing

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3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  11,712 Ratings  ·  785 Reviews
First published to critical acclaim in 1929, Passing firmly established Nella Larsen's prominence among women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The Modern Library is proud to present Passing — an electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New York—together with a new Introduction by the Obie Award- winning playwright and novelist Ntozake Shange.

Iren
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Paperback, 122 pages
Published February 4th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1929)
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Marlena I think that since a lot of what is going on is implied, a young reader may not understand what is happening.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Brina
For the first time, I am participating in a women's century challenge in the group catching up on classics. My 1920s selection is Passing by Nella Larsen, a semi-autobiographical novella, in which a young, mixed race woman light enough to pass decides to live her adult life as white. Delving into the perception of race from a myriad of perspectives, Larsen takes her readers back to a bygone era when African Americans were beginning to make inroads in northern society.

Irene Redfield and her husb
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Elijah Spector
Aug 31, 2011 Elijah Spector rated it it was amazing
[Cross-posted on my blog, and accompanied by pretty much the best author photo I've ever seen.]

First of all, please, for God's sake, if you're thinking of reading The Help, just fucking stop yourself and read something that's about the actual effects of real racism on real people, and not engineered to make white people feel good about themselves. In Passing, even many of the most enlightened folks carry some bigotry around, and the most horribly racist character is still, terrifyingly enough, a
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Samadrita
Huzzah for neat seguing of plot pulse and theme! This one proves to be a much better outing than Quicksand because it relies on dialogue and interactions between characters to gradually disclose its cleverly withheld secrets. Till the very end Larsen successfully kept me guessing at the hidden fears, ambitions and motivations that drive Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry - two light-skinned black women who subscribe to different forms of morally ambiguous survivalist ideology to counter the omnipre ...more
Bookdragon Sean
More and more I seem to be referencing the ideas of Franz Fannon’s Black Skins White Masks whenever I review a book like this. It’s so ridiculously apt and summarising the situation.

Fannon’s arguments suggest that the black man has been indoctrinated with this idea that he is inferior. Who he is, and where he comes from, is inferior. Therefore, he is forced to adhere to this model of what is superior. And at this time that was the foolish notion of elite white culture. The black man then preten
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Duane
Nella Larson (1891-1964) was born in Chicago to mixed race parents. Her mother was Danish and her father was Afro-Caribbean, also with a mixed race heritage. So Nella was caught in between worlds, not quite white, not quite black, so it was natural for her to write of her life experiences. And that's what she does in Passing (1929). The story is set in Harlem and revolves around two women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, both light skinned, one secure and happy, accepting her racial identity, t ...more
Fabian
Nov 22, 2010 Fabian rated it really liked it
Unfortunately I have not read many Harlem Renaissance greats. I've only previously read "Native Son," "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "Invisible Man," pretty much. The simplicity of the way this story is told, with a heavy and interesting overuse of commas and a well-rounded anecdote which deals with self-proclamation and self-deception, makes this my favorite one in the canon. It speaks of the race problem with the use of melodrama, a very tricky device which feels snuggly and at home here.

Irene
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Dem
Apr 11, 2015 Dem rated it really liked it
Passing is a novel by American author Nella Larsen. Published in 1929 and set in 1920s Harlem, New York City. The plot centers on the meeting of two childhood friends of mixed-race African-American ancestry.
Clare Kendry and Irene Redfiel are friends from old and a chance meeting sees them rekindle a forgotten friendship. The title ( Passing) and central theme of the novel refer to the practice of racial "passing"; Clare Kendry's passing as white with her white husband, Jack Bellew, is feature
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Zanna
Judging by the fact that this book has an introduction by the awesome Ntozake Shange, extensive notes and a detailed critical foreward by Mae Henderson loaded with references to related books and other critics who have written on Larsen, and that Bitch magazine devoted a feature to the book in their early 2015 issue, Passing has only become, if anything, increasingly relevant over the decades since its publication in 1929. The explanatory power of the concept of 'passing' has been utilised to ma ...more
Aubrey
4.5/5

My rating of this book has been compromised by my extremely recent previous reading of Larsen's magnificent Quicksand, it's true. Take it as one of those times where the scale depends solely on the capabilities of the sole author herself, rather than being one carefully calibrated across all of whom I've read. If the latter were the case, I would have to downgrade a great deal of other works read previously to this; as I have neither the time nor inclination for such things, simply take my
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Josh
Jun 23, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
(4.0) I've had to cogitate on this for a while to see if I could come up with something to encompass my feelings on this book. Comparatively speaking, coming from a man of Caucasian descent in America, could I truly know what it felt like to be someone of color at this time? At any time? With that said, I must say…

Passing. Now that’s a term, in its current context, I wasn't familiar with. The fact that people literally had to pass as another race to be accepted is beyond me, but the color of one
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Hadrian
Jun 30, 2013 Hadrian rated it really liked it
She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race. Or, it might be, all three. Nothing, she imagined, was ever more completely sardonic.

Passing, in my reading, is a book on identity. First those identities which are public, which we perform and act out. Then those identities which we ign
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Viv JM
This is a short novel that packs a lot of punch. I expected the themes of race and racism, but was surprised by the intensity of its portrayal of the protagonist's feelings of ferocious jealousy. The ending was quite a shock, so I'm glad in this instance that I approached the book not knowing how it would conclude (and I won't spoil it here!)

"Passing" was my pick for the Read Harder Challenge task to "read a classic by an author of color".

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Robin Mi
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Sara
Feb 08, 2017 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clare Kendry is passing. She is pretending to be white and has married a white racist who is completely unaware that his beautiful wife has black parentage. Clare has been successful at establishing her deceptive life, but she is not satisfied. She wants to keep one foot in the black community, and the way she opts to do that is through her friend, Irene.

Irene is happy in her black life. She could pass as well, but she is not interested in doing so. She is proud of her heritage and active in he
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Pamela
Nov 20, 2010 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Pamela by: Roberta Johnson
"Passing" by Nella Larsen was a very poignant and powerful read. It explores the concept of passing which is basically pretending to be someone you're not for your own personal, selfish gain. Ms. Larsen's achieves this through her two main characters, both African-American women, Irene and Clare.
Irene was born African-American, and she grows up to marry a successful African-American doctor. As a result, she chooses to stay within the African-American community, and she only "passes" when it's co
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Chrissie
Jan 31, 2011 Chrissie rated it really liked it
This was very good! It grabs your attention. It keeps you guessing from the first page to the last. It gives interesting perspectives on the concept of "passing" as a White. Great dialogs. No, more than great, exceptional! It moves quickly, and when it ends it leaves you thinking. This is a classic that is worth reading. It says a lot in a few words. It packs a punch.

Excellent audiobook narration by Robin Miles.

There is an exception to every rule. This was short and I liked it a lot.
Nathan
Dec 03, 2015 Nathan rated it really liked it
4.5/5
When James Baldwin said that: "The idea of racial progress in America is measured by how fast I become white", he hit upon the issue at the core of Passing; the narrative focuses on two women trying their damnedest to ignore the ways they are mistreated because they are black. Clare insists on passing for white, and it sends her identity into limbo. To her, the price of being black is poverty, limited options and an unfulfilled life, and the price of passing is self loathing, alienation, an
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Majenta
May 15, 2016 Majenta rated it liked it
Shelves: friends
PASSING gets an above-passing grade. It was on my TBR list for so long that I'm not sure why I might have wanted to read it, but I'm glad I got through it and...yeah, I'm glad I read it.
Alex
I've been fooled twice now into thinking Nella Larsen isn't a great writer. She is. She controls her story perfectly; she gives you exactly the information you need at exactly the right time. Her stories are carefully constructed, each one building steadily towards a wallop. They make a huge impact. There's no fat, nothing that doesn't exactly need to be there.

There's a six-floor walkup in one scene of Passing; the characters complain about it, and one makes a racial comment about it. It's ther
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Mary
Jun 21, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2016
Passing for straight.
Passing for married.
Mostly, passing for happy.

And passing for white. Whatever white is.
طاهر الزهراني
لا بد أن أعترف أني اقتنيت هذه الرواية لأنها أول عمل مترجم لمترجمها، فكان هدفي الترجمة أكثر من مضمون الرواية، لكن بمجرد أن بدأت الرواية انسقت لحدثها الذي ولج بي إلى أجواء ومشاعر إنسانية لم نعهدها في عمل تحدث عن مسألة العرق، وربما هذا الانسياق بشغف نحو أحداث الرواية هو دليل حسن الترجمة.
الرواية كلاسيكية في تقتياتها، وسردها، لكن الموضوع الذي يدور حول مفهوم العبور هو ما جعل للرواية أهميتها، وهذا المفهوم الذي يتحدث عن حالة إنسانية ستبقى ببقاء الانسان، هو ما سيجعل هذه الرواية تخلد، وهو ما جعل هذه الروا
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Daniel Villines
Dec 27, 2016 Daniel Villines rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book echoed a small part of my life. As a person who is half-Mexican, I somewhat know what it is to "pass." My upbringing was structured to affect this social illusion.

My mother, who speaks fluent Spanish, refused to teach me Spanish as a child. She did not speak English when she started school here in the US and she wanted save her children that distinction. Beyond Spanish, my DNA provided me a light enough complexion that I was seldom, if ever, identified as Mexican. People were always su
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Ebtihal Abuali
هذه واحدة من نوعية القصص التي لا يحدث فيها شيء تقريبا. انها تنمو وتكشف فكرتها من خلال الحوارات وتطور اتجاه العلاقات بين الشخصيات القليلة التي لا تكف عن اللقاء لشرب الشاي او الذهاب للحفلات، وهو نمط من السرد متكرر بين ما قرأت في الادب الامريكي وعلى الارجح يقول شيئا عن عادات المجتمع في ذلك الوقت (اوائل القرن العشرين). الموضوع جديد بالنسبة لي: الزنوج ذوي البشرة البيضاء الذين يحاولون "العبور" الى الضفة الاخرى والعيش كبيض.

ومن خلال هذه الاحاديث نعرف ماضي كلير التي عبرت في وقت ما، تزوجت بأبيض وعاشت بعيد
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فهد الفهد
زنج

تكتب نيلا لارسن وبتركيز شديد - يفسد الكتاب برأيي - عن موضوعة (العبور) – أفضل مفردة التسلل -، أي انتقال أفراد من زواجات مختلطة (بيض وزنوج) للعيش في مجتمعات بيضاء، تحت ستار لونهم الأبيض، ومن دون الاعتراف أبداً بأصولهم ودمائهم السوداء، أو كما سماها فيليب روث (وصمتهم البشرية)، وفيليب روث برأيي من أفضل من تطرقوا لهذا الموضوع في رائعته (الوصمة البشرية)، والتي يعرض فيها ساخراً حالة دكتور جامعي عابر ينتهي متهماً بالعنصرية ضد السود، يا للسخرية!! نيلا لارسن هنا تجعل الموضوعة هاجساً لأبطالها، فالبطلة ع
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*nawaf
Jan 12, 2016 *nawaf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
من المهم في هذه الرواية قراءة مقدمتها قبل البدء بها، والتي كتبها المترجم علي المجنوني لأنها توضح الحقبة الزمنية والأوضاع التي رافقت كتابة الرواية ، إذ أنها كُتبت في نهاية عشرينيات القرن الماضي ، في عصر كلن يسوده التفريق العنصري بناءً على اللون واختلاط الأعراق والألوان.
لن تتركز الرواية حول قضية معينة يجعلها تأتي في قالب مركز فالأحداث قليلة والزمن قصير نسبيًا ، حيث تدور الرواية حول آيرين ردفيلد وصديقتها كلير كندري وهم ضمن الفئة المولودة من زواج مختلط ولكنها اكتسبت البشرة البيضاء وملامحهم وما يعان
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Bloodorange
Jun 30, 2015 Bloodorange rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, modernism, audiobooks
A short novel about a concept so alien today to the white, non-American community that it's absolutely worth reading for its subject matter. It is a tad poetic, but not too much so; abruptly ending, but providing, to my mind, a sufficient sense of closure; the dialogues are fine, the situations feel realistic; the only thing I felt dissatisfied with were the characters.

The perceptiveness of Irene, the protagonist, her insecurities, her perception of herself as mother and wife make her very easy
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Fatima Saeed
May 31, 2016 Fatima Saeed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
لابد من الإقرار أن النتاج الأدبي الأصيل الذي عمل على تقديم الإنسان وتعقيدات حياته سيبقى مع البشرية حتى وإن مضى وقت طويل عليه، وليس أبلغ من ذلك استنادنا الا على الأدب الاغريقي والروسي حتى اليوم وبصورة شائعة جداً لا يمكن إنكارها.

يقول المترجم علي المجنوني عن رواية زنج أن: "العنوان الذي صدرت به الرواية يشير الى (العبور العرقي)، وهو في أبسط صوره ادعاء فرد من عرقٍ ما انتماءه الى عرقٍ آخر أوفر حظاً وأحرى أن يتمتع المنتمون اليه بمزايا سياسية واقتصادية واجتماعية يسعون الى احتكارها دون غيرهم"

ما أعجبني في
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Abeer Saleh
"العبور" هو انتماء فرد من عرق ما, لعرق آخر يفوقه في الامتيازات, وفي الحالة الأميركية فالعبور غالبًا يعني انتماء الفرد الأسود ذا البشرة الفاتحة (نتيجة التزاوج بين الطبقتين), لطبقة البيض ذات الامتيازات الكثيرة, و غالبًا لا يحكم على الشخص إلا بلون بشرته.

هنا, تحاول نيلا أن تتناول مسألة "العبور" التي لايعرف بالضبط عدد أفرادها على مر السنوات, وتسقطها على شخصياتها, الانتماء لمن لا يشبهك, فقط لتحيا حياة كريمة, تحصل فيها على أبسط الحقوق التي حرم منها من هم في مثل وضعك أو في وضع قريب منك, وبطبيعة الحال, م
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Rosa
Aug 25, 2015 Rosa rated it it was amazing
This book said so much in so few words. It obviously deals with race issues, but oh so much more-- class issues, identity crisis, marriage infidelity, possibly lesbianism between the two main characters--their relationship, especially in the beginning is subtle, yet intense. I would consider this more of a novella. It was over way too soon & left me wanting to read more of Larsen's writing. Unfortunately, there's not much to read. I know of one other piece by her - Quicksand, and a few short ...more
Tiffany Reisz
Jul 21, 2015 Tiffany Reisz rated it really liked it
Supposedly a book with the theme of racial "passing" is dated according to one critic. Seems more timely than ever after the Rachel Dolezeal scandal. Dated or not, the book was a beautifully written page-turner. Lots of passing going on. Are gay people passing for straight? An unhappy couple passing for happy? A bad wife passing for good? A fascinating look at the Harlem of the 1920s. Discussions of race more poignant than ever.
Samantha
Jan 14, 2009 Samantha rated it it was amazing
I must admit that Nella Larson completes a fantastic feat in only 114 pages.

This book makes you think: about race, race relations, and one's own anxieties about "the other". It makes you question your own sense of self, what it means to be, to identify with something, anything really. What does it mean to be authentic? To be an individual? To be part of a group? To be a human being? To have a color of any type, and to accept it, or reject it. What does it all mean?

I was reading the Times this m
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  • Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral
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  • Black No More
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  • Infants of the Spring
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  • The New Negro
  • The Life and Death of Harriett Frean
  • Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique
  • Our Nig
  • Glorious
  • Caucasia
  • Home to Harlem
  • Maud Martha
  • The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader
  • Lucy
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Nellallitea 'Nella' Larsen (first called Nellie Walker) was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote two novels and a few short stories. Though her literary output was scant, what she wrote earned her recognition by her contemporaries and by present-day critics.
More about Nella Larsen...

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“The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.” 17 likes
“It hurt. It hurt like hell. But it didn’t matter, if no one knew.” 8 likes
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