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Passing

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3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  7,989 ratings  ·  510 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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The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
37th out of 551 books — 649 voters
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Books White People Need To Read
52nd out of 441 books — 508 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elijah Spector
[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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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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Dem
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 most recent 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 m ...more
Hadrian
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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Pamela
Nov 25, 2010 Pamela rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Samantha
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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Steven Hopkins
This book isn't all that much fun to read, but it asks a lot of questions. It is about a black woman that passes as a white person, even her husband doesn't know. She has to live a life of fear and lies.
How many of us "pass" and live a different life than who we really are? What do we sacrifice to appear as someone else?
Tony
Larsen, Nella. PASSING. (1929). ****. Larsen was perhaps the leading woman writer during the Harlem Renaissance, and explored the shifting racial and sexual boundaries between black and white. In this novel, we meet clare Kendry. She is living a dangerous and false life. She is fair skinned, elegant, and ambitious. She is married to a white man who is unaware of her African-American heritage, and has severed all ties to her past. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, who is just as light-ski ...more
Lori
Passing by Nella Larsen is a must read for everyone. It takes place during the Harlem Renaissance. Clare and Irene are childhood friends who lose touch when Clare moves away after her father dies. She is sent to live with her white aunts, who decide Clare is to be white. Clare hides her part black identity, and “passes” as a white woman who eventually marries a white racist. Irene lives in Harlem, marries a black doctor, and commits herself to her race. These two women meet later in life and eac ...more
Jocelyn Kelly
Big stories sometimes come in small packages. Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella Passing packs a punch that’s even felt in today’s society. The story centers around the mixed blessing of being a “black” who is able to “pass” as white. Two women, old acquaintances, rekindle their friendship, one choosing to pass, the other silently envious as well as patronizing of the other’s choosing to do so as she chooses not. The writing is careful in word choice and texture. It gave me a feel for the setting as we ...more
Sarah
A quietly lovely book that builds and builds in intensity. This is exquisitely crafted.
Ali
Passing was chosen by my second book group (a lovely new feminist group) for our most recent read, we discuss it on Wednesday evening. It was my suggestion – because I already had the book and it seemed it would make a great book for discussion. In 2014 Serpent’s Tail produced an attractive edition of Nella Larsen’s two short novels, Quicksand and Passing in one volume. These two novels (novellas actually might be nearer the mark) are the only ones Nella Larsen wrote, however, despite this, Lars ...more
Shea
Somehow I managed to study the Harlem Renaissance at various times throughout my elementary and high school careers without once hearing the name of Nella Larsen, whose Passing I read for the first time in a college-level creative writing course. That was a suitable place in which to encounter it for the first time, because Passing is an example of excellent writing: a short and deceptively simple novel which overflows with deftly constructed themes, subtext, and subplots. But it’s a shame that ...more
Carolyn
Excerpt from a reflection for a course entitled "Queer Narratives/Queer Sexualities":

"I think it beautifully illustrates the idea that identity is not and can never be one thing for individuals in a group, despite the fact that they may place themselves underneath one particular identity heading. The explicit disjunction that Irene feels between her own personal interests and the collective interests of her race when it comes to Clare is a perfect example of this; conversely, the disjunction tha
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Leah
This to me proves it is possible to present an onslaught of thought-provoking issues in a concise way that still allows for decent storytelling. While the characterization of Irene is a bit one-sided, Clare is painted with an interesting complexity. Passing becomes a way not just to move among races but also a way to question the validity of markers like race, skin color, gender, class, and sexuality.

To appreciate this book more, I would read the theories on it (particularly and Clare and Irene
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Carey Anderson
I read this book along with my Rough Riders as sort of a reference to my stories of the Wallace's as a past reflection to my modern day American Family. I appreciated the author's explanation of some of the ridiculous ways that people in past times thought that they could identify someone of color, by their ears, or nail bed. A lot of these ideas have passed down even to modern day ideas and thoughts. This book was short and interesting. I would definitely suggest that someone else read it. I ga ...more
Suzanne
This compact novel is as powerful, as unconventional and as good as Kate Chopin's best. Both Irene and Clare are Chicagoans light enough to pass. They grew up together, colored. It is the 20's and their worlds are changing, just not fast enough.

Irene marries a successful, decidedly black, doctor. Clare, orphaned at 16, runs away from her white relatives with a white man. Twelve years later, the two old friends serendipitously meet in a restaurant while passing.

This magnetic novel is about: preju
...more
Jenny
In style and tone, this book reminds me of The Awakening. It is about a woman uncomfortable within the confines of the society that she chose for herself, a woman longing to break free but unable to do so completely, one who feels held back by her child and who is unhappy in her marriage, desperately seeking happiness elsewhere. Unlike The Awakening, though, Passing is told from the perspective of an acquaintance of Clare Kendry rather than from Clare herself. It creates even more of a distance ...more
E. C. Koch
This is a difficult book, and the reasons why are exactly as complicated as identity politics in the 20th century. First, it should be said that Larsen dispenses with her subject really quickly. Passing is properly a novella, though an investigation in fiction of racial politics at the turn of the last century could easily have occupied another thousand pages or so. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that but even Hamlet soliloquizes from time to time, and my immediate reaction is that Larsen do ...more
La Tonya  Jordan
Jan 25, 2015 La Tonya Jordan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everybody
Recommended to La Tonya by: Circle of Friends Book Club
Shelves: favorites
"No," She went on, "no more for me either. Not even a girl. It's awful the way it skips generations and then pops out. Why, he actually said he didn't care what color it turned out, if I would only stop worrying about it. But, of course, nobody wants a dark child." Her voice was earnest and she took for granted that her audience was in entire agreement with her.

Irene, whose head had gone up with a quick jerk, now said in a voice of whose even tones she was proud: "One of my boys is dark." This
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a book about a blonde woman trying to hide the fact that she is Actually Black, while meanwhile trying to connect with her African-American heritage, and everyone around her (black and white) taking this situation completely seriously and trying to help her hide the fact that she is Totally Black from her racist husband, who has no clue (and also is less Aryan-looking than she, but Totally White nonetheless). Thank you, literature, for reminding us that the real world can be as weird as ...more
Ariel Uppstrom
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Vasha7
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Meg
Passing takes a hard look at race, specifically African American and Caucasian, the difference between black and white, and what happens when someone crosses those lines. Both Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are very light skinned; Irene chooses to remain in the African American community while Clare passes and marries a white man, not even telling him of her race. A chance meeting reunites them after years of separation and Clare becomes again part of Irene's life, much to her eventual displeas ...more
Robert Joseph
Passing is a story about a friendship between two black women. Both of these women and different perspectives on their race (being Afro-American). Claire Kendry(the main character) grew up a poor mulatto on Chicago's south side. Her father died and her white Aunt's raised her. While living with them, she wasn't allowed to acknowledge her "negro blood." She quickly saw the advantages of "passing" for white and when an opportunity came for her to marry a white guy in her Aunt's neighborhood she to ...more
Tasha
This is quite an adventure. While I expected to read more of a story about the struggle of being a Black American in the early 20th century, this author wove a tale MUCH deeper. The characters, Irene, Brian, and many of their friends lived a secure life in Harlem as they moved about their day to day existence and engaged in a life of dealing with the nature of life during that era. Their friend, Clare, was quite the opposite. She'd been sent away years before, and she'd assumed an identity and t ...more
Austen to Zafón
A well-written, eye-opening novelette about a topic I've never given any thought to: passing. A by-product of Jim Crow laws, "passing" was where a person who was considered legally or socially black moved into a white social or legal identity. In other words, if your skin was light enough to look white or Spanish or something other than negro, you could pass for white, with all the attending privileges and status. But what happens when you try to pass as white in a world where if you're found ou ...more
Sophie
"'I guess,' she told the Samaritan, 'it's tea I need. On a roof somewhere.'"

"She had been alone there at the window and it had been so satisfyingly quiet. Now, or course, they would chatter."

"Irene couldn't quite define it, but she was sure that she would have classed it, coming from another woman, as being just a shade too provocative for a waiter."

"With each succeeding one she was taller, shabbier, and more belligerently sensitive."

"He had been a son of their brother's, on the left hand. A wil
...more
Annie Chanse
I enjoyed this novel because it was such an honest, open look at race and humanity. The novel focuses on two African American women -- one who has spent her adult life passing as a white woman. She is married to a white man who, not only DOESN'T KNOW she's black, but also HATES black people -- DESPISES them and thinks of them as sub-human. The other woman is married to a handsome black man and has, on the surface, the perfect life. The story examines each character's life, happiness, and problem ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Passing - Nella Larsen 4 27 Feb 03, 2015 10:58AM  
Librivox version 2 12 Jan 25, 2014 01:49PM  
23 Short Classics: Passing 5 12 Jan 25, 2014 06:51AM  
23 Short Classics: January Book - Passing by Nella Larson 4 12 Jan 09, 2014 04:17PM  
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7894
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...
Quicksand and Passing Quicksand The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories The Nella Larsen Collection The Short Fiction of 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.” 10 likes
“Everything can't be explained by some general biological phrase.” 4 likes
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