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3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  6,684 ratings  ·  452 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.

Paperback, 182 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1929)
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Elijah Kinch 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...more

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...more
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
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...more
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?
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
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
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...more
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...more
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
Ariel Uppstrom
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
"'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
I was so sure I'd reviewed this early on in my tenure on goodreads,
but I can't find it...

I read this only a few years and could not believe I'd never come across it sooner. Fascinating...and I will have to write a real review of it.

and now I see I'd reviewed a different edition, which included other works of hers as well:
I read this book because I'm interested in the literature of "Passing" and was curious about Nella Larsen's short novel with that tit...more
Really enjoyed reading this book!! It was recommended to me from a high school student in my old youth program. It was written during the Harlem Renaissance and written like a play in 3 acts. The two main characters are African American women. One "passes" as a White woman when it's convenient to her but is married to a Black man. The other "passes" as a White woman all the time and is a married to a man who is racist...and doesn't know she's black! I found the plot interesting, especially becau...more
Trendhater73: S. Bledsoe
I have read this book twice, once over the summer and then again recently. Both times were for classes with different themes. The beauty of this book is its different themes, which lend themselves to close readings and multiple interpretations. It is by far one of my favorite books to dicuss.

On the surface level there is the issues of race and the influence of the Harlem Renaissance. As you dig deeper there are implied homosexual themes. It broaches the issues of marriage, motherhood, and frien...more
I was supposed to read this in grad school for one of my classes (Transatlantic Modernism, I believe). I'm sorry I didn't because this was outstanding and I would love to go back in time and sit in that class discussion again, able to contribute. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator's reading completely moved me. I found this interesting observation on WIkipedia:

Though Passing does indeed relate the tragic fate of a mulatto who passes for white, it also centers on jealousy, psychological...more
this short, deceptively simple novel is full of great ideas. the story concerns a conflicted friendship between two light-skinned african-american women, one of whom "passes" for white. the novel was written in the 1920's, and provides an interesting look at black cosmopolitan life during the jim crow era. in fact, it addresses a whole host of things in addition to the racial predicament of its title: desire, etiquette, parenthood, marriage, jealousy. passing is occasionally melodramatic (especi...more
Another book from Freshman English 101 that I recently picked up and re-read. Although a short novel, the language has several layers of meaning making it a book not to be read lightly. Even the title has a lot embedded in it: crossing a border, death, notions of who gets passed over/erased, etc. Passing's historical context is realized even more when considering that it takes place in between the Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education cases. The book primarily asks the question - "W...more
didnt rate this that highly although there was something failry classy about the book and the writing style. its about couple white hubby black wife whose relationship wis goign well until a black friend of the wife and protagonist comes back into her life. shes been "passing" as a white girl and has married a white guy that cant stand blacks - she refrains from telling him that she is one her self. this book is about racism and is set in interwar 1920s USA - mainly nyc and chicago. bit of a sho...more
I really liked this book. The focus of the book was of course "passing" and the problems and heartache it caused for those who chose this route. But I also liked that it showed the "Negro" community as a group of successful, educated people who had a social order of their own. I know that there was discrimination and racial prejudice in 1927 New York, but this book focused on the life within that community, and the desire of those "passing" to be a part of it.

What just happened here? This story kicks off with an amazing beginning and then fizzles into nothingness. Clare and Irene are both well-to-do African-American ladies. They lived in the same building years ago when they were children and have not seen each other since -- until they run into each other some years later. Clare has passed for white, leaving all of her roots behind; she is married to a white man (who has no idea that she is black) and has a young daughter that passes for white as we...more
Aside from the fact that no one would face making the decision to pass nowadays, this was a really modern book. It also seemed to deal with leaving your childhood background behind. If you have the Penguin edition, don't read the introduction first, as it gives away the ending and is ridiculously long. One weird thing about the copy I had was that almost all of the checkouts from my town library were interlibrary loans, so apparently in the Hartord area no one has or reads this book.
I found this book very curious during the earlier parts. As it progressed I found there was some level of predictability about it. While written very well, I found myself a tad disappointed with it in the end, though not enough to go below a 4 star rating. I had a very good idea how it would end, and when it ended I found I was casually unsurprised. I almost want to give this a 3/5, but that's rather too low I think. Maybe 3.5-3.8
Passing by Nella Larsen is a remarkable novella, a remnant of the Harlem Renaissance, written by a Chicago-born woman who trained as a nurse & who eventually settled in New York during a time when there were strong racial divisions in place but also a period of great artistic ferment in the black community. Larsen's literary output was not large & her work is not widely read today but Passing and at least one other short work mark the author as someone whose contributions deserve to reac...more
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500 Great Books B...: Passing - Nella Larsen 2 15 Jul 28, 2014 06:18PM  
Librivox version 2 10 Jan 25, 2014 01:49PM  
23 Short Classics: Passing 5 11 Jan 25, 2014 06:51AM  
23 Short Classics: January Book - Passing by Nella Larson 4 11 Jan 09, 2014 04:17PM  
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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...
Quicksand and Passing Quicksand The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories An Intimation of Things Distant: The Collected Fiction of Nella Larsen The Complete And Unabridged 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.” 9 likes
“Everything can't be explained by some general biological phrase.” 3 likes
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