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Passing

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3.88  ·  Rating details ·  22,561 ratings  ·  1,963 reviews
Alternate Cover Edition can be found here.

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 Passingan electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New Yorktogether with a new Introduction by the Obie Award- winning
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Paperback, Penguin Classics, 122 pages
Published April 24th 2003 by Penguin (first published 1929)
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Laura I read this with my 8th grade students. They needed help identifying the metaphors but were incredibly into the identity struggle and friendship power…moreI read this with my 8th grade students. They needed help identifying the metaphors but were incredibly into the identity struggle and friendship power dynamics. Some of their best essays came out of reading this book.(less)
Rachel Harper I wouldn't consider it historical fiction because the action is contemporary to the time it was written. I think of historical fiction as something…moreI wouldn't consider it historical fiction because the action is contemporary to the time it was written. I think of historical fiction as something written now about the past.
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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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
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Jaidee
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those facing their own ambiguities
Recommended to Jaidee by: a lovely friend
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "astute, biting, theatrical" stars !!

2017 Honorable Mention with High Distinction Read


This was an extremely thought provoking and personally challenging read for me on a number of levels. Passing is such an odd concept for me to fully grasp on a deeper level. I straddle the line in so many ways in my own life and have always seen the world and expressed my own self in a non-binary fashion. Luckily this was not only accepted by my family of origin but also encouraged and nurtured by a select
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Lisa
What if I could be someone else?

Crossing borders, sneaking into a different society through the back door, and living a secret life, fearing the consequences of detection - that is the main theme of "Passing", which I read directly after Quicksand, but had to let sink in for a couple of days before reviewing.

Quicksand is about how you slowly, steadily sink deeper and deeper into life, choking when you feel the lack of choice, the lack of freedom in a world that judges you for the colour of
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Michael
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs, 2017
A novel about passing as white, coded with queer subtext, Passing follows protagonist Irene Redfield as she rekindles a deep bond with her childhood friend Clare Kendry at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Both Clare and Irene are light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same neighborhood; since the time of their separation from each other, though, Clare has married an aggressive white supremacist and begun passing as a white woman, while Irene has thoroughly involved herself in the ...more
Sean Barrs
I read this a few months ago now, and I drastically undervalued its brilliance. Im writing an essay on racial encounter in the modernist movement for university, so Ive been picking this book apart during my second and third readings of it.

During the course of it, Ive noticed something equally as important. Racial encounter is at the centre of this book, but it is not the heart of it. Indeed, repressed sexual desire and love are what drive the narrative forward. But love isnt easily
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BlackOxford
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Our Most Common Prejudice

This novel is an extended example of a figure of speech called synecdoche in which a part is used to reference the whole. What makes it unusual, and highly creative, is that the part that Larsen uses is the gross and glaring fact of racial prejudice. The whole is a much more subtle and barely expressible prejudice that most of us find instinctive - prejudiced rejection of the purposes of others.

The storyline appears straightforward. Because she is light-skinned, Clare,
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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 ...more
Fabian
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Unfortunately I've not read many Harlem Renaissance greats. I've only previously read the novels "Native Son," "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "Invisible Man," &, well, 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 ...more
Monica
Since joining goodreads, I've made an effort to read the classics. Sometimes they fall flat, but most of the time they are better than expected. Passing is an example of the latter and I absolutely loved it! This novel at 90 years old feels like it could have been written today. What Passing has revealed isn't a huge revelation in my mind. First of all let me get my literary impressions out of the way. Nella Larsen is quite a talent. There is something about the way she writes that just blew me ...more
Steven Godin
Oct 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Written in the late 1920's, this is indeed a powerful piece of writing, and all these years later still remains an important one, dealing with the uncomfortable critique on modern race relations. Nella Larsen holds her own place in history for being the first African-American woman to receive a Guggenheim fellowship, and while her body of work hardly got off the ground in terms of numbers, what she did produce was fascinating insight into the tough lives people of mixed race had to endure. This ...more
Katie Lumsden
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Truly fantastic compelling, gripping, thought-provoking and powerful. What an ending! I completely loved it. ...more
Mara
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, for such a short novel, this one packs a punch! A classic of Harlem Renaissance literature, this little book explores what the concept of "passing" as white has meant for Black women throughout history. This book challenges our notions of what makes someone a part of a racial group, and hooboy. That ending though.
Majenta
May 15, 2016 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.
Dem
Apr 11, 2015 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
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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, ...more
Gabrielle Grosbety
Oct 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Its funny about passing. We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion but we protect it.

This book reminded me of The Vanishing Half in the way that it focuses in on one light-skinned black womans journey to deciding to pass as white while someone that used to be close to her, who is also a light-skinned black woman, watches from afar. Afar in the way that everything that person
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Anne
 It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, an individual, on ones own account, without having to suffer for the race as well.

Passing, written a century ago in 1922 by Nella Larsen is a complex and compelling novel which looks at the relationship between racial loyalty and identity. It is a study in contrasts, following the increasingly fraught relationship between two very different biracial women. They are both able to pass as white, but the ways that they choose to pass reveal
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Zanna
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bechdel-pass, 500gbw
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 ...more
✨    jamieson   ✨
I read this for university and I ... really, really liked it. It's nice when your school texts suck you in so much it's like you're not even doing schoolwork. This was incredibly thought-provoking and such easy reading compared to some other modernist texts. The amount of ground Larsen was able to cover in such a short book was truly a feat. I really enjoyed the themes Larsen chose to explore and following her characters as they struggled with their identities and situations. While at times the ...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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Sue
Written during and as a part of the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen's Passing is a very interesting look at a time and place and people. The emotions and experiences of the primary characters, these women and their approaches to their lives, their race, their marriages, their potential futures, are so complex in ways that defy any easy resolution.

Clare Kendry is the one who is "Passing." She grew up on the South Side of Chicago but resolved to live her adult life as a white woman and did so,
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Josh
Jun 23, 2015 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 thats 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's
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Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
What a bracing and twisty little book. Thoughts to come soon (in conversation with The Vanishing Half!).
Chrissie
Jan 31, 2011 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.
Raul Bimenyimana
This book was published 90 years ago, during the Harlem Renaissance that brought with it great works of art, this novel being one of them. Given the title and main theme of the book, I had some reservations before reading this, but what a pleasure and wealth of knowledge I would have missed had I bypassed it.

The story begins when Irene, the protagonist, remembers meeting her childhood friend Clare in her hometown of Chicago while passing in a restaurant meant for white people only. Both
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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
...more
Daniel Villines
Dec 27, 2016 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
...more
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
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2018
I kept seeing this classic of the Harlem Renaissance everywhere, and took it as a sign to read it. A story of passing for white, but between the lines there is so much more - nonheteronormative attraction, marriage, roles of women, sexuality, desire, parenthood... it's a lot deeper than it looks!
Anna Luce
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Its funny about passing. We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.


At once alluring and disquieting Nella Larsen's Passing presents its readers with a piercing examination of the interplay of race, gender, and class in 1920s New York.
Clare and Irene, the women at the centre of this novel, are childhood friends who grew up in the same black neighborhood. Both are
...more
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Play Book Tag: Passing / Nella Larsen - 4***** 1 11 Nov 24, 2019 05:31AM  
Black Coffee: July 2019 Group Read: Passing 96 102 Sep 07, 2019 07:52AM  

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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.

Articles featuring this book

Like  The Mothers , Brit Bennett’s bestselling debut,  The Vanishing Half  revolves around a secret with far-reaching implications. 
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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.” 29 likes
“It hurt. It hurt like hell. But it didn’t matter, if no one knew.” 17 likes
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