Hardcover, 215 pages

English language

Published April 8, 1970 by Beaufort Books.

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4 stars (3 reviews)

First published to critical acclaim in 1929, Passing firmly established Nella Larsen's prominence among women writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Irene Redfield, the novel's protagonist, is a woman with an enviable life. She and her husband, Brian, a prominent physician, share a comfortable Harlem town house with their sons. Her work arranging charity balls that gather Harlem's elite creates a sense of purpose and respectability for Irene. But her hold on this world begins to slip the day she encounters Clare Kendry, a childhood friend with whom she had lost touch. Clare—light-skinned, beautiful, and charming—tells Irene how, after her father's death, she left behind the black neighborhood of her adolescence and began passing for white, hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. As Clare begins inserting herself into Irene's life, Irene is thrown into a panic, terrified of the consequences of Clare's dangerous behavior. And when Clare …

26 editions

A thoughtful novella

3 stars

I was attracted to Passing by its having been written by a black woman in 1920s America. I've read historical fiction set in this location and era, but don't think I've previously read a female-authored book actually written at that time. Passing is an interesting glimpse into the lives of one woman, Irene, who believes herself happy with her black life and family, and Irene's childhood friend Clare who is 'passing' as white and has a white husband.

Disappointingly, this book is only a novella. I like Larsen's writing style, especially the clever way she portrays tense and awkward situations between her characters. I could easily empathise with Irene. Her inability to stand up to Clare is completely understandable. And Larsen does a good job of setting scenes, making them easy to picture in my mind. However, I wanted her to delve more deeply into the complicated relationships between her …


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  • Fiction - General