Passing - book cover
  • Publisher : Macmillan Collector's Library; Reprint edition
  • Published : 04 Aug 2020
  • Pages : 176
  • ISBN-10 : 1529040280
  • ISBN-13 : 9781529040289
  • Language : English


Coming to Netflix! Nella Larsen's Passing is a distinctive and revealing novel about racial identity, now a critically acclaimed film adaptation by Rebecca Hall, starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Alexander Skarsgård.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition of Passing features an introduction by writer and academic, Christa Holm Vogelius.

Irene Redfield, married to a successful physician, enjoys a comfortable life in 1920s Harlem, New York. Reluctantly, she renews her friendship with old school friend, Clare Kendry. Clare, who like Irene is light skinned, ‘passes' as white and is married to a racist white man who has no idea about Clare's racial heritage. Clare is very persuasive and Irene, despite misgivings, can't resist letting her back into her world. As tensions mount between friends and between couples, this taut and mesmerizing narrative spins towards an unexpected end. This is a pocket size book with smaller font size.

Readers Top Reviews

Stephanie Jane (Lite
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 characters and there just isn't the space to do this in such a short book. Passing begins as a black person pretending to be white. Irene in particular muses on the phenomenon - what exactly race means to her and whether it has the same meaning for Clare. This meaning morphs as the story progresses and I could see characters deceiving each other further by passing as friends where no friendship really exists. This is a thought-provoking novella which could make for lengthy (and possibly heated!) book group discussions.
When Irene accidentally meets her childhood friend Clare in a tea-house in Chicago, she's not altogether surprised to discover that Clare is 'passing' as white. Clare had always wanted the good things in life and, when she disappeared from home as a teenager, her friends suspected she'd found a way to make use of her beauty. Now Clare is married to a rich white man, John Bellew, with whom she has a child. But John hates 'n*****s' and Clare knows her marriage would be over if he ever found out about her mixed heritage. Irene rather despises Clare for, as she sees it, a kind of betrayal of her race, but nevertheless can't resist the appeal of her charm. And so, their friendship is resumed – dangerous to Clare's marriage, but as it turns out, dangerous to Irene too... Despite the title and basic premise of the book, this is as much about marriage and status as it is about race. Irene is respected in her society in Harlem. Her husband Brian is a doctor and they have a relatively wealthy life. But we soon learn that Brian is discontented – he hates living in a country where he is treated as inferior because of his race. Irene on the other hand loves her life and wants nothing more than she has. Clare is the catalyst who brings this division into sharp focus, forcing Irene to question what's important to her and to wonder if her marriage is as solid as she had always thought. I appreciated that the book doesn't focus exclusively on the race issues. Sometimes books become so polemical it feels as if the people are tokens rather than rounded characters in their own right – I'm thinking of Americanah, for example. In this one, none of the characters is defined entirely by race – the questions that absorb them most have little overtly to do with colour. In a way, that makes the incidents of racism feel all the more brutal and shocking when they do happen. Written in 1921 long before the civil rights movement really got underway, we see how white people felt it was totally acceptable to publicly and casually express views that many of us would now find repugnant (pre-Trump – sadly, it now appears to be the new normal again), and how black people, even wealthy ones, had no real recourse other than to accept it and try not to let it define their entire lives. Brian and Irene's ongoing difference about how to bring up their sons encapsulates a debate that I'm sure must have been going on endlessly in the black community of the time – Irene wanting to shield them for as long as possible from the knowledge of how racist their society is, while Brian feels they should be taught early what to expect and taught to resent it. The deeper question than simply colour is perhaps about the sense of belonging. Despite having wealth and a husband who loves her, Clare the risk-taker longs for the people and places of her childhood and is willing to gam...
Gwendolyn Moore
This slim volume, written in 1929, speaks volumes about a subject that is foreign to many. Not everyone has physical features, particularly skin color, that allow them to choose a society different from the one into which they were born. Psychologically sensitive, this storyteller shows great restraint in what she allows the reader to discover as the tale unfolds...which makes the unexpected ending all the more effective. Along the way, the passions, desires, and fears of several hearts are examined in the context of racial tensions which, tragically, are still familiar ninety years later.
Passing was first published in 1929, and its cover has changed many times over the years. It is a book that is studied in school and reread by many as it continually compels the reader to challenge assumptions about race. Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield, both biracial, were childhood friends. Clare Kendry married a white man and is “passing” as white. We find out that her white husband has deep-rooted racist beliefs and doesn’t suspect that his wife is not 100% white. Irene Redfield has married a successful doctor and has two children; her husband and children have dark skin, and she lives comfortably with her racial makeup. After not seeing each other for many years, Clare and Irene are reacquainted. Their renewed connection leads to Irene assessing the status of her marriage. Additionally, Irene has great difficulty avoiding Clare, and the reader is led to wonder whether there is a sexual attraction between the two women. This short novel is packed with thought-provoking material for exploring the concept of race and sexuality in early 20th century American society. The author also delves into the themes of social class and friendship. The main characters are surprisingly well-developed for such a thin piece of literature: anger, trustworthiness, loyalty, selfishness, resentment, and insecurity are portrayed through the interactions of characters.
Sense and Sensibilit
The title of this book refers to a group of light-skinned African-American women who can "pass" for white during Jim Crow. I give this book five stars, with one reservation. I found the book fascinating, with some amazing writing, and a riveting plot line that you are dropped into without the slightest suspicion, and blindsided by the depth of the psychological drama that unfolds. My criticism is that the book ends too quickly, and too abruptly. I would have read three times as much about this astounding world, and all of the multiple characters, black and white, that are brought to life so vividly, along with the glamor of the Harlem Renaissance. It should have been a much longer book. This writer got a Guggenheim and then couldn't get her subsequent book published. I heard about this book because it was the subject of a discussion at the Waterstones bookstore in London, and since it was an American writer, it made me curious. I suspect the author's life, as a black woman in those days, led her into the kind of poverty and obscurity that Zora Neale Hurston ended up living, as a hotel maid, at the time of her death. We lost out on the kind of body of work they might have produced had they been of a race, class and gender that offered more support for their literary gifts.