Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Book description

A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties…


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Why read it?

4 authors picked Passing as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white…

I rarely let a book go from my shelves, but this is one I’ve pulled down twice and passed on to two friends after they noticed the Passing title on the spine. I told them it was about two biracial childhood friends, Clare and Irene, who collide later in life as Clare passes for white secretly in 1920s Harlem. Whoah… they were hooked. I discovered this oldie but goodie in a college Harlem Renaissance course, with author Nella Larsen recently rediscovered as a national literary treasure. The 2021 Netflix film adaptation is pretty awesome. Read this psychological thriller for a…

From Kalisha's list on Black women’s friendships.

I discovered this novella thanks to its recent screen adaptation. The novel, like the film, outlines the dual traps faced by one of the protagonists, a light-skinned Black woman who can escape racial injustices by passing as white, only to fall prey to the shame, anxiety, and dangers of living a lie. The savagery of this double-edged trap is only partially masked by social niceties and delicate writing that nevertheless betray damaging assumptions and behaviors. The novella is a natural for cinematic adaptation, where the racial dynamic is necessarily more immediately visible, and which necessarily emphasizes dynamics of looking and…

A beloved novel from the Harlem Renaissance that follows the fraught relationship between two childhood friends, one who passes for white and one who chooses not to. The forthcoming adaptation, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, is a faithful and gorgeous reimagining of the novel. Shot beautifully in black and white, it movingly captures the tense friendship at the heart of the book.

From Brit's list on being Black in America.

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