Book Brief- Passing by Nella Larsen
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 each become fascinated by the other’s life.
A quote from the novel:
She said: “It’s 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.”
It is beautifully written and depicts the sentiment of that time. The book is enjoyable and sad. It is a short, quick read and a perfect book discussion book. It is jammed with issues about relationships, jealousy, loyalty, identity, race, love, friendship, and human nature. It made me think; how sad it must be to hide who you are and to live a lie.
“She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race.”
As the novel follows the tragic path of these two women, we come to see the unraveling and foreshadowing of their relationship.
“There was a slight crash. On the floor at her feet lay the shattered cup. Dark stains dotted the bright rug. Spread. The chatter stopped. Went on. Before her, Zulena gathered up the white fragments.”
I would even say that it should be a required book to read in high school, since it explores so many universal themes.
If you’ve read Passing, please let me know your thoughts.
This was reviewed by me a few years ago, but I thought I would send it your way again as we all gear up our reading lists.