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31 March 2013 / getrus

Passing — Nella Larsen

passingI picked up Passing on a whim at a booksale.  It is a good Penguin Classics soft cover and it sounded intriguing.  (I had taken a class in college on African American History and every once in a while reading something which correlates in some way with what I at one time was studying is pleasing.)  Written in 1929 Larsen conveys the thoughts and feelings as well as the turmoil and animosity toward African Americans that were prevalent to the times.

Irene is a light skinned negro who at many times can pass for a white person, provided she is not with people of her own race.  It is on one of these such days that she takes tea by herself and finds a woman staring at her.  Who she comes to find out is a friend from her past, also very light skinned.  This woman, Clare, invites Irene to come to her home for a small party one night and after much hesitation she accepts.  Here Irene, Clare, and Gertrude (another light skinned negro whom they both grew up with) enjoy each others’ company until Clare’s husband comes home.  He is white and extremely racist and has no idea his wife is part negro.

This novella is about how Clare and Irene find their own identity apart from what has been branded on them.  As much as it is about them finding their own identity it also deals with how the rest of the world sees them.

Reading about the racism which I had learned so much about in college is unsettling considering some of the things Clare’s husband says.  It is an absolute must for those who want to try to understand how it was to live as an African American in the 1920s.

**** (Four Stars)


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