Classic · fiction · Small Book


“She wished to find out about this hazardous business of “passing,” this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.”  — Nella Larsen

Why I’m Reading this Book?

Written during “Harlem Renaissance”, first published in 1924, Nella Larsen’s Passing lured me with its promise of being very small and interesting. It’s cover photo reminded me of ‘Handmaid’s tale’, which I immensely liked (no similarity though I soon found out). I checked on Goodreads, and with average rating of 3.85 and 122 pages, there was no reason to say no for it.


Set in during early 20th century, with Chicago as a backdrop, Passing is a story of two black women, Irene and Clare, told in 3 sections.

In first section,’Encounter’, Irene and Clare meet after 12 years. Known to each other as girls, both are women now, successful in their lives. Readers are told the story from Irene’s perspective and she is curious to know what happened in Clare’s life. Here , readers come to know about Clare’s passing over as white and leading that life successfully. Irene gives a glimpse in Clare’s background, gossips around her, and her mysterious nature even when she was a girl. Clare invites Irene to her house and Clare’s careless behavior towards her own secret, irks Irene, so much so that she decides this their last meeting.

In second section,’Re-Encounter’, both women meet again and we see mounting irritation in Irene, yet an inexplicable loyalty towards Clare. In this section, Clare is a constant and nagging part of Irene’s thoughts. Though outward all seem tranquil, there is a storm brewing and like Irene , we as a reader also sense an impending doom.

In final section, ‘Finale’, everything comes together. There is an unexpected visit and something happens. It’s kind of suspense and a good one, so I’ll leave it here.

Written beautifully, Passing expresses the feelings of anxiety, betrayal, passion and curiosity with a mastery.

My Review…

When I first heard the name ‘Passing’, I thought it’s a story about someone passing a town or something, but in first 10 pages, I came to know this word carries a lot more meaning than I thought. It’s a term used for people with fairer screen but born black (mixed race) , passing for white people.

So, this story is about a woman named Clare, who did the passing and living the life that she always dreamt. But she misses her people, and comes back. Like a forbidden fruit, she is stealing these moments at the risk of her destruction. In her defiance and devil-may-care attitude, Clare often reminded me of Toni Morrison’s Sula.

This story explores the feelings which compels black people to act as white, often for personal gain, but at the same time ache for their roots. It’s the story of complex human behavior, where a woman is longing for a life she so despised and got rid of.

Unlike other African-American stories I’ve read, this story doesn’t talk about the poverty and hardship blacks usually faced during those time. In fact , all characters of this story are extremely well-off. There is undercurrent of racial discrimination and they are aware of it but they don’t bear the full brunt of it. This story is about extreme emotions where character happens to be blacks and dilemma they find themselves in.

My Rating — 4

On the scale of: (1- Hate , 2- Neither like nor dislike, 3- Like, 4- Love, 5- Gaga)

Why anyone else should read this Book?

There is a lot that I learned from this book. I came to know about Harlem Renaissance, prominent people associated with it, the Rhindelander case( Man sues his wife accusing she has concealed her race and landmark court’s decision), ham’s dark children (biblical reference to the curse of Noah to his son Ham) etc. A book is a good book, if besides the story, it makes you search for other information. Subtly placed here and there, various information in book, will pique anyone’s curiosity.

Book is very short. I finished it in 2 hours, without a break. I couldn’t put it down till I saw the end and it’s really worth it.I was impressed with author for her ability to write so much in so less words. I really loved this story and already added ‘Quicksand’ by Nella Larsen in my to-read list.

Book has all ingredients of success, drama, thriller, betrayal, love which can keep the readers on their toes. As per me, it’s a must read and I’m very glad that I’ve come across it. It was a privilege to know the flame called Clare.

Have you read it? Are you planning to? What is your opinion? Share them here. Till next time, Happy Reading Folks!!!

2 thoughts on “Passing

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