the next good book

Passing

By Nella Larsen

8/10
(8/10)

141 pages

What’s it about?

This slim novel was first published in 1929.  Two old friends, Irene and Clare, run into each other unexpectedly at an all-white hotel in Chicago.  It has been twenty years since they last saw each other.  Irene has since married a doctor and lives a privileged life in Harlem as a black woman- she only passes on occasion when she feels it is necessary.  As it turns out, Clare has been passing as a white woman since they last met, in fact she is married to a very racist white man that has no idea of her past.  With conflicting feelings, Irene slowly lets Clare back into her life in Harlem.

What did it make me think about?

Were people always this formal and polite?

Should I read it?

This was a quick and interesting read.  The pacing and the plot were notable, but I was struck by the formality of the writing.  Even the character’s internal thoughts seem formal and stilted. For me, it was a little hard to get too emotionally involved as the language keeps you at a distance. Even when Irene talks about feeling depressed and not being in the Christmas spirit you are kept at a polite distance.  “Though, she admitted, reluctantly, she herself didn’t feel the proper Christmas spirit this year either.  But that couldn’t be helped, it seemed, any more than the weather.  She was weary and depressed. And for all her trying, she couldn’t be free of that dull, indefinite misery which with increasing tenaciousness had laid ahold of her.”  

So, this is a novel that I am reading with a group. There is a lot to appreciate about this book and I am glad I read it.  Harlem in the 1920’s was an interesting place. Irene and Clare are at two opposite ends of the spectrum in how they chose to live their lives- and this should make for an interesting discussion.  I have no doubt I will come away with more of an appreciation for this story once we discuss it. Lots to be unraveled about race, identity, and the choices we make.

Quote-

    “But she shrank away from telling that man, Clare Kendry’s white husband, anything that would lead him to suspect that his wife was a Negro. Nor could she write it, telephone it, or tell it to someone else who would tell him.

She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same.  Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her.”

What’s it about?

This slim novel was first published in 1929.  Two old friends, Irene and Clare, run into each other unexpectedly at an all-white hotel in Chicago.  It has been twenty years since they last saw each other.  Irene has since married a doctor and lives a privileged life in Harlem as a black woman- she only passes on occasion when she feels it is necessary.  As it turns out, Clare has been passing as a white woman since they last met, in fact she is married to a very racist white man that has no idea of her past.  With conflicting feelings, Irene slowly lets Clare back into her life in Harlem.

What did it make me think about?

Were people always this formal and polite?

Should I read it?

This was a quick and interesting read.  The pacing and the plot were notable, but I was struck by the formality of the writing.  Even the character’s internal thoughts seem formal and stilted. For me, it was a little hard to get too emotionally involved as the language keeps you at a distance. Even when Irene talks about feeling depressed and not being in the Christmas spirit you are kept at a polite distance.  “Though, she admitted, reluctantly, she herself didn’t feel the proper Christmas spirit this year either.  But that couldn’t be helped, it seemed, any more than the weather.  She was weary and depressed. And for all her trying, she couldn’t be free of that dull, indefinite misery which with increasing tenaciousness had laid ahold of her.”  

So, this is a novel that I am reading with a group. There is a lot to appreciate about this book and I am glad I read it.  Harlem in the 1920’s was an interesting place. Irene and Clare are at two opposite ends of the spectrum in how they chose to live their lives- and this should make for an interesting discussion.  I have no doubt I will come away with more of an appreciation for this story once we discuss it. Lots to be unraveled about race, identity, and the choices we make.

Quote-

    “But she shrank away from telling that man, Clare Kendry’s white husband, anything that would lead him to suspect that his wife was a Negro. Nor could she write it, telephone it, or tell it to someone else who would tell him.

She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same.  Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her.”

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