Modern Library, Paperback, 9780375758133, 304pp.
Publication Date: May 28, 2002
Irene Redfield, the novel's protagonist, is a woman with an enviable life. She and her husband, Brian, a prominent physician, share a comfortable Harlem town house with their sons. Her work arranging charity balls that gather Harlem's elite creates a sense of purpose and respectability for Irene. But her hold on this world begins to slip the day she encounters Clare Kendry, a childhood friend with whom she had lost touch. Clare light-skinned, beautiful, and charming tells Irene how, after her father's death, she left behind the black neighborhood of her adolescence and began passing for white, hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. As Clare begins inserting herself into Irene's life, Irene is thrown into a panic, terrified of the consequences of Clare's dangerous behavior. And when Clare witnesses the vibrancy and energy of the community she left behind, her burning desire to come back threatens to shatter her careful deception.
Brilliantly plotted and elegantly written, Passing offers a gripping psychological portrait of emotional extremity. The New York Times Book Review called Larsen "adroit at tracing the involved processes of a mind divided against itself, that fights between the dictates of reason and desire." The Saturday Review of Literature said, " Larsen] has produced a work so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel.
Larsen s first novel, "Quicksand," was published by Knopf in 1928 and was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Harmon Foundation in recognition of Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes in Literature. "Passing" was published in 1929. In 1930 Larsen became the first African American woman to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing. Following a highly publicized divorce in 1933, Larsen gradually withdrew from literary circles and abandoned writing altogether. She spent the last twenty years of her life working as a nurse in Manhattan hospitals. Nella Larsen died in New York City on March 30, 1964."
"[Nella Larsen's novels] open up a whole world of experience and struggle that seemed to me, when I first read them years ago, absolutely absorbing, fascinating, and indispensable."
"[Nella Larsen] offers characters so honest and desperate to be whole that we cannot help but champion their humanity."
--From Ntozake Shange's Introduction