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Passing by Nella Larsen

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Passing by Nella Larsen was originally published in 1929 and is described as an ‘electrifying classic of the Harlem Renaissance….intense, taut and psychologically nuanced portrayal of lives and identities dangerously colliding‘.

I first heard about Passing while listening to the radio one day where the movie adaptation for Netflix was being discussed. I was immediately fascinated by Rebecca Hall, and her determination to film it as she felt necessary in order for the story to have full impact. Thirteen years later and this stunningly captured movie is a feast for the eyes and for the mind. We watched it as a family and were all so very much caught up in it’s message but we hadn’t read the book, so I was thrilled on Christmas morning when my daughters gave me this beautiful edition from the Penguin English Library.

I was very saddened to read that Nella Larsen, after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship to write a third novel in 1930, was unable to find a publisher and disappeared from the literary scene. She worked as a nurse in New York City. I wonder if anyone has ever gotten to read that third novel.

At just over 100 pages, Passing is a compact book, but it contains a very powerful message about society, racism and the need to belong. A beautiful and tragic tale, Passing is a classic for a reason with many of its themes sadly still relevant today in many parts of the globe.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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