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'Passing' Across The Color Line In The Jazz Age

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Kind of Blue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-10 11:48 AM
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'Passing' Across The Color Line In The Jazz Age
This is from NPR's You Must Read This - authors talk about their favorite books.

"Author Heidi Durrow grew up in Turkey and Germany, the daughter of an African-American serviceman and a white Danish mother. Her most recent book is "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky." Durrow is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School. Daughter of an African-American Her debut novel is The Girl Who Fell From The Sky."

DURROW: There are novels that are enjoyable to read and others that say something about the world. And sometimes there are novels that are both. Passing by Nella Larsen is one of those books.

Passing is set at the height of the Jazz Age when Harlem was in vogue. It's the story of two light-skinned black women whose comfortable lives unravel when they are reacquainted in a white-only restaurant: Irene, the wife of a prominent African-American doctor and the mother of two boys; and her childhood friend, Clare, who is passing as white.

Clare longs to be among black folks again. And at the risk of her racially intolerant husband discovering her real identity, Clare secretly joins Irene and her husband at the best clubs and parties where the Harlem literati and intelligentsia meet.

You may not identify with being a light-skinned African-American, but you have probably felt at some point that what was most important about you wasn't visible.

I have read and re-read Passing more than a dozen times. Each time I think I can hear Larsen's own voice more clearly: asking, demanding really, that each of us abandon the labels we've been assigned and celebrate the story that we are."
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jmm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-10 08:30 PM
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1. It's not your typical tragic mulatto book.
Once while discussing Passing in a college class somebody yelled at me that I didn't understand black women. Did I mention I was the only person in the class who was not white? Normally I'm not a fan of the tragic mulatto/passing genre of literature. The topic has pretty much been covered to death and I can only read so many stories about how there is something inherently tragic about being biracial or having a light complexion. Then you get people like the girl in my class who read so many of these stories that they run with the worst ideas they perpetuate and don't want to look deeper into any other issues involved. I enjoyed Passing and Nella Larsen's other book Quicksand because they give a more nuanced view of race and the other issues they deal with.
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Kind of Blue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-09-10 08:19 AM
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2. Excellent, I was hoping someone here has read it.
Thanks, jmm. It's going on my To Read list, and I'll probably buy Quicksand as well. I've never read Larsen before.
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