Pass / Fail

Passing - Nella Larsen

This  compact novel is as powerful, as unconventional and as good as Kate Chopin's best. Both Irene and Clare are Chicagoans light enough to pass. They grew up together, colored. It is the 20's and their worlds are changing, just not fast enough.

Irene marries a successful, decidedly black, doctor. Clare, orphaned at 16, runs away from her white relatives with a white man. Twelve years later, the two old friends serendipitously meet in a restaurant while passing.

This magnetic novel is about: prejudice, insecurity, control, desperation, marriage, and of course passing. I'm not sure which character, Irene or Clare, is more destructive and is more destroyed. Both are finely drawn, and belong to a minority. According to the characters, whites are less discerning and more easily fooled. African-Americans are able to detect their brethren and are more forgiving of their light skinned brothers when they choose to deceive. Neither route is easy for the African Americans in the 20's, nor is it easy now, almost 100 years later. (Barack Obama is half white and half black. Yet the world lauds his ascendency to the presidency of the most powerful White country in the world. Please don't get picky and say that Whites are in decline in the U S and China is more powerful.)

I read this in honor of Black History Month, but it is a valuable, moving and devastating novel for all time.