16. Passing by Nella Larsen and books about complicated sisterhood

Today Chelsey and Sara are chatting about Passing by Nella Larsen. Published in 1929, Passing is a book about two women: Clare and Irene, who grew up in the same middle class Black community in Chicago and come back into each other’s lives as adults. Irene is living in Harlem with her husband, a successful doctor, while Clare has left the family and friends of her youth behind to marry a white man and pass as white. Clare and Irene’s bond is built on a shared past and a deep mutual affection, but also curiosity and jealousy over the lives each of them might have had. As their lives become more and more intertwined the tension builds, and a sense of impending doom makes this book impossible to put down.

Our discussion includes:

  •  Gatsby connections galore, and an argument for replacing Gatsby with Passing [16:35]
  •  Intersectionality and Irene’s struggle with loyalty across race, gender, and class lines [27:56]
  •  Who should pick this up? [32:15]

Plus, as always, we’re recommending six contemporary books to pair with our classic,  including a literary thriller and one of this summer’s buzziest books.

This episode will be mostly spoiler-free, except for a brief discussion of the ending. We’ll warn you in advance before we get into it, and timestamps are listed below.

Chelsey’s Pairings:

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite [40:48]

Black is the Body by Emily Bernard [47:05]

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert [53:17]

Sara’s Pairings:

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson [37:50]

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah [43:14]

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett [50:00]

Pick of the Week:

You Must Remember This podcast “Passing for White, Merle Oberon”13th the Ava DuVerny documentary

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