First published in 1929, this was critically acclaimed on its publication. Nella Larson was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance, but after only a few stories she stopped writing for public consumption. This particular novel is starting to become popular again as it is used on courses throughout the US university system.
Passing refers to what both the main female characters can do in this book. Although technically of black origins they can actually pass as white, due to their skin tones. For Irene she stays to her heritage and has become a middle-classed black woman in New York, whereas Clare passes for white and has covered up her roots. After the two meeting for the first time since their teens in Chicago, they also meet again in New York a couple of years later.
Why this is such a delight to read is that the characters come alive and the whole book raises details and questions that are still relevant in today's world, where discrimination still takes place. Passing as a white woman may be alright, but you always have the worry that if you become pregnant, your child will be black. In someone like Clare's position with her husband not knowing her ancestry this is fraught with danger, in a country that like the US only stopped making it illegal in all states as late as 1967, for inter-racial marriages.
Taking in the segregation of the time, and racism in general this makes for an interesting and absorbing read, especially as Nella Larsen has placed some ambiguities in the story, especially for instance the ending. This is still as powerful a read as when it was first published.