Narrative Medicine Book Club: Passing, Following up on Week 2

Carmen: I was moved/disturbed by the pathologizing of blackness in Chapter 3 as Clare, Irene, and Gertrude talked about pregnancy – “It’s awful the way it skips a generation and then pops out…nobody wants a black child.” A little later on in the chapter “Clare began to talk, steering carefully away from anything that might lead toward race or other thorny subjects. It was the most brilliant exhibition of conversational weightlifting that Irene had ever seen.” Chapter 4 offers additional weight that has the potential to crush them all. I considered the weight of internalized racism, the self-loathing, secrets, and the emotional weight for all these women reconciling race, and navigating the “norms” they have created for themselves. The weight of these exchanges felt very contemporary.

Derek: “Conversational weightlifting” — so vividly accurate! When John Bellew joins the women (like a wrecking ball), I tracked with Irene who “thought, unbelievable and astonishing that four people could sit so unruffled, so ostensibly friendly, while they were in reality seething with anger, mortification, shame. But no, on second thought, she was forced to amend her opinion. John Bellew, most certainly, was as undisturbed within as without. So, perhaps, was Gertrude Martin.” This revisited recognition created for me an image of Irene inextricably linking the racist message to its messenger.

For this week (Week 3), April 25th-May 1st, we’re reading Part 2 Chapters 1 and 2!

If you don’t already have your copy, books can be purchased from the publisher, direct from your local indie bookstore, or through or If you want to join in the book club discussion, you can respond here or on social media using #NMBookClub.

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