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Passing for White by Tanya Landman - Review

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I was looking for something quick to read a couple of weeks back and remembered that I've still got about three of the Barrington Stoke books left to read on my Kindle - I bought a bunch for about a pound each in April 2020 and have read a few of them since. These books, when printed physically, are printed on thick paper suitable for people with dyslexia. They're nice little novellas and often touch upon really deep subjects but in a really accessible way. I would say this book is suitable for anyone aged thirteen and upwards. 

I will mention that there are a few uses of the N word throughout, which are completely in keeping with the time and attitudes of the characters, but which will be jarring for a modern reader. Tanya includes a note about this language at the back of the book and I completely understand her reasoning for using this language, as disgusting as it may be for us. But do be careful when reading. 

The book is based on the real story of William and Ellen Craft, slaves who escaped to the Northern United States in December 1848. I hadn't ever heard of them but have found it fascinating to read about them since then, as well as the stories of other slaves who escaped in similarly amazing circumstances. 

So, the book is about Rosa and Benjamin. Benjamin is a slave who works as a carpenter throughout Macon, Georgia. One day he goes to Rosa's house, and is expecting to meet a housegirl who looks like him. He is blindsided by the fair skinned girl he meets, who is in fact Rosa. Thanks to the fact that her mother's slave master was also her father, she can pass for white. She was given to her current mistress, Miss Abigail, as a wedding present, and to get her out of her father's house. Her owner, Mr Cronwell, rapes her nightly. 

She and Benjamin get married and she is soon pregnant. She knows that her owner may well be the father, and wants to escape. She and Benjamin realise that they can have several days over Christmas to escape without drawing attention, and also that Rosa can pass as a white man, travelling with Benjamin as her slave. They will get to Philadelphia and be free there. They decide Rosa will pretend to be an invalid to help cover up the fact that she can't read or write. 

Their journey is not without peril, and includes the disgusting attitudes of white men and slave owners of the time. This is a very good little book, portraying an important part of history. I'm giving it five out of five. 

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