Thursday 7 June 2018

Book review : Passing For White - Tanya Landman

In Passing For White, Tanya Landman delivers an exciting and poignant account of the courageous break for freedom by Rosa and Benjamin, two slaves from the American Deep South, to the free states of the north in 1848. While the novel is a work of fiction, the story is largely inspired by the real-life escape of William and Ellen Craft, who - just like Rosa and Benjamin - relied on their own wits and nerves of steel rather than white saviours to make their escape. Another book, Running A Thousand Miles To Freedom, recounts William and Ellen's adventures, but their story is told entirely from the point of view of William. In Passing For White, Rosa is given a voice and the female perspective of slavery, even in a diluted form suitable for young readers, adds extra poignancy to the tale.

As the title suggests, Rosa disguises herself as a white Southern gentleman, travelling with her slave. This is possible because she is the result of repeated sexual abuse between her mother, also a slave, and the master of the house, so she has pale skin. The understated, matter-of-fact mentions of rape, miscarriage, violence and racism add real poignancy and emotional impact to the novel, especially as it is well-researched and historically accurate.

The book targets teens and has a reading age of 8, but even as an adult I enjoyed it and I was unfamiliar with the tale of William and Ellen Craft. Tanya Landman has a real talent for bringing to life thought-provoking stories of 19th century America, and her previous work includes Buffalo Soldier, the harrowing account of another young, female Afro-American slave, who, at the end of the American Civil War, disguises herself as a man to join the army and escape the racial hostility and brutality that awaits her as a freed slave.

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Barrington Stoke Ltd (15 May 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178112681X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781126813

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. I will look for this book. It sounds moving.

  2. I does sound interesting. One for my teenager who loves to read.

  3. It sounds interesting, but quite a serious read. Unfortunately ours are into their fantasy currently.


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