Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating


3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  1,515 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Born to a white mother and an absent black father, and despised for her dark skin, Helga Crane has long had to fend for herself. As a young woman, Helga teaches at an all-black school in the South, but even here she feels different. Moving to Harlem and eventually to Denmark, she attempts to carve out a comfortable life and place for herself, but ends up back where she sta...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published January 29th 2002 by Penguin Classics (first published 1928)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Quicksand, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Quicksand

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen1984 by George OrwellThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
377th out of 1,313 books — 3,314 voters
The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
183rd out of 509 books — 588 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Worst of all was the fact that she understood and sympathized with Mrs. Nilssen’s point of view, as she always had been able to understand her mother’s, her stepfather’s, and his children’s points of view. She saw herself for an obscene sore in all their lives, at all costs to be hidden. She understood, even while she resented. It would have been easier if she had not.
Someone at the helm of NYRB Classics fell asleep at the wheel, for the fact that this work has not yet been granted a rebirth in...more
To begin by stating the obvious: Quicksand is an aptly named book. And while its resonance with the experiences of the main character, Helga Crane, are made clear by the novel’s ambiguous concluding chapter, I also found it a perfect summation of my experience as a reader as well. For Larsen’s exquisite prose is subtly deceptive: delicate, and yet so incisive and sharply observed, and just like Helga’s moment-to-moment indecision never seems to add up to much in and of itself, Larsen quietly str...more
Erika Gill
I'm not sure how confident I am about the five stars just yet, this novel hit far too close to home. Quicksand is a bit like a modernist black Madame Bovary, if one wishes to be reductive, and I loved Madame Bovary.

Helga Crane is an unhappy schoolteacher at Naxos in Tennessee, chafing at the isolation and ostracization she feels being a bi-racial, class conscious woman in an all black institution in the South. She's 23 at the opening of the novel. I am 23. Too close!

However, Helga lacks a home...more
Feb 27, 2011 William rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to William by: williamc@gmail.com
Like most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is, and to see something more of life than her teaching position in the rural South offers. The cure, then, is to dismiss, one after another, the stops on the fickle road to her contentment: her native Chicago, New York's Harlem, Copenhagen's exotic promises. Passed over too are opportunities for extended family, for marriage, and for genuine love. Wh...more
Larsen, Nella. QUICKSAND. (1928). ***. Although written with zeal and fervor, this novel by Larsen, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, comes across as a naive chapbook of the plight of the Negro in America. The tale is told through its protagonist, Helga Crane, a young black woman whom we first meet when she is teaching at a black college in the South. After being forced to sit through a lecture by a visiting, white do-gooder on the role of the Negro, she decides she wants a new life. She quits...more
I found this book to be positively INSUFFERABLE! I understand Helga has an identity crisis because she is mulatto. That in-mind, she is insatiable, spiteful, irrational and then some. If it hadn't been a mandatory reading for class I probably would have dropped this book mid-way through.
I really wish the character Helga would have taken time to reflect on her feelings of ostracism, restlessness and her goals in life. Instead she meanders about living off peoples good will toward her and acting...more
Given my pessimistic outlook on life at the moment, I quite enjoyed the ending to Quicksand, which, frankly, made sense of the title. The feeling of circumstances spiraling out of control; constantly looking for salvation and finding only mediocrity, pettiness, smallness, and other people who are no help at all certainly magnified my appreciation for Larsen, and her sense of realism. Her place in the African American canon is secure; this novel and Passing are unmissable artifacts of the America...more
SP Mugler
I wanted to like Quicksand from the descriptive opening scene, though ultimately I found the narrative too aimless and the conclusion disappointing. The book wraps up with a pointed pessimism that seems almost inevitable, but I wish the protagonist had gained a lasting sense of peace in the end, since she expressed such unhappiness and acted so restlessly throughout the story. Or, conversely, that she had died during childbirth, as befitting a true tragedy.

Nevertheless, Larson provides an intere...more
This is one of those books that hits you so hard in the end that you want to throw the book across the room and shatter one of those beautiful porcelain curios that you so highly esteem that you keep it front and center in your home. The ending is exactly what you don't want--one of those self-defeating painful outcomes that causes you to question all that you know to be good--and the perfect ending at the same time. It is there to show you that there are no easy answers to how a woman--who has...more
Does not get off to a great start; the writing is pretty wince-y in the early going:

"Helga ducked her head under the covers in a vain attempt to shut out what she knew would fill the pregnant silence - the sharp sarcastic voice of the dormitory matron. It came."

But she gets over it pretty quick. You can almost watch her learning to write over the course of the book. By the end, she's a little overfond of awkward sentence structures:

"Here, she had found, she was sure, the intangible thing for whi...more
I read this book as part of a course in American literature. And as such I think it gives a good view on the trouble people can have in trying to fit in. No matter where Helga goes, she always stands out. But the part I liked the most about Helga was her inability to settle down and be happy in any one place (I can relate to the 'chasing happiness'-lifestyle). She's constantly on the move looking for peace and everlasting happiness, but she never finds it. At the end, she ends up in a place she...more
As heartbreaking as it is well written, Nella Larsen’s “Quicksand” is an interesting peak in what it was like to be “mixed race” in the early part of the Twentieth Century. While I’m sure prejudice and discrimination occurs today, it did remind me how far we’ve come and how much has changed as I’ve never really thought about this as being a problem. Our main character never seems to find happiness, whether in the South, Chicago, Harlem, or the Netherlands. While she identifies as black throughou...more
Kortney Jewell
Most of the book I hated. It was really boring in a lot of places! I can't stand Helga! I really wanted to slap her! The back and forth in the book was so annoying. I only finished the book because I had to for a class. There was some good parts in it. There were a few places were the writing was really pretty, but that is it.
After a while it became a bit redundant, or actually a bit annoying, that Helga did not seem to fit in anywhere - wherever she went. Her obvious disdain towards both the black people and the white people at times and at other times her obvious acceptance of respectfully the black and the white people felt at times weird. I just wanted her to accept herself as who she was, instead of focusing on the skin colour of the people that she was spending her time with. But I guess it was hard to be a mul...more
Helga is the child of a white, Danish mother and a black father (who abandons them). Helga's new, white stepfather can't stand the sight of her. Her white siblings she grows up with despise her...all because she has a darker skin color. Her mother dies and she's sent away to a private school for black girls by an uncle who takes pity on her by paying for her education. How could anyone NOT have a difficult time adjusting to life after such blatantly unloving behavior by immediate family members...more
A spare, sharp novel focusing on the in-between-ness and non-belonging of the daughter of a Danish woman and a black man in the 1920s. Helga Crane bounces between life in the South, Harlem, and Denmark without ever finding a community that reflects her sensibilities and experiences. Her perpetual unrest, unease and disappointment...either by not being a part of the "first families of Negroes" at the fictionalized Tuskegee, not being able to embrace her Danish heritage as part of the race-conscio...more
Ed Broderick
This book from the Harlem Renaissance is pretty uneven. The writing alternates between wondrously complex and inventive, to a little wooden. There's not much of a story, either; the book just describes the wanderings and perpetual dissatisfaction of its female protagonist Helga Crane. There's also not a whole lot of character development.
Still, Helga's inner life is described with amazing detail. We know as much about Helga as she does about herself. And her battle between self-acceptance and se...more
Helga Crane is a young woman of mixed race tormented by her desire for a better, more fulfilling life. She is intelligent, beautiful, rebellious and has little use for what she sees in others as pretense and affectation. In a desperate search for happiness, she plunges into experiences that appear to fulfill her dreams but inevitably let her down. She discovers that does not like where she is, is as lonely as ever, and is as far from happiness as she’s ever been.
Impulsive, superior, judgmental,...more
very absorbing and bewildering.

similar in tone to "blacker the berry" and "the autobiography of an ex-colored man". those books deal much more with reflections on race; "autobio..." being exceptional in this regard.

"quicksand" at it's core seems to be about depression (though it goes explicitly unsaid throughout the book until the very end - sorta), which stems from the main character's lifelong sense of being adrift and without anchor in either black or white society.

if I had to choose I woul...more
The 2 page introduction written by T.N.R. Rogers nearly drove me to tears with the description of the life of Nella Larsen. And then I moved on to the book and got a little pissed-off with Helga Crane, the main protagonist and the alter-ego of Nella Larsen.

Helga was born to a Danish mother and West Indies father. The father split when Helga was just a young girl and the mother remarried to a white man. They had another daughter and the dark little Helga was basically abandoned. Now you have to a...more
In Nella Larson's Quicksand, her protagonist Helga faces racism from both sides – having a black father and a white mother. While the book displays the troubles of being neither black nor white, Helga Crane chooses to focus rather on her own self-satisfaction. To the reader, she is selfish, rude, irrational, and above all else, unbearably pessimistic. Instead of meeting her challenges with a brave face, she chooses to rather blame each and every misfortune that comes her way on racism. Helga fli...more
Incredible Quote: “She couldn’t stay [in America]. Nor, she saw now, could she remain away [in Copenhagen]. Leaving, she would have to come back. This knowledge, this certainty of the division of her life into two parts in two lands, into physical freedom in Europe and spiritual freedom in America, was unfortunate, inconvenient, expensive. It was, too, as she was uncomfortably aware, even a trifle ridiculous, and mentally she caricatured herself moving shuttlelike from continent to continent. Fr...more
Mar 16, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoy harlem renaissance lit
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
For some reason I got an immediate mental block with this book after the first two pages. I picked it up and then put it down again about three times and never got further than page three. Why? Absolutely no idea. Anyway I finally made a full on effort to get on and read it (achieved by doing a two hour train commute and taking no netbook or other reading material) and finished it in under 24 hours. Helga Crane does come across as an unlikeable character but I think if you consider the context o...more
Aug 25, 2012 JoAnn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rebecca Reid
In Quicksand, mixed-race Helga Crane, like other protagonists in the Harlem Renaissance novels I’ve read, struggles to find her place in a racist world. Helga is a woman without a family. Her black father abandoned her Danish mother shortly after Helga was born, and her mother had remarried a racist white man who wanted nothing to do with Helga. Helga’s only support is her mother’s brother, Peter, but as the novel opens, Helga discovers that he too has married a racist person, and Helga is no lo...more
My rating: 4 out of 5

I really appreciated the fact that I read this book around the same time I studied Harlem Renaissance literature. That particular class didn't have time scheduled for reading a full length HR novel. Since I read Quicksand on my own, I now have a better understanding of the issues blacks faced at that time (and unfortunately still today).

Helga Crane's story is an unfortunate one, and I wish she would have ended up in a better place in the end than she did. She comes from a mi...more
I thought this short novel was excellent! It is a superb study of a complicated and appealing woman, Helga Crane, who, like Larsen herself, is the product of a liaison between a black man and a white woman. The story is often very tragic - when Helga was young, her black father had left her and her white mother who remarried a white man. Helga basically had no identity. Her mother's brother had always been sympathetic to Helga but when Helga returned from teaching in a black college in the South...more
Janille N G
This short novel was unexpectedly profound and moving. I had not thought that I would be able to identify so quickly and so poignantly with the main character, Helga Crane, because I stereotypically assumed that her story was too unlike my own -- I was gratified to find that her personality and her concerns about life and interpersonal relationships and social hierarchies were very similar to my preoccupations. Although she is a very flawed character in many ways, her ideas about race and love a...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A novel notable for its historical importance and little else, Nella Larsen's Quicksand is the pretty middling narrative of Helga Crane, a mulatto in the 1920s who oscillates between white and black societies, unhappy in both. I enjoyed how Larsen was able to convey Helga's pessimism and misery, and I admire Helga's fearlessness in jettisoning the comforts that she earns, all in an effort to find a better life for herself. But something is lacking here, and many of these characters feel like car...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Lucy (French Edition)
  • What She Saw...
  • Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral
  • How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well
  • My Misspent Youth: Essays
  • Dear Diary
  • The Blacker the Berry
  • Alien vs. Predator
  • I Love Dick
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
  • Oh the Glory of it All
  • The Collected Poems
  • Actual Air
  • Up in the Old Hotel
  • The Rachel Papers
  • I Don't Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated
  • How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Simple Recipes Anyone Can Cook
Nellallitea 'Nella' Larsen (first called Nellie Walker) was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote two novels and a few short stories. Though her literary output was scant, what she wrote earned her recognition by her contemporaries and by present-day critics.
More about Nella Larsen...
Passing Quicksand and Passing The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories An Intimation of Things Distant: The Collected Fiction of Nella Larsen The Complete And Unabridged Fiction Of Nella Larsen

Share This Book

“These people yapped loudly of race, of race consciousness, of race pride, and yet suppressed its most delightful manifestations, love of color, joy of rhythmic motion, naive, spontaneous laughter. Harmony, radiance, and simplicity, all the essentials of spiritual beauty in the race they had marked for destructions.” 10 likes
“Somewhere, within her, in a deep recess, crouched discontent. She began to lose confidence in the fullness of her life, the glow began to fade from her conception of it. As the days multiplied, her need of something, something vaguely familiar, but which she could not put a name to and hold for definite examination, became almost intolerable. She went through moments of overwhelming anguish. She felt shut in, trapped.” 7 likes
More quotes…