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Quicksand

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,414 Ratings  ·  185 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)
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Nicole I was just wondering the same! I mean, the image is lovely in itself but...not very fitting for this book at all as far as I can tell :S
And all the…more
I was just wondering the same! I mean, the image is lovely in itself but...not very fitting for this book at all as far as I can tell :S
And all the other covers seem sort of cheap, half-assed, text-on-a-white-background (possibly with a small blurry image) kind of thing... Shame really.(less)
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Rowena
Mar 07, 2015 Rowena rated it it was amazing
I read this book with a couple of close friends in mind, good friends from high school with mixed parentage who felt confused about, but have now resolved, their place in society. Protagonist Helga Crane is a similar such person, with a now-deceased immigrant Danish mother and an absent black father. Being both black and white Helga, “She, Helga Crane, who had no home” is trying to find her place in 1920s New York, where miscegenation is a taboo topic. She is an outcast but she’s so ideally posi ...more
Samadrita
3.5/5

It's galling when a book does not keep the promises it makes at the outset. There's a problematic discord between Larsen's finely crafted sentences and the rather amateurish splicing of theme and plot. And this constant discrepancy morphs into a bothersome enough flaw that is responsible for those 3 stars.
Life wasn't a miracle, a wonder. It was, for Negroes at least, only a great disappointment. Something to be got through with as best one could.

In a way this is a failed bildungsroman whe
...more
Aubrey
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 i
...more
Zanna
Helga Crane seems awkward and capricious, as introverts (like me) often do, at odds with a world better shaped to the needs of extroverts. But Helga's struggle to find a place for herself, she feels, is caused by her heritage, visible and invisible. Biracial, black, she is rejected by her white family, yet raised among whites, starved of any recognition or respect, finding refuge in aesthetic and intellectual pleasures, both drawn to and repelled by the joyous abandon of Harlem's parties and jaz ...more
Nidhi Singh

They feared and hated her. She pitied and despised them.

It is not just pity and contempt that simmer in this cauldron, but a great deal of ambiguity, loneliness and isolation from wounds that date back to the earliest memories of childhood and are livid within the unremitting cruelty of the present. ‘Quicksand’ is story of a life riddled with an indefiniteness that is an assault on a concrete sense of identity and self. The feeling of happiness is fleeting and so is the feeling of having arrived
...more
Jesse
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
Gill
Nov 01, 2015 Gill rated it it was amazing
I'm finding it very hard to write a review of this book. When I finished it a few weeks ago I gave it 4 stars, but it has really stuck in my mind since then, so I've decided to upgrade that to 5 stars.

I think the reason it's stuck in my mind, is that although the story is a specific one, it is looking at a universal issue. That is: how do we manage to fit in and how do we manage to feel at home with different groups of people? This relates to how do we perceive ourselves, and what exactly is i
...more
Anetq
Apr 23, 2016 Anetq rated it really liked it
Helga Crane is the daughter of a black man (from the Danish West-Indies) and a white Danish woman - and has problems belonging: She is neither black nor white - her parents are gone and she feels like an outsider wherever she goes. She leaves the school for negroes in the south as it is too condescending to the students, then Harlem during the renaissance - which is all too focused on "the race question" - which Helga is living, but can't stand everybody talking about. Then off to Copenhagen to ...more
Erika Gill
Nov 15, 2012 Erika Gill rated it it was amazing
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
Zoroasterxiv
Mar 09, 2011 Zoroasterxiv rated it really liked it
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
William
Feb 27, 2011 William rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Alex
Dec 10, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
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
Beth Bonini
Apr 22, 2016 Beth Bonini rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, feminism
During the late 1920s, Nella Larsen published two novellas - Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) - and experienced a brief fame as a stylish member of the Harlem Renaissance. At the time she was married to Elmer Immes, a well-respected physicist, and they moved within the highest circles of educated, African-American society of New York City. Still, Harlem was an island in an otherwise racist country - and most of the 'black' population was living in the South, still subject to harsh Jim Crow la ...more
Yasmina Elhayane
Feb 19, 2015 Yasmina Elhayane rated it it was amazing
Quicksand is astonishing on many levels. As a record of the experience of a mixed-race woman in a racially segregated pre-Civil Rights America, it's absolutely fascinating. It's also a highly unflattering critique of the black bourgeoisie, some of whom, though they pretended to be concerned with solving the "race problem," actively sought to undermine movements of the black working poor; they thought instead that blacks could gain freedom by giving into white supremacy & accepting as fact th ...more
Rosemary
Dec 13, 2015 Rosemary rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
Helga Crane is the daughter of a white woman and an African American man, but since her father left when she was young, she has grown up surrounded by white people. When the book opens she’s a teacher, but she doesn’t feel she fits in with the community there either. She resigns and, rejected by her white relatives, goes to Harlem, then to her mother’s sister in Denmark (where she is accepted, but always seen as a curiosity) and back to the USA.

This is a fascinating book, apparently based in par
...more
Travelling Sunny
Aug 20, 2015 Travelling Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1305-read
I thought this book was going to be about a young woman of mixed race trying to fit in with one or the other side of her heritage. And sure, The Race Issue was mentioned again and again. But for me, the book was more about a young woman's struggle with deciding who she wanted to be when she grew up.

The main character, Helga Crane, is 23 years old at the start of the novel, and doesn't progress beyond her mid-to-late-twenties until nearly the end.

She's a teacher in a black school. A prestigious s
...more
Shovelmonkey1
Mar 16, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it liked it  ·  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
Tony
Mar 21, 2011 Tony rated it liked it
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
Erin
Jun 21, 2012 Erin rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-school
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
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
Caroline
I might have expected too much bc I loved " Passing" so much. But anyway - it got a lot better when I drank wine whilst reading.
Juliana
Feb 26, 2016 Juliana rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
4,5 stars. I wrote about this book here: https://theblankgarden.wordpress.com/...
Nick
Mar 30, 2016 Nick rated it liked it
Plotting issues and some occasionally straight-up bad prose mar what is nonetheless an emotionally sophisticated work by a woman in pain. Check it out.
Judah Martin
I'm a bit baffled by this novel. I expected this to be the definitive tragic mulatto narrative of the 20th century, and in some ways it is. Larsen manages at times to convey the feelings of isolated otherness experienced by black/white biracial people in a society divided by race. This fact certainly explains Helga Crane's sense of restlessness, and why she remains dissatisfied in any city, in any country, in any environment. Rejected by some whites, admired for her exotic beauty almost to the p ...more
Jason
Mar 18, 2013 Jason rated it it was amazing
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
Austen to Zafón
I loved her novelette Passing. This was also excellent and gave me a somewhat better understanding of the post-slavery, pre-civil rights, Harlem world and how it could lead to the later developments in the African American community. I think Passing was better written, as it was a her second book, but this has more passion as it is largely autobiographical. Larsen, like her protagonist Helga, had a Danish mother and an absentee black father (from the Danish West Indies). And she lived in Denmark ...more
Mikkel
Jul 14, 2016 Mikkel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The language is great, word-for-word it's a really good read. But the story isn't all that interesting, and after a great start and concept, it kind of goes a little bit downhill and loses momentum. It becomes a little bit of an A to B situation with no real sense of connection.
Anni
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
Michelle Boyer
I picked up Quicksand for a course on African American dealing specifically with literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Of course, Passing is a book I have read before, and I admittedly thought that this short novel would be similar. The book promises to discuss "the race issue" that the protagonist finds herself in, being of mixed-race parentage. While this comes up, it seems more like this is the secondary issue the protagonist faces.

Instead, the theme seems to be more about a young woman tha
...more
Colin Cox
Feb 12, 2016 Colin Cox rated it it was amazing
It has taken several days for me to process Quicksand. This is Nella Larsen's first novel and, at times, it feels like a first novel. While there are hints and suggestions of the artistry found in Passing (a far superior effort by my estimation), Quicksand too often feels overwrought with the rhetoric that at times exemplifies aspects of the Harlem Renaissance. With that said, Quicksand is a beautiful tapestry of transcendence, confusion, and perpetual discontent.

Helga Crane, the book's protagon
...more
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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.
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“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.” 14 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.” 11 likes
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