Rebecca Reid's Reviews > Quicksand

Quicksand by Nella Larsen
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Mar 19, 12

bookshelves: b-fic-modern
Read on February 20, 2012

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 longer welcome at her uncle’s home. Thus begins Helga’s search for herself: she moves to Harlem, and then on to Denmark, searching for a people among whom she will feel comfortable to be herself.

These various settings for Helga’s search for herself provided a fascinating backdrop to Helga’s struggle. I wish I could say that Quicksand is a hopeful look at race and self-identity. Rather, it is a depressing account of one woman’s failure to find a place to belong. This pessimism, much as I disliked it, certainly gave Quicksand a realistic feel. Despite my frustrations with Quicksand, it is still a rewarding read, especially in its historical context as a defining novel of the Harlem Renaissance.

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