Read Quicksand by Nella Larsen Thadious M. Davis Online


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 staBorn 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 started, choosing emotional freedom that quickly translates into a narrow existence. Quicksand, Nella Larsen's powerful first novel, has intriguing autobiographical parallels and at the same time invokes the international dimension of African American culture of the 1920s. It also evocatively portrays the racial and gender restrictions that can mark a life....

Title : Quicksand
Author :
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ISBN : 9780141181271
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 192 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Quicksand Reviews

  • Lisa
    2019-04-10 07:06

    Oh, this short novel got under my skin!You could argue that it is a story about the peculiar hardships of young African American women of the 1920s. And it would be both right and enough to make it a worthwhile reading experience. But there is so much more, touching on the universal and timeless questions of identity and meaning of life. Somehow, Helga Crane’s odyssey through life - from excitement to disappointment, to rebellion, break-out, and new excitement, leading to repeated disappointment - mirrors and reflects the difficulties all people face who do not completely fit into their environment. Had Helga been my contemporary, I would have told her about the ever growing literature on the strange identity of third culture or cross culture kids, growing up between different communities, partly at home in both, but never fully belonging. Today it is quite common, but still disturbing, especially during adolescence, which I can confirm myself, having lived through a childhood of regular relocations, and now repeating the pattern with my own children. Once used to moving on, it is hard to stay in one place.For Helga, born in an era less populated with global nomads, being the daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian straying father seemed to be an irreconcilable and unique identity. Resigning from a teaching position at a conservative school in the South of the US because she can’t face its hypocrisy, she starts her rebellion against a society that she can’t adopt.“She could neither conform, nor be happy in her unconformity. This she saw clearly now, and with cold anger at all the past futile effort. What a waste!”Over Chicago, where she faces the blatant racism of her white relatives, she arrives in Harlem, and enjoys the thrill of the city for a while - until she realises that she has been there long enough to know that is not her world either. The politicised environment that thrives in rage against everything that represents white life excludes a part of her as well. She moves to Copenhagen, and enjoys her exotic reputation - for a while, until she starts missing the half of her identity that is rooted in African American culture. Returning to America, she fails to acknowledge her own feelings for a man until it is too late, and out of frustration, she reacts with an extreme change of path, marrying a preacher from the South, and finding happiness in rural life and religion - for a while. Waking up from the soothing effect of the illusion that she can hand over the responsibility for her own life to a higher supernatural power and a rewarding afterlife, she rejects her short era of faith with disgust.In the end, she resigns herself to life being a disappointment, and to being stuck in a failure she can’t run away from anymore: she has children to take care of. The novel leaves no room for hope. Women around the world live like that, and feel Helga’s despair without any reason to believe that they will be able to break free and live a life embracing different layers of identity at the same time.It is better now, in some parts of the world. For some women. But too many of us still struggle to combine longing for freedom with a wish to belong to a conventional community, or hope for an independent life with yearning for children. La condition humaine - a constant struggle and disappointment, but as Helga would have seen if she had allowed herself to look back: also an adventure with many roads open to those who dare to try them.I think there is more to win than to lose from participating actively in different cultural communities, - as long as the right to move on is granted in case it does not work out!

  • Rowena
    2019-04-04 13:11

    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 positioned to see racial issues and perspectives, perhaps in ways that others cannot.She is constantly searching in a world where colour is so important. And the theme of colour is very evident throughout the book. At a party when she observes the crowd, this is what she sees: “For the hundredth time she marveled at the gradations within this oppressed race of hers. A dozen shades slid by. There was sooty black, shiny black, taupe, mahogany, bronze, copper, gold, orange, yellow, peach, ivory, pinky white, pastry white. There was yellow hair, brown hair, black hair; straight hair, straightened hair, curly hair, crinkly hair, woolly hair…” She calls this throng a “moving mosaic” which I found lovely, a celebration of the diversity found among black people.I don’t think Helga is a very likeable character but I can’t say I blame her behaviour. Totally misunderstood by those around her, mistreated and disowned by her white family,abandoned by her father, with nobody really to help her, it's no wonder she built up walls… I looked at Helga’s internal and external struggles during the first part of the book and wondered how on earth anybody could live like that, with that sort of ambiguity, so I was glad when she decided to visit her Aunt Katrina in Denmark:“Leaning against the railing, Helga stared into the approaching night, glad to be at last alone, free of that great superfluity of human beings, yellow, brown, and black, which, as the torrid summer burnt to its close, had so oppressed her.”I liked how Larsen juxtaposed the Danish culture of Helga’s mother and the Black culture of her father. It was very interesting to see how Helga was perceived by people in Denmark. I found myself relating to this exotification aspect as I’d experienced it too. I shudder when people use the word “exotic” to describe those with darker skin because now I understand that that’s a form of othering. Being seen as “A decoration. A curio. A peacock” may have been flattering at first, but it got old pretty quickly to Helga. And I think for those of us who’ve been in similar positions to Helga, the realization of being used or exotified comes eventually and becomes easy to spot: “To them this girl, this Helga Crane, this mysterious niece of the Dahls, was not to be reckoned seriously in their scheme of things. True, she was attractive, unusual, in an exotic, almost savage way, but she wasn’t one of them. She didn’t at all count.” Helga's experiences in Denmark were interesting especially in her reaction to living in a country where, although she is othered, she doesn't have to deal with poverty or racism, and she's welcome in society. But her feelings about the America she seemed to have detested speak to how we perceive home differently when we are no longer there:“Strange that she had never truly valued this kinship until distance had shown her its worth. How absurd she had been to think that another country, other people, could liberate her from the ties which bound her forever to these mysterious, these terrible, these fascinating, these lovable, dark hordes. Ties that were of the spirit. Ties not only superficially entangled with mere outline of features or color of kin. Deeper. Much deeper than either of these.”There is a great literary criticism essay on this book in “Women of the Harlem Renaissance” by Cheryl A. Wall. I may have to re-read it now I’ve read this book.

  • Samadrita
    2019-04-03 12:08

    3.5/5It'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 wherein the female protagonist attains wisdom at the expense of complete obliteration of self. And yet the blow of this tragedy is dulled by Helga Crane's relentless forthrightness which the authorial voice brings out with nary an attempt at novelty. None of her conflicted feelings are conveyed through the buffer of imagery or more intricate wordplay. Every strain of her troubled thoughts, every bout of angst-ridden contemplation is dressed up in layers of already-arrived-at conclusions, and made as obvious as daylight. And it is precisely because of this hackneyed narration the gravity of the race tragedy never registered with me. (Reading a rather complexly structured House Made of Dawn side by side might have set the bar too high for this one.) Go back to America, where they hated Negroes! To America, where Negroes were not people. To America, where Negroes were allowed to be beggars only, of life, of happiness, of security. To America, where everything had been taken from those dark ones, liberty, respect, even the labour of their hands.Like every other tortured hero/heroine in literature, there is tension between Helga's private and public selves which refuses to abate despite her best efforts. She is a pariah anywhere she goes, unable to belong, unable to come to terms with the fact of her own alienation. There is the seductive appeal of a Harlem, its theaters, art galleries, jazz bars abuzz with the possibility of a renaissance for a persecuted community. It silently beckons her to give up on the white half of her inheritance. There is also the lure of using her mulatto woman's beauty to earn the approval of charmed Europeans intent on fetishizing her physical attributes. But Helga drifts from one wrong decision to another, getting farther and farther away from any destination of her liking, eventually plummeting to the depths of social oblivion which she fears the most.Faith was really quite easy. One had only to yield. To ask no questions. The more weary, the more weak, she became, the easier it was. Her religion was to her a kind of protective coloring, shielding her from the cruel light of an unbearable reality.The ending should have hit me in the gut. It did not. This is possibly because I was only ever bluntly told about Helga's insecurities and emotional vulnerabilities, seldom shown. Here's to hoping Passing fares better in this regard.

  • Paul
    2019-04-14 12:55

    4.5 starsThis was Nella Larsen’s first novel, published in 1928 and it has autobiographical elements in it. Helga Crane is the daughter of a white Danish mother and a black father. We follow her over a number of years; initially as a teacher in an all-black school in the south. Then she lives in Chicago and Harlem, before moving to Denmark to stay with her mother’s relatives. A number of suitors pursue her and are brushed aside. Crane returns to America and following a religious experience marries a southern preacher. Pregnancies and unhappiness follow. That is a rapid dash through the plot which doesn’t do it justice; Helga Crane is a much more interesting character than that. Crane is trapped between two racial identities she struggles with her own identity and never really feels she belongs anywhere although she is in touch with her own sexuality; unusual in a black female character at this time. She tries a number of different ways and modes of living, none of which bring her any satisfaction after a brief period of novelty; she is at odds with the world. As Elisabeth Hudson writes;“I believe that in writing Quicksand, Larsen was attempting to convey her view that, in American and European society in the 1920s, black women were marginalized to such an extent that there was no place where they could truly be free.”Helga Crane’s unease pervades the novel and the reader instinctively knows that each new start is a false one for the protagonist. The reader knows by the end that Crane has run out of her own inner resources and what happens to her is now out of her control, but she does have an awareness of the exploitation and repression she has suffered.One interesting point of the novel is Larsen’s use of colours. Skin colour:“For the hundredth time she marvelled at the gradations within this oppressed race of hers. A dozen shades slid by. There was sooty black, shiny black, taupe, mahogany, bronze, copper, gold, orange, yellow, peach, ivory, pinky white, pastry white. There was yellow hair, brown hair, black hair; straight hair, straightened hair, curly hair, crinkly hair, woolly hair…”But also the colours of clothes and fabrics, which in a way add to the hollowness of Helga Crane’s world. The writing is stylish and the are some amusing moments, but also a sense of inevitability about the end, It does deserve the plaudits it has received.

  • Aubrey
    2019-04-02 07:04

    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 their gorgeous editions is a travesty. Penguin Classics may have it, as does the 1001 Books Before You Die, but neither place implies the incisive ferocity of these pages, a whirlwind of fervent life and unbearable insight embodied in the body and mind of one black woman. The power of this book is the like of which I have never seen, least not in its entirety, and it is no wonder I had to stumble across it in search of something far more popular. I've picked up parts in Walker, Rhys, Maugham, carefully collegiated categories that must never, ever, intersect, certainly not within the work written 86 years ago. That would prove too inspiring a thing by far.But gradually this zest was blotted out, giving place to a deep hatred for the trivial hypocrisies and careless cruelties that were, unintentionally perhaps, a part of the Naxos policy of uplift.I do not claim to be Helga Crane, or even Nella Larsen for that matter, but familial blood is a desiccated thing next to the kinship I've through them found. It is a matter of minds in different worlds that for all the voids of time and skin convene here, in this place of the written word and the life it spawns. It is my unyielding effort to balance the hard-earned uplift with the rapid descent, the nightmare of thought and the inability to give even that up for the world. It is what I know of my privilege and what I feel of my pain, the exacting measures I have put myself through to translate both into a single language, and the ultimate reassurance that I may live so long as I let everyone else do the same. Neither Helga nor Larsen had happy endings; it is their living by truth I must look to.“And the white men dance with the colored women. Now you know, Helga Crane, that can mean only one thing.” Anne’s voice was trembling with cold hatred. As she ended, she made a little clicking noise with her tongue, indicating an abhorrence too great for words.“Don’t the colored men dance with the white women, or do they sit about, impolitely, while the other men dance with their women?” inquired Helga very softly, and with a slowness approaching almost to insolence. Anne’s insinuations were too revolting. She had a slightly sickish feeling, and a flash of anger touched her. She mastered it and ignored Anne’s inadequate answer.It is the everyday hypocrisy that leads the lambs to the slaughter. Half black, half white, female, sensitive, pretty, intelligence as sharp as a whip if life would let it. Anyone at all would learn something from it if they weren't stopped by the usual bigotries, the patriarchal tendencies to denigrate the efforts of the "weaker sex" to exist in full acknowledgement of mind and lust, the white-washing over the two options of death sentence or selling of self for the most practical price, the oppressed cutting each other down to size in hopes of the fruits of their religion fed to them by the oppressors. It is the same old story, but so rarely told with such keen cutting and beautiful strength of self. It is a story that belongs to today, giving the lie to all that self-gratifying talk of progress, making it all nothing but appropriation, silence, and gilt.…he was not the sort of man who would for any reason give up one particle of his own good opinion of himself. Not even for her. Not even though he knew that she had wanted so terribly something special from him.I will never regret having been born far too late to have experienced the Harlem of Helga's time. The technology of the modern age means I have the resources to come to grips with any instances of hypocrisy, a network with which to imbibe and put forth any thoughts at all that are necessary for the building of my own self, a bulwark with no need for the customary solutions of travel, career change, whatever commitment to the unknown which shows its true colors as a path towards damnation only when I no longer have the means to escape it. Were I to live in the midst of this book, my quicksand would be quicker. That coming to terms of the self is far more worthwhile than any seeming happiness of an ending.For Helga Crane wasn’t, after all, a rebel from society, Negro society. It did mean something to her. She had no wish to stand alone.

  • Fabian
    2019-04-18 09:57

    Not as complete or as beautiful as "Passing", though most of the same themes are kept intact. That in a conservative environment nothing changes is absolutely correct--will the times ever change? Looking at the news, at national happenings, the answer is a nice, dark, heavy NO.There are some similarities to Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway--much meditation and inside-the-head narration, with very little poetry, actually. This novel bashes the reader repeatedly in the head: yes, it sucks to be a woman; yes it sucks to be of color. Society makes things very difficult. But, wait, what does make Helga so special? That she is a woman and colored. That's all. She suffers indignities like everyone else. The end. And there's sisterhood, & stuff...."Quicksand": Not worthy of the canon, even though the Harlem Renaissance is quite an achievement. Just because its part of that group, doesn't quite make it an essential read. Like I've said, "Passing" is a way better novel.

  • Zanna
    2019-03-28 06:57

    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 jazz clubs, scornful also of the black activists who talk of racial equality but, fed on white supremacy, cannot help but privately disdain aspects of blackness.Escaping Naxos, a black college in the South, where the contaminant dust of antiblackness hangs thick and heavy over everything, from clothes to curriculum, she is at first elated by the style of New York, by the liveliness and keener race-consciousness of Harlem. Yet soon she chafes at what she sees as its insularity and self-satisfaction, its double personality. She sneers at 'uplift' and is repelled by respectability politics. Though she shares trappings of middle-classness with her milieu, her own harsh experiences of racism and the hopeless struggle to find work as an educated black woman in Chicago (where there are plenty of jobs for black domestic workers with references) make her sensitive to their relatively naive analysis of whiteness.She moves again. Told that her Danish aunt 'always wanted [her]' she seeks her family, and finds, for the first time, an enthusiastic welcome, interest in her, admiration, she is feted! The Danes have, it seems, never seen a black woman, so they treat her like a fabulous beast. Her aunt dresses her in the bright, revealing clothes she imagines black women wear, she parades and displays her and encourages her to pose for artists, to find a husband. But Helga, though susceptible to the pleasures of narcissism and being surrounded by beautiful garments and decor ('Things! Things! Things!') is acutely aware of the dehumanising effect of exotification, as Rowena notes in her illuminating review 'she didn't at all count'Time passes, pleasantly and yet unreally, in a spirit-sapping malaise. Loneliness pulls her back to Harlem, but she finds no escape from it. The opening scene of the book pictures Helga blissfully alone in a large room where light and shadow mingle. She and the tale move on, but the emptiness of the room follows her like an aura.What tips Helga into desperation seems to be the frustration of her romantic life, since her racial status and personality both work against her being considered by others a desiring and desirable subject. Stricken after a disappointing encounter, she undergoes an inadvertent baptism by falling into a gutter. Lacking the will to direct her own fate now that every avenue out of misery seems exhausted, she ceases to struggle, she embraces a life she never wanted, she sinks into the quicksand of patriarchal Christianity. Yet this places her to reach radical conclusions about race and religion that were evidently not being voiced by her activist contemporaries:And this, Helga decided, was what ailed the whole Negro race in America, this fatuous belief in the white man's God, this child-like trust in full compensation for all woes and privations in 'kingdom come'… How the white man's God must laugh at the great joke he had played on them! Bound them to slavery, then to poverty and insult, and made them bear it unresistingly, uncomplainingly almost, by sweet promises of mansions in the sky by and by.This critique is in sharp contrast to, for example, Frederick Douglas' framing of white supremacy as unChristian, passionately argued at the end of his Narrative.Larsen's style is refined, elegant, lingering over moments of aesthetic pleasure with tactile words: descriptions exude a bodily happiness fuelled by both sophisticated and elemental sources. Helga attempts to articulate an affirmation of blackness in response to assimilationist 'uplift' ideology, an effort hampered by her location in white supremacist contexts on one side and the objectifying essentialism of her aunt on the other. Still, the story's melancholic core, reflected in the dull, weak coloured clothes of the staff and students at Naxos, is much leavened by Helga's occasional lovingly appreciative moods, vibrantly evoked by sensitive, precise prose.

  • Sue
    2019-04-11 12:09

    After reading Larsen's Passing, I wanted to read her other novella for comparison. Both are concerned with matters of race, the place of black people in the United States of the 1920s and 1930s. Both are at least partially set in Chicago and New York's Harlem. Both refer or reflect, to varying degrees, the Harlem Renaissance. But the protagonists are different, reflecting the strengths and weaknesses of their childhoods, their acceptance of their selves, their marriages, friendships, and above all, their feelings about being black, being Negro, in white America.Quicksand is, if anything, to my mind, even sadder than Passing. Helga's happy times seem based on running away from questions she simply can't answer. So any solution is short lived. Another aspect of the novel I noticed and also recalled from Passing is the often oddly constructed sentences. I wondered if this was a reflection of the time at all. Then I wondered if it might be designed to force the reader to slow down and concentrate. It did seem that the structure was smoother when Helga was in a happier phase of life.All in all an interesting read.

  • Nidhi Singh
    2019-03-31 14:21

    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 somewhere, of having found a home. For Helga Crane, there is always that sense of not belonging, of in-between-ness, ‘a lack of somewhere’, a strenuous attempt at self-discovery that never reaches the conclusiveness it must have hoped for. To be both black and white, and to be neither, to not be accepted, propel her to a free floating, directionless sojourn towards that ‘elusive,’ ‘vaguely familiar’, ‘something’, which she can never completely understand and define for herself. The narrative traverses in a major inner complexity; of society's claim on deciding the identity of a woman, and of the predicament she struggles with when the one imposing the identity is undecided about the same. It fails to mark her, put her in a category, as Helga’s life story and her 'difference' are among things that are ‘not mentioned-and therefore they do not exist.’ She could neither conform nor could be happy in her conformity.I consider Helga’s mixed racial identity to be liberating in a sense. It provides her with an acute sensitivity and intelligence which can scrutinize the hypocrisy of the middle class black society. She is perceptive enough to discern her othering and objectification as a biracial woman. It also saves her from possible victimization by men like Olsen, who see her as an exotic object for possession, as she proclaims, ‘I don’t at all care to be owned. Even by you.’ Her understanding of her situation is different from a black woman like Anne, who in her racial fervor, deconstructs everything into the rigid binaries of ‘black’ and ‘white’, a kind of consciousness that doesn’t breathe outside the margins of race. But for Helga, there is a sense of independence that comes with not totally belonging to any race: 'I haven’t got any people. There’s only me. So I can do as I please.' She consciously wants to use her ambiguous racial identity, to search for more complex experiences and perspectives which go beyond the superficiality and generalizations, into which things are reduced to for someone belonging to one community. Helga, in a way, shows how such associations can limit individuality. She doesn’t want to confine herself, to the smallness of Naxos, to the ties of race, 'not if it means the suppression of individuality and beauty'. But it is also to be noted that such immovable perceptions of race have affected her in a way that she also seems to reciprocate them:Looking at these, Helga caught herself wondering who they were, what they did, and what they thought of. What was passing behind those dark molds of flesh? Did they really think at all?Her coming of home feeling at Harlem is juxtaposed with the feeling of tasting 'some agreeable, exotic food.' She can never really belong here, because her own understanding of race has been constituted by her internalization of a sense of inferiority since childhood, that comes to her with her association with the black race. To not to ‘be yoked to these despised black folk’ as she does have an option to not belong: 'She didn’t belong to these dark segregated people. She was different.' For Helga, individuality seems to be more important than loyalty to any race. She considers the overcoming of her racial boundaries as admirable. But the attempt to explore the 'white' side of identity at Copenhagen closes in a revolting experience of othering and exoticisation, where Helga as a woman is reduced to 'superb eyes', 'color', 'neck column'. A decoration, a curio, a peacock, to be ‘gaped at, desired’ and paraded as an exotic artifact of racial ambiguity. Extreme anger intermingled with great aversion, and alienation pulls her back to Harlem. Neither the black nor the white society can ever see beyond the 'difference', recognize the humanity that is there. She would always be that something that waits at the mysterious edges of definition and familiarity; which no one is yet ready to meet.No. She couldn’t stay. Nor, she saw now, could she remain away. Leaving, she would have to come back.Helga loses her hold and plummets into a ‘Quicksand’ of religion, domesticity and maternity with the hope of a total effacement of self, in search of religion as a source for happiness and stability. But this generous coating of calmness, placidity, and the lull of self-delusion, gradually wears down. Helga’s destruction arises from her tragic position as a thinking, intelligent woman who always struggles with the feeling of ‘incompleteness’ while being completely aware of her situation in a society which ‘others’, essentializes, and domesticates the identity of such a woman. This awareness is especially painful when the intention here is not to be a rebel, and not to have ‘the wish to stand alone.’ If passivity is accepted, it cannot but remain pierced by the torturous feeling of hopelessness and an utter disappointment with life which had talked of different things, promised a better ending. She understood even while she resented. It would have been easier if she had not.

  • Debbie Zapata
    2019-04-12 11:04

    This novel follows the life of Helga Crane as she struggles to find her place in the world. And she must struggle, for she was a mixed-race child in an era when that was a sin marked against her from the day of her birth.The back cover blurb tells us 'Helga's mother is white, and her father is black ~~ and absent. Ostracized throughout her lonely childhood for her dark skin, Helga spends her adult life seeking acceptance. Everywhere she goes ~~ the American South, Harlem, even Denmark ~~ she feels oppressed. Socially, economically, and psychologically, Helga struggles against the "quicksand" of classism, racism, and sexism.'I have no idea if Helga's thoughts as written here are the usual in this type of situation. I can certainly see how anyone could struggle with the idea of their identity, but other 'mixed' characters in the book were happy and successful in their lives. What kept Helga from such acceptance? She did not feel at home with either set of 'her people'. And she never felt at home with herself, either. At least not for very long.Knowing that this compelling story was based on the author's own life made it even more poignant. Life is hard enough, why must anyone be forced to endure society's foolishness that results from having a different skin color than other people? When will Man ever learn to look beyond the surface and see only the person within? We still judge and condemn The Other to this very day. We are so blind.

  • Terri Jacobson
    2019-04-15 11:02

    Helga Crane is a 23-year old "mulatto" teaching in the Deep South. As the story opens, Helga breaks her engagement to a popular figure at the school and flees to Chicago. She moves on to Harlem, desperately searching for somewhere that would feel like home. She briefly finds peace there, but she also has feelings that she just doesn't belong.Outside, rain had begun to fall. She walked bareheaded, bitter with self-reproach. But she rejoiced too. She didn't, in spite of her racial markings, belong to these dark segregated people. She was different. She felt it. It wasn't merely a matter of color. It was something broader, deeper, that made folk kin.When the woman Helga is staying with, Anne Gray, starts to date the black man that was dean of the southern school at which Helga had taught, Robert Anderson, Helga flees to her mother's homeland and family in Denmark. After more than a year there, Helga is invited home for the wedding of her friend Anne and Robert Anderson. She has mixed feelings about returning to the US.Go back to America, where they hated Negroes! To America, where Negroes were not people. To America, where Negroes were allowed to be beggars only, of life, of happiness, of security. To America, where everything had been taken from those dark ones, liberty, respect, even the labor of their hands. To America, where, if one had Negro blood, one mustn't expect money, education, or, sometimes, even work whereby one might earn bread. Perhaps she was wrong to bother about it now that she was so far away. Helga couldn't, however, help it. Never could she recall the shames and often the absolute horrors of the black man's existence in America without the quickening of her heart's beating and a sensation of disturbing nausea. It was too awful. The sense of dread of it was almost a tangible thing in her throat.But Helga also thinks I'm homesick, not for America, but for Negroes. So she returns to New York. Still having difficulty with her feelings for Robert Anderson, Helga throws herself into marriage with an Alabama preacher, Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green, and returns to the South with him. She finds a deep religious faith, and how she reacts to this life once the children start coming is the climax of the book.Nella Larsen was a noted writer of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 1930s. She portrayed the black middle class, particularly strong black women who struggled to find their way in the world. The writing in Quicksand is excellent and Larsen's portrayal of this particular time in history rings clear and rings true. There is a feeling of impending doom in the book; you know something terrible is lurking ever closer.I enjoyed this book tremendously. The themes of the book offer insight into our present society, and I'm very glad I read it.

  • Jesse
    2019-04-11 13:01

    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 strings together glittering chains of little observations—the cut of a “scandalous” evening gown, the texture of an antique embroidered handbag, a spontaneous gesture to slight an annoying suitor—that suddenly, unexpectedly transform into expanses of heavy and oppressive chainmail that become suffocating. There’s a certain stasis to the narrative of Quicksand, and I initially found myself struggling against it until I realized that it perfectly mirrors Helga’s mindset and perception of both herself and the world around her.The narrative is initially posed as a kind of tale of self-discovery, a process which ends up spanning two continents and a surprising number of racial, gendered, sexual, and class-centered milieus. And what at first seems like self-sufficiency and even courageousness begins to molder bit by bit around the edges, and the haunting line “but it didn’t last, this happiness of Helga Crane’s” begins to resurface constantly like an inevitable refrain accompanying each turn of events. This resigned melancholy is probably why the novel never becomes sensationalistic, hysterical, moralistic, or even overtly angry, all qualities the material would seem to to easily lend itself to. Larsen’s focus seems elsewhere, which constantly leads Helga and her narrative into unexpected spaces, in both a literal and metaphoric sense. I appreciated, for instance, the depiction of the black expatriate experience in Europe, demonstrating how the escape from American racism held its own, often hidden price in the objectification of “exotic” blackness, and I couldn’t banish from my mind the specters of Josephine Baker, Paul Robson, and others while reading about Helga’s experiences in “progressive” Copenhagen. In the end Quicksand was a protracted, mournful lament instead of the harrowing shriek against racism or sexism (or any number of other social ills for that matter) that I had initially expected it would be; instead it turned out to be something more ambiguous, more difficult to pin down and get a handle on—and in the end I found myself all the more devastated because of it. "No. She couldn't stay. Nor, she saw now, could she remain away. Leaving, she would have to come back."

  • jo
    2019-04-13 10:58

    i marvel at the magic that was the harlem renaissance, when african american writers and artists, still fresh from the civil war, during jim fucking crow, carved themselves a space in which to talk about race so freely, so controversially, so open-woundedly, you know the world would not be the same if the harlem renaissance hadn't happened. and thank you thank you thank you harlem renaissance for having opened space for women and queer people with such generosity. wow, what a time. the language of this book alone testifies to a freedom of experimentation that blows the mind (the 20s were good from this point of view for everyone in the english speaking world, though, not just for african american authors). larsen, a nurse by training, writes FANTASTICALLY, using fragments, repetition, rephrasings and idiosyncratic language with a freedom that feels amazing to this 21st century reader. so much so that i want to go back and re-read, not only Passing, but also James Baldwin's nonfiction, Zora Neale Hurston, and all these magical writers who can shed some light on the horror and pain of these brutal american days (for posterity, i'm writing this as african american men and woman are slain by the police with the disregard and impunity of rats, daily). i feel that if you are white and a reader and live in america in 2016, it is pretty much your duty to read up on african american literature. cuz the stories, the stories -- how else can you get the stories that led us here? who will say them to you? the books, that's who. the protagonist of Quicksand, helga crane, is a woman who does not belong anywhere. she tries this and tries that and nothing works. the book ends abruptly, something critics have not liked, but i liked the end cuz it displaced me. you can't wrap up this story. this story won't let itself be wrapped up (see what i just did? this is the kind of rephrasing larsen employs throughout the book. love). and of course the book is about what it means to belong, to be an african american, and whether "being an african american" has to mean anything at all. and it's also about what it means to be an african american woman, a sexually alive african american woman, who feels impossible and inappropriate desires and doesn't know quite how to satisfy them, most likely because there is no way to do so. but to me, to me this book is about a shitty childhood, and how a shitty childhood leaves you unmoored forever, bereft of a home, a place to call your own, a place in which you know you will find love. to me, this is a story of trauma -- racialized trauma, for sure, but also the basic trauma of an abandoned childhood.

  • Erika Gill
    2019-03-26 13:09

    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 and sense of identity, her white mother, an immigrant from Denmark, died when Helga was fifteen, leaving her alone but for her Uncle Peter, a white man who arranges for her education but otherwise remains the racially correct amount of distant toward her. Helga's father is absent but to my memory never finally accounted for. I presume he died when she was very young. In the novel's opening Helga decides suddenly after two years at Naxos she can't bear another day of the place, quits without reference, breaks off her lukewarm engagement, and sets off to Chicago to apply to her Uncle Peter for a loan to get her on her feet. It's the beginning of a journey for Helga, a quest for something she can't define. Led astray by her own folly and inevitable inability to know her own mind, Helga searches for a home, an identity, and a balm to sooth the racial friction of her very being.I read this novel for a literature class, and my classmate pointed out immediately how distasteful and unlikeable Helga is as a character. I may have to disagree, being that Helga is, for me, a caricature of possibility, a warning sign writ large. Likeable or not, she is the focal point of a series of very complex internalized issues, and a very interesting novel.

  • Gill
    2019-04-19 14:17

    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 it that gives us our identity?So I could write a long review, giving details of the author's background and how that links in with the background of the main character in the novel. But I'm not going to do that. You can get that from the description of the book and information about the author. Suffice it to say, that the title of the book 'Quicksand' relates so well to the experience of the main character, and maybe other characters as well, in their attempt to find a place they feel comfortable with in society. The end of the book is extremely well written, and is both beautiful and unsettling.It was an interesting read, having just finished Light in August, vis-a-vis Joe Christmas.

  • leynes
    2019-04-16 09:04

    In one sense, Quicksand might be called an odyssey; however, instead of overcoming a series of obstacles and finally arriving at her native land, Larsen’s protagonist has a series of adventures, each of which ends in disappointment. Whenever Helga believes that she has found her home, and with it her identity, she eventually comes to realize that she is still just a visitor in someone else’s country.When Larsen’s novel about the life of Helga Crane appeared in 1928, the Harlem Renaissance was at its height. Works by African American writers were in great demand, especially those stories that depicted the fantasies of white men and women about the sexual freedom and happy excitement they associated with the black experience. Despite the white public’s expectations, however, many African American literary artists, including Larsen, wrote novels and poems that presented fuller and more accurate portraits of black men and women. Nella Larsen introduces the main character Helga Crane, a young girl of twenty two, with delicate but well turned arms and legs. Helga teaches at an elite southern school named Naxos (referenced to a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea). The school was an example of the theory that African Americans needed to improve their lot, the policy of “Black Uplift”. The education at Naxos, implored no new ideas and tolerated no new innovations, in other words individualism was very discouraged. Helga becomes disenchanted with the hypocrisy at the prestigious school and begins re-evaluating her career choice as a teacher.“Negro society,” Helga decides, is “as complicated and as rigid in its ramifications as the highest strata of white society.” This proves true in Helga’s life, for as she travels from the South to Chicago to Harlem to Denmark, she does not fit in anywhere. When she lives among blacks, she longs to experience the white side of her soul; but when she lives among whites, she misses being around black people.In Chicago, her white uncle rejects her. She moves to Harlem, but there she finds a well-established and cultured black middle class full of hypocrites and obsessed with racial issues. All Helga wants to do is transcend race, but she is unable to do so either in black or white society.Helga inherits a good deal of money from her mother’s brother. This enables her to move to Denmark where she is welcomed by her white relatives. The Danes, however, go beyond mere acceptance of the beautiful young woman, treating Helga as an exquisite and exotic beauty. In Denmark, she is a supra-being, not a fellow being. “[I]t’s hard to explain,” she states when refusing the marriage proposal of a celebrated white Danish artist who is in love with her. “I simply can’t imagine living forever away from colored people.”The novel ends with the once exotic, beautiful, intelligent Helga lapsing into depression, conquered by the “quicksand” of racial identity, social class and sexism that she has spent a lifetime trying to overcome.Both this novel and Nella Larsen’s second novel, Passing, reflect the author’s own quest for acceptance. “You can probably get a pretty good idea of Nella Larsen’s personality from the depiction of her alter ego, Helga Crane, in Quicksand,” says T. N. R. Rogers in his introduction to the novel. Larsen was born in Chicago in 1891. Her mother was white and her father was black. Her mother remarried a white Danish man with whom she already had a white daughter who was one year old when they married. Larsen’s biographer, Thadious M. Davis, believes Larsen was sent to live in a shelter and eventually found her way to Denmark to live with relatives for a while before returning to New York where she became a prominent and respected voice in the Harlem Renaissance literary movement.While this is a difficult and ultimately depressing novel, it is also a powerful portrayal of the suffocating disillusionment and entrapment experienced by racial minorities during the 1920s and 1930s.My old man died in a fine big house.My ma died in a shack.I wonder where I’m gonna die,Being neither white nor black?Nella Larsen opens Quicksand with these lines from the poem Cross by Langston Hughes. It is a fitting introduction to a novel that portrays the challenges encountered by a biracial woman struggling to escape the oppressive forces of race, class, gender, and religion. Larsen harshly criticizes the forces that have shaped the cultures of both black and white society while narrating the story of a woman who, much like herself, sought but never found happiness.Like the work of many other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen’s work was largely forgotten until she was rediscovered by feminist critics in the 1970s. Since then, her novels have been republished numerous times and have received serious scholarly analysis. Larsen’s work was seen in the 1920s as a variation of the “tragic mulatto” theme in literature; however, most critics now value Helga Crane as a probing study of a woman’s conflicts along the intersecting lines of race, class, and gender. As a result, years after her death, Larsen has gained more widespread respect and appreciation than she ever attained during her brief literary career.

  • William
    2019-04-03 11:03

    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. What is never made explicit is how much the background of 1920's American racial segregation contributes to Helga's discontent, and how much is of her own manufacture; a dilemma at the crux of the novel's experience, and the heart of many conversations about race: does the scene define the characters, or are actions here independent of context? The stark result of Helga's travels, however, are revealed by the title: the more you move around a country simultaneously obsessed with and ignorant of its problems with race relations, the deeper you sink into the worst of what it offers.On a personal note, I'm disappointed I didn't hear about this book until age forty, when it is the perfect novel for late high school and early college students to explore the incongruous, complex relationships between whites and blacks in early 20th Century America, while simultaneously examining the idealistic wanderlust of any person's early twenties. This is -- or it should be -- a classic novel, familiar to any student of American literature. As it is, I only heard about it because NPR put it on a one-off book list published last week.

  • Subashini
    2019-04-18 07:23

    Larsen's prose is crisp and elegant. There is a beautiful simplicity in some of her descriptive passages. It feels light, delicate, effortless. Some trouble I had with the book is that the main character, Helga Crane, feels elusive and distant. Her thoughts often feel overdetermined and abstract, though in some instances it works well, as in when Larsen is finding a way to make the the political personal, inflecting Helga's thoughts with the philosophy and thinking of black radical politics and activism. Larsen also does this to emphasise Helga's bourgeois yearnings and the chasm between politics and what she desires; she loves art and solitude and beautiful things, and is often torn between contempt for the communal activities of her people vs the life she thinks she should adore in Copenhagen: "meeting only pale serious faces when she longed for brown laughing ones". There's some structural issues due to disjointed time jumps and abrupt shifts, as well; whole years pass between one chapter and the next whereas other chapters follow a time period more closely. I'm glad I read it because it's searingly honest about the effects of racism on the psyche and the split consciousness it engenders. It's short and brutal and the ending is quite devastating considering that Helga walked into it with her eyes open. It's a book well worth reading.

  • Zoroasterxiv
    2019-04-08 09:18

    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 American experience from the perspective of the intelligent and alienated. The novel's protagonist, Helga Crane, could not be more oddly reminiscent of myself at the very time in which I encountered this novel: 23 years old, a teacher, feeling completely alien in her surroundings, perplexed at both her own dissatisfaction and the complacency of (what seems like) everyone around her. Her story, however, was a warning. Despite my own difficulties, Helga Crane could not find happiness in Chicago, New York, Copenhagen or the American rural South; and so all of us, burdened by our physical markers (whatever they may be) and the facticity of our past (which in these days of infinite record keeping can and does haunt us forever), can easily find ourselves struggling very hard to get away, to rise above the quicksand, and only burying ourselves more quickly and deeply.

  • Travelling Sunny
    2019-04-18 12:08

    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 school that she really, really wanted to work at. But, after a short stint, she found it wasn't the fairy tale she'd wanted. So, cut ties with the fiancee, abandon the job on a moment's notice, and fly the coop to New York.She gets a job as an assistant for a wealthy woman of color in New York and is introduced to her new best friend, roommate, and landlord. Anne is wonderful, and sweet at first. But, Helga soon grows tired of the constant anti-white sentiments of her friends and colleagues. She is above all of that. She is, after all, part white. So, cut ties with the potential boyfriend, abandon the apartment on a moment's notice, and fly the coop to Copenhagen.She is reacquainted with her white roots, her wealthy white roots. She gets new clothes, new things, a new life. There's this attractive artist that she pines for. Her family encourages the match. But, no. This is all wrong. She almost forgot that she could never allow herself to be married to a white man. Or a black man. Not if it meant other children in her predicament. Hells to the no! So, cut ties with the suiter, abandon the family on a moment's notice, and fly the coop back to New York.What's this? The old boyfriend is married to her best friend? No. Helga must have him... He wants her... it's... it's... Oh. How embarrassing. Well, fine. There's that other guy. A preacher. So, she marries him - LITERALLY THE NEXT DAY - and moves to I can't remember where. Alabama, I think. And she loves it. And she's so content. And she's so useful. And she's so loved. And she has children. And she can't stand it anymore. It's too much. She considers flying the coop again... abandoning the children... walking out on her marriage and that white man's God that she can't possibly believe in anymore.So, you can sprinkle in some commentary on The Race Issue here and there, but this book is still about the coming of age of a woman to me.

  • Alex
    2019-04-14 11:20

    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 which, indefinitely, always she had craved." But her prose has more or less stopped getting in her way.The story itself is excellent. Helga feels sortof akin to antiheroines like Madame Bovary and Lily Bart (both, I know, arguable). It's a dark story and she does a good job of getting into Helga's head and showing us how she can't escape from her restless depression. It's not my favorite book of the year, but I dug it.

  • Sarah
    2019-04-05 15:08

    Well, it's a book about alienation, depersonalization, and a relentless creeping I loved it!This reminded me a lot of Jean Rhys. It's such a shame Larsen's 3rd novel was never published. I know I'd like to read it. It was probably a masterpiece of form and substance. Probably far ahead of its time. Stupid publishers.

  • Filipa
    2019-04-18 12:01

    Not really my cup of tea. I didn't like the writing - it was difficult to read, sometimes boring. The story itself was not one that grabs the reader. It is difficult to like the characters and even harder to feel some kind of empathy. For all that, I didn't like this book.

  • Amie
    2019-03-28 13:08

    I felt like I was slowing sinking with Helga Crane.

  • Erin
    2019-04-04 12:09

    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 increasingly indignant about it, as though she shouldn't have to put on airs for it. Helga desires an easy life with pretty material things without having to work for it. She is angered at any expectation of her, any difference of opinion, every one seems to be offensive to her, unless of course they put her up (such as Ann or her Aunt Katrina).Helga Crane is insufferable. She wants and struggles to rise above, or live outside of, societal expectations. Which is admirable, but instead of using some logic and thinking about what she wants in life, what will make her happy, she floats around trying on the lives of those around her.You could almost say that she tries peoples lives the same way she tries and adores her clothes. Helga has an affinity for pretty clothes and material things. She favors a dress one week and discards it the next. Same with the different life styles she tries. First she is a teacher at Naxos, then a companion to Ann, then she tries her Aunt Katrina's life and so on, each time changing clothes and appearances, like a shape shifter. I found it infuriating when she came back to America, after learning of Ann's marriage and nearly falls into a love affair with her friends new husband. Mr. Anderson is a man she does not like. She does display a school girls sign of affection toward him, by trying to be disagreeable. Yet, she knows she does not desire a romantic relationship with him. Then after he mistakenly lays a drunken kiss on her she seems more than willing to have an affair with her friends husband. REALLY!? Ann had been such a good friend to her! Ann let Helga live in her home and helped provide for Helga and that is how Helga is going to repay her.I can empathize with Helga's plight for identity and soul searching. If she didn't act so recklessly, irrationally and selfishly I could tolerate her better. I could go on for quite some time about my disdain for this book, but I won`t

  • Shovelmonkey1
    2019-04-20 14:23

    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 of her life and her experiences (abandoned because of the colour of her skin, pigeon-holed, poor and unsure of which culture she belongs to) then she had every right to feel angry and defensive. Her situation and her heritage (White Danish Mother, Black West Indian Father)led to her effectively being viewed with a mixture of scorn, suspicion and pity by both white middle class american society and Harlem Society. Her own anger in return was just a way of protecting herself from the way she knew she would be judged. While I did enjoy this story, in the end it will be the three page introduction which impacted me the most. Nella Larsen herself had a lonely and isolated life and this book really tells a story about her.

  • Latanya (CraftyScribbles)
    2019-04-10 12:17

    Nella Larsen's Quicksand is indeed her Roman a clef. No need to deny the complicated background of Larsen filtered throughout the pages. It's there for us to decipher, deduce, and comprehend. Where Larsen found trouble finding her role in society, her character Helga mirrors the same trouble. Some may call Helga a free spirit fencing a society determined to tell her, based on her race and sex, her rightful place. But, Helga, in her series of wrong decisions, ultimately decides to listen. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The feeling strengthens with the punch provided in the final sentence.Larsen pretty much used the trope of the Tragic Mulatto until to her final breath. I believe some of it was exaggerated to carve a niche. At some point, her characters had to get whatever spinning in their heads together and patch a life. The whining can only hold me so long.I gave her three stars. I'm not going to critique the overwrought telling because, given the era, stories built on telling more so than showing. But, at times, the telling drew a headache, despite a good story. Still, I recommend the book.

  • SP Mugler
    2019-04-16 08:55

    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 interesting - and indeed penetrating - account of mulatto identity during the early 1900s, during the Harlem Renaissance. One might also read the book on a more general level as the exploration of the turmoil experienced by biracial people, not necessarily half black and white. The author's ambivalent treatment of sexuality and family relations adds a layer of feminist considerations to the text as well. Summarily, Larson's main character inspires both empathy and annoyance, while the book's prose often paints beautiful images.

  • Tony
    2019-04-22 15:17

    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 her job and heads back to Chicago and begins her adventures in America. This is one black woman’s re-telling of Don Quixote, where her windmills are, systematically, the ills visited upon Blacks in America by Whites. After a variety of experiences – including an interlude in Denmark – she ultimately succumbs to the Quicksand of the title: White Man’s God. I’m not sure who her audience was intended to be. I’m not sure she ever thought about it. Her second novel, “Passing,” is a much more satisfying work. This one is sappy.

  • Rosemary
    2019-04-17 10:16

    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 part on Nella Larsen’s own life. I found Helga difficult to like because she runs away from anything the least bit challenging, but it’s clear that’s because of her upbringing. She’s learned that avoiding attention and hiding her feelings – even from herself – is the only way to survive.