Book Review: Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192 pages

Published: 1928

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Genre: Classics, Fiction & Literature


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 started, choosing emotional freedom that quickly translates into a narrow existence. 


Another great read by Nella Larsen. If her other story Passing didn’t grab you, high chances Quicksand will be more your cup of tea. Just like her other works, Quicksand portrays the hardship of not only a African-American during the 1920s, but the obstacles women in general had to overcome during this time. It was worse for Helga Crane, the main protagonist. She is what is called the “tragic mulatto”. Helga is stuck in both worlds and she doesn’t feel that she belongs in either one of them. So she is constantly searching for her place, an identity where she can be comfortable in. So she lives a life of idleness, moves from job to job, in the hope that she will settle in a life of happiness and completeness. Unfortunately, in the end, Helga resolves her life to be an utter disappointment and only can spend the rest of her days reflecting on what she has lost.

I believe Helga Crane is such a relatable and fascinating character. 21st century women can find a connection with Helga’s story. While reading, I kept saying to myself “Yes! I feel the same way!”. She may come off as whiny and lacking discipline in her life. But, her internal and external struggles may be difficult for a reader to read because readers may have felt like that once or twice in their life and it hard for them to admit it just yet.

Larsen really highlighted the differences of cultures when she took the time to explore Helga’s father’s black background and then her mother’s Danish background. In the US, Helga was outcast and seen as an abomination. In Denmark, her skin color makes her idolized by the people in Denmark. But being seen more as a commodity than as a person starts to get to Helga. Larsen does just an amazing job really showing the conflicting representations of race and it how it is perceived throughout various societies. I haven’t read a book like that in a while that managed to show two cultures approach to race in such an interesting and dynamic matter.

Nella Larsen’s Quicksand exploration of dual identity, conflicting emotions and finding oneself makes this novel an enjoyable. I suggest you definitely place this book on your TBR shelf right away. That way, you will fall in love with Larsen’s writing and appreciate her style, like I have.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Get It At: Amazon |Barnes & Noble|Book Depository | Your local library


Published by karma2015

I was born and raised in New York. I still live in New York but kind of sick of the city and one day I wish to move to the UK.I have a Masters degree in Library Science and I currently work in a special collections library. I loved books ever since I was a little girl. Through the hard times in my life, my love for books has always gotten me through. Just entering another world different from my own intrigues me. As long as I am entering in another universe, I like to create my own as well. I love to write and hopefully I will be able to complete a novel.

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