How do I adequately put into words how much this book impacted me? I am honestly speechless, because this book was an absolute work of art. A modern-day masterpiece and one that will one day be a classic. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is an immersive generational saga spanning hundreds of years, countless lives, and one plot of land that holds all the stories. Ugh, I loved this one so much, but buckle in because it's a long one. Coming in at 790 pages, this is one you are going to want to settle into and slowly devour.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois chronicles the legacy and stories of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to present day. Ailey Pearl Garfield grew up in city north of the small Georgia town, Chicasetta, where her family is from and she spends her summers. Her ancestors arrived from Africa and were sold into slavery. From there, her family line has continued and their legacy is wrapped up in the town of Chicasetta. Ailey uncovers the stories of her ancestors, while also finding her place in the world.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is an emotional work of literary art. Like I said, I cannot adequately put into words how incredible this book is. I love generational family dramas and Love Songs is the GOAT in this genre. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi held the title for years, but this snuck right in.
Similar to Homegoing, Love Songs spans centuries and the family blood ties that lead to the present day. This is a unflinchingly honest depiction of how American came to be. From when the Creek natives lived peacefully on the land, to when they were forced off and murdered, to when plantations sprouted up and Africans were trafficked and forced into slavery, this book pulls no punches. The subject matter has plenty of trigger/content warnings, so I encourage you to be aware of these before reading. There are some heavy scenes that took my breath away, which is another reason to take your time with this one.
Ailey was such an amazing, strong female lead, but there were so many other stars that shined in this book. I loved that the story always went back to her identity journey and the lives of her immediate family members. I used the family tree several times to make sure I understood who was who and how they were related, but it never felt clunky or exhausting. As an adult, Ailey attends graduate school to become a historian and from there she delves into the hidden messy details of her lineage, while also coming back to scholar W.E.B. Du Bois' teachings. Du Bois has played a big role in her families lives and is ever present in the background of her family's story.
One thing I wished Homegoing had that Love Songs came through with, is more detail. I remember thinking that I could have read so much more of each character's story in Homegoing, except the book would be well over 600 pages long. Welp, along comes Love Songs and Jeffers does just that! And it was perfect. So perfect.
I miss Ailey. I miss Uncle Root. I miss Lydia. I miss all these characters. I miss this book! For real, what do I do with my life now that I am done reading their stories. I want more.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois has been added to my all time favorite book list. It is *chef's kiss*. I highly recommend you purchase a copy because it is one of those books that you will want to own. Consider ordering a copy through my bookshop.org link and support a Black owned bookstore. I recommend Black Garnet Books, located in Minneapolis, MN.
Content warnings: racism, slavery (graphic depictions of slavery, including rape,) sexual assault and rape of a child, incestual abuse, rape, death of loved one (including death of child), substance abuse and addiction
"A few family stories and some stones in a cemetery. These were the stingy remains of over two hundred years of family history."
“We are the earth, the land. The tongue that speaks and trips on the names of the dead as it dares to tell these stories of a woman’s line. Her people and her dirt, her trees.”
Read if you liked:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
(Click the title links to read my reviews.)