Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: The Power of History

Ron Charles, the esteemed book critic for the Washington Post and one of my all-time favorite book reviewers, is almost solely responsible for talking me into picking up this 800-page novel. 

Charles wrote: "Whatever must be said to get you to heft this daunting debut novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, I’ll say, because The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is the kind of book that comes around only once a decade. Yes, at roughly 800 pages, it is, indeed, a mountain to climb, but the journey is engrossing, and the view from the summit will transform your understanding of America."

So heft, I did, not without some trepidation, frankly. But now, I owe Mr. Charles a beer. Because it was just as engrossing and transformative as he said. I actually included it on my top 10 of 2021 before I'd even finished it. 

The story itself is two-fold. It's a coming of age story of Ailey, a young Black girl growing up in "the City" (presumably NYC?), and visiting relatives during summers in rural Georgia. It's also the story of Ailey's ancestors, enslaved people on a Georgia plantation. So yes, it's a multi-generational family saga, but told as two separate narratives. Both stories are fascinating, and there are a TON of characters. You're warned of this with the extensive family tree Jeffers includes at the beginning. 

As good as this is, it's not an easy read from a content standpoint. Serious trigger warnings here for sexual abuse, pedophilia, and drug addiction. 

But it really is as engrossing as Charles says — it's an epic story of America, injustice, racism, the power of knowing and understanding unvarnished history, and the strength of family. 

1 comment:

  1. Fully agree with you. I, too, added this to my top ten list before even finishing it. Such an accomplishment and a debut to boot! I love Ron Charles and will read almost anything he recommends.