The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

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Pub Date 1 Oct 2021 | Archive Date Not set



'The kind of book that comes around only once a decade…Simply magnificent' Washington Post

‘Quite simply the best book that I have read in a very, very long time’ New York Times

‘As brilliant as it is necessary, as intimate as it is expansive’ ANGIE THOMAS, author of The Hate U Give

A breathtaking and ambitious debut novel that chronicles the journey of multiple generations of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era, by prize-winning poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called ‘Double Consciousness,’ a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois's words all too well.

Ailey grows up in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother's family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that's made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women – her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries – that urge her to succeed in their stead.

To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family's past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors – Indigenous, Black, and white – in the deep South. In doing so she must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story – and the song – of America itself.

An intimate yet sweeping novel with all the dazzling force of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is unforgettable debut that is set to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

‘Beautiful … In Jeffers' deft hands, the story of race and love in America becomes the Great American Novel’ JACQUELINE WOODSON, author of Red at the Bone


'The kind of book that comes around only once a decade…Simply magnificent' Washington Post

‘Quite simply the best book that I have...

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ISBN 9780008518363
PRICE £2.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

Oprah’s pick for her next read is an ambitious story that details the ancestry of a modern woman. as told by many members of an American Black family. From colonial America, through the Civil War, Civil Rights movement to the modern day struggle for justice and equality, Jeffers makes each pivotal moment in history come alive in a way I have never experienced in another book. I did not simply read these stories, I felt like I lived them. A book that belongs on the reading list of every American

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To say that I am astounded by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers ambitious and epic novel, a family drama, would be an understatement, it is demanding, challenging and requires commitment from the reader for this is a long, well researched book that proves to be extraordinarily rewarding. I found this to be an intense and profoundly moving family history. Interspersed with the work of scholar WEB Dubois in the narrative, this is a richly detailed story of the complicated multigenerational heritage of a Black American family through the centuries of a troubling, turbulent, and all too real American history that includes slavery.

This is not just a purely intellectual exercise but is underpinned with an understanding this knowledge impacts not just the mind but the entire body, how the real lived repercussions of that history is experienced by actual people, the pain, horror, trauma, joy and heartbreak. In a storyline that shifts from the past and present, Ailey Pearl Garfield goes in search of her family, a sense of belonging and her identity, an all encompassing history of incredible resilience and survival in the face of unbearable repression, grief, loss, abuse and other life challenges. The sheer scope of this novel is remarkable, in terms of education, learning, of what it is to be a woman, of American history and its songs, and how Ailey honours her ancestors.

This is a subtly nuanced, intelligent read which packs an emotional punch, a must read that I find hard to do justice to. Cannot recommend this highly enough, particularly to anyone who has any interest in American history. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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Gosh I dont even know where to start this book was everything I wanted and more. A sweeping saga that was rich with american history at its darkest and heartbreak, suffering and hope. This book will stay with me for a long time

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A breathtaking saga so beautifully written a book that takes us through important time’s in history…From colonial slave trade the book civil war to modern times through the eyes of one family and the main character Alley.Pearl.This is a book that will be on bestseller lists win awards and will become a classic..I will be recommending and gifting it to friends who I know will love the book the characters.#netgalley#4thestatebooks

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An epic novel examining American black history. A family saga with Ailey Pearl Garfield as the central character.
I fell in love with her as we travelled through the generations, learning her ancestors stories.
This was a long book, with many characters and it took me a while to get into it. But once I did, I couldn’t put it down.
This is definitely going to be a contender for the best book of 2021.
With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

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The debut novel of established poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s an immensely gripping, epic saga. It’s centred on one Black American family and their history, which is also a history of America’s South. Jeffers explicitly draws on a long tradition of Black writing here: from Zora Neale Hurston to Alex Haley, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and beyond. Although it was Walker, and to a certain extent Maya Angelou, who most often came to mind when I was reading this. Like Morrison, Jeffers is dealing with challenging material but she’s clearly aiming for Walker’s accessibility and, frequently, her intimate, visceral immediacy. Much of the narrative revolves around Ailey Garfield a middle-class doctor’s daughter. Born in the ‘70s, she’s growing up in an unnamed city, which could be any of the urban, Northern centres to which Southern Black families flocked during the era of the Great Migration. But despite Ailey and her family’s years in the North, they’re continually travelling back in body and in mind to Chicasetta, a small town in Georgia: a stand-in for Eatonton, Alice Walker’s birthplace where Jeffers’s mother grew up.

Chicasetta’s the home of Ailey’s beloved maternal grandmother so it’s associated with tenderness and deep roots but it’s also a trauma site, bearing the traces of a past in which Ailey’s ancestors were brutally enslaved. Paralleling Ailey’s experiences are a series of near-folkloric episodes, and flashbacks, which gradually reconstruct Chicasetta’s buried histories: the Muskogee (Creek) tribe whose land was stolen from them through successive acts of colonial violence; the vast plantations sustained by the bodies of slaves; and the rise of the KKK and Jim Crow laws. Underlying all of this are a series of debates exploring the ongoing intricacies of Black American identities represented by the conflicting visions of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. Jeffers’s meticulous reconstruction’s based on a wealth of archival research but she’s equally invested in highlighting Black feminism, the role of Black women in the development of Black society and communities. Through her memorable female characters, she exposes and explores the myriad internal and external pressures that impact on Black women’s lives and sense of self: patriarchy, male violence, racism, passing, colourism. But she also celebrates the women's strength, tenacity and courage. Although it has its flaws - weaker passages, sections that might benefit from trimming, a slightly breathless ending - I found this utterly engrossing. It’s an intense, powerful piece of storytelling, rhythmic, flowing, deeply atmospheric, with a wonderful feel for character and place.

Thanks to Netgalley UK and publisher Fourth Estate, imprint of Harper Collins for an arc

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This book seems deceptively simple in the beginning but it evolves into a complex line of history of a family. The writing is very good, the characters are compelling, and the stories intriguing. I wasn't as blown away by the book as many seem to be, but it's worth reading. It is a VERY long book and requires a commitment from the reader but it's an interesting read.

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Ambitious and epic family saga, convoluted at 800+ pages - Ailey, a young Black Feminist, researches her family history and the horrors of slavery. A tough read but it will certainly stay with me for a long time!

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This book centres on the story of a Black family over multiple generations, taking the women of the family as the main protagonists of the story. It's a story of generational trauma, and it deals with topics that are as relevant today as they were then. I particularly liked the discussions on colorism and feminism.

Don't let the book's length discourage you: it's a beautifully written book, without being overly poetic. The characters are vibrant on the page. One of this year's must-read books, I just fear I can't do it justice in a review.

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A remarkable sweeping moving multigenerational family saga. Unusual because it’s a black family but deserves its place amongst any regardless of ethnicity or culture. Astonishing to believe that this is a first novel. Chosen as an Oprah Bookclub it will win prizes and deserved recognition. Well worth the investment of time in reading.

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The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois’, is so beautifully written and so moving that it brought tears to my eyes. The feeling is that you’re reading something very special, something that comes along only once in a while. A literary triumph!

I’ll leave the synopsis to the experts, they do it much better than I can, but basically it chronicles the lives of multiple generations of one American family, from the colonial slave trade, through the Civil War, to present times. This is probably one of my shorter reviews, but that isn’t because it’s not worthy of a long and glowing review, on the contrary, it’s one of the most impressive novels I’ve read, a story of race, resilience, family and love, but it’s best to just read it, and thereby let this ambitious, but glorious and moving saga, speak for itself. I won’t forget this one in a hurry.

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Absolutely breathtaking! I couldn't put this book down. The construction is flawless, the characters larger than life, the extent of research nothing less than utterly impressive. A novel that will bring you to tears, that will make you angry, but also one that will make you laugh at times and that contains passages full of love. And what better than love to oppose to all the horrors at the heart of American history? One of the best books I have read this year.

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