Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois

  The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois
Author:  Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Publication Information:  Harper. 2021. 816 pages.
ISBN:  006294293X / 978-0062942937

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We are the earth, the land."

Favorite Quote:  "... truth can be both horrible and lovely at the same time."

This book is about growing up and about owning your history - the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. And what a history it is. Let's begin with names.

William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. He was one of the founders of the NAACP. His written works - both prose and poetry - are some of the seminal works of African American literature. In this book, his words are the background and the grounding of Ailey's life.

Alvin Ailey was an artist and an activist. His dance and choreography combines ballet, jazz, and modern dance with the music and language of African American heritage to bring voice to that rich history. In this book, Ailey bears his name.

Pearl is the name of Ailey's grandmother - a strong woman in a line of strong women. She is a foundation of Ailey's life. Ailey bears her name.

Ailey Pearl Garfield is raised in a city in the north, but every summer brings her to the small town of Chicasetta, a fictional place based on the author's mothers' home town in central Georgia. Ailey's family has had a presence in Chicasetta since their ancestors first arrived on this continent as slaves. This dichotomy of Ailey's life - the north and the south, the city and the country - continues as she grows up. As she grows up comes more awareness of the history and secrets of the family. The issues of the racism combines with a much more personal history of familial secrets.

In this, Ailey sets out to discover to Ailey Pearl Garfield is - aside from the weight of her names, aside from a dark family history, aside from the expectations of her history. Perhaps, her journey leads her far away. Perhaps, it leads her back to the very place she starts but this time by choice and decision. "But it's good that you can say how you feel ... And you don't have to tell all the truth if you don't want to. But its important to know what the truth is, even if you only say it to yourself."

At over 800 pages, the book takes the time to develop characters and the story of Ailey Garfield and her family across decades. In that evolution, the book seamlessly embeds the history and culture of the African American diaspora. The story is at the same time deeply personal and historically global.

It is interesting that the family story is not completely about race or about the African American experience. It is about an issue that transcends race, culture, religion and is about the horrible things that people can do to each other. It is challenging to say without a spoiler what the family story is. But it is unfortunately a universal issue that shocks and horrifies me. "There're things that I just can't say out loud. Not now and maybe not ever. I'm tired sometimes. And I'm really, really sad..."

The history that surrounds the family story interests me even more. I have not read much be WEB Du Bois. I feel that this book introduces me to the work and encourages me to explore further.

The fact that this is a debut novel intrigues me even more. Honoree Fanzine Jeffers is a poet who, in this book, has turned to prose and novel. I look forward to seeing what she does next although in interviews, she has stated that she will never write an 800 page epic again.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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