“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.”– Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois”
The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers is a book that will stay with you long after you close the cover for the final time. In her novel, Jeffers tells the story of generations of the indigenous, Black, and white members of Ailey, Coco, and Lydia’s family. Beginning with the story of Coromantee-Panther, the first Black man to escape slavery and encounter the Creek people of what will become Chicasetta, Georgia, the story will extend through several generations into nearly the present day. Through the course of the narrative, the author takes us on a journey through time, beginning where the Creek thrived on the land, to their encounter with white squatters and traders, to their eventual removal from Georgia, to the white men who marry into Coromantee-Panther’s family line to strengthen their claim on the land, through slavery, on to segregation, and finally to a time where the family can reckon with its own tumultuous past to find some measure of peace.
Jeffers does not shy away from her descriptions of sexual violence and the means to which enslaved people went to try to escape such violence and to gain any form of agency they could. Difficult scenes do not stay in the past chapters of the story, either. Present-day issues of trauma and abuse are intrinsically linked with those of the past. There is no separating the characters of Ailey, Coco, and Lydia, the final generation of the family’s story, from the abuse and betrayal suffered by their ancestors.
I loved the opening to this story. Woman-of-the-Wind felt like such a strong matriarch of her family and I wanted more of her story. Then I wanted more of her daughter’s story and her son’s. I wanted more of each generation’s story and was always a little sad to say goodbye at the end of a chapter, although many characters did cycle back around. This book was 816 pages long, and I would have gladly read through another 816 pages.
This is, in many ways, a story about what it is to be Black in America. But you do not have to be Black to appreciate it or to relate to the characters. I related strongly to Ailey, who becomes the main character of the book and I fell in love with her Great Uncle, Root. They were both professional students of history, and that resonated with me. Something about each of the many characters in this story will grab you and won’t let go.
“Born in the city, her husband wasn’t familiar with the taste of healthy, green food you had picked only hours before. The sight of earth not taken over by concrete. That in the darkness, if there was no trouble, the only sounds came from small beings. He didn’t know that you could ache for a place, even when it had hurt you so badly.”– Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois”
- compelling characters, especially the women
- Uncle Root. I adore him. He is a stand out mentor and ties the novel together in many ways.
- an unflinching look at generational trauma and its effects on posterity
- Lyrical prose and realistic dialogue
- multiple narratives and non-linear timeline can make this confusing if you’re not focused on the reading (this means that the audio version of this story might not be a good format for all readers)
- multiple generations of characters, a couple of which have similar names, can also cause confusion
- Stylistic choice leads the author to use multiple sentence fragments in her explanations of character motivations. I got used to it, but I didn’t love that element of the writing.
“For the original transgression of this land was not slavery. It was greed, and it could not be contained.”– Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, “The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois.
- anyone wanting a stunning family epic set in the deep South
- those interested in the intersection of indigenous, Black, and white identities
- those who aren’t afraid of tough material and thought provoking experiences that will open their eyes to uncomfortable truths
Books to Read if You Loved The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois:
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- In the book, Jeffers asserts that the original sin of the country is greed and that it can never be contained. What are you thoughts on this statement? How have you seen that to be true in your personal experiences?
- In this novel there are multiple point of view characters and perspectives. Who’s perspective spoke to you the most? If you haven’t read the book, what kind of character in general speaks to you the most?
- The author breaks up her narratives with quotes from W. E. B. du Bois and other authors. Do you like or dislike when an author begins a chapter with a quote or excerpt from another author? Why?