The Love Songs of W.E.B DU BOIS

A vast, audacious debut novel that is as passionate about supporting Black women’s individuality as it is about insisting on our shared humanity.

Ailey Pearl Garfield, the heroine of this epochal story, is an enthralling combination of academic curiosity, astute observation, and brittle passion. Though her grandmother would have wanted for her to join the family’s parade of medical professionals, Ailey is destined to be a historian. Her path toward that objective, plagued with heartbreak, upheaval, and conflict throughout her childhood, youth, and college years, is entwined with the findings of her family history investigation. That history is rooted in the Georgia town of Chicasetta, where Ailey’s Black ancestors were enslaved and exploited by a “White Man with Strange Eyes” named Samuel Pinchard, who not only brutalized and degraded his slaves but also procreated with them haphazardly in the decades preceding the Civil War. The “songs” interwoven throughout the book, documenting in vivid, often brutal detail the antebellum life of Ailey’s forefathers, serve as a bridge connecting Ailey’s own coming-of-age struggles in what is simply referred to as the City. Precocious, opinionated, and sensitive, Ailey frequently challenges the patience of the adults in her life, most notably her parents, Geoff and Belle, whose own hard journey to love and marriage in the 1950s and 1960s is one of the several subplots that clog this sprawling, time-traveling tale. The tale always returns to Chicasetta, where Ailey spends her summers, and her meetings with friends and relatives, the most prominent of whom is her beloved Uncle Root, a retired professor at a historically Black institution where he met the novel’s namesake scholar/activist for the first time. Jeffers, a famous poet, accomplishes the tough challenge of balancing the grandiose with the intimate in her debut novel, yet, as with most large novels, she risks stress-testing some of her own narrative strands. Even yet, the strongest of those links may throb with haunting poignancy, as in Ailey’s talented but problematic sister Lydia’s story, which stands alone as a brilliant deconstruction of addiction’s causes and consequences.

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