Book Review: The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
I haven’t written a review for my blog in months. I knew this would be the book to write about but I have grappled with how I could do this book justice, how to convince y’all to read all 790 pages of this literary masterpiece. Here’s my attempt:
I would like to preface this review by saying that I struggle with reading historical fiction or history in general MAINLY because I don’t like to feel sad. You’re probably thinking that’s a dumb reason to not read history but let me explain: As an adult, I realized that what was taught to me as American History via textbooks and TV shows was not an accurate depiction of what really happened. What I was taught was downplayed and coated in sugar. It diminished the evils Black people experienced for centuries. It did not consider how the generations of trauma can wholly affect a group of people. And how those groups of people will still suffer till this day. There are few victories in our history as it is mostly filled with pain and trauma. And if I am truly understanding and internalizing what I am reading about the people who look like me, reading about it is not something I would naturally want to do. It makes me feel heavy hearted and angry. It has taken me some time to learn that educating yourself about your history can be painful and necessary. It took a lot for me to step out of my comfort zone for this book and I am grateful for it.
I would also like to note that I experienced this book as a Black woman of Haitian descent. I was the second of my immediate family to be born in this country. I grew up in a sheltered Haitian household. I didn’t speak English at home and I didn’t eat many foods or experience many things my African American friends did. So this book was educational in so many ways than one. I learned about the significance of foods like collard greens and phrases like “Tell the truth and shame the Devil”. It was reading those parts that brought me some reprieve from the pain. I smiled learning more about my brothers and sisters’ culture and am now eager to learn even more. Anyway, let’s get into this debut novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Yes, I did say debut.
This is a gripping story about Ailey Pearl Garfield. A Black woman who grew up in the deep South with familial ties to both White and Indigenous people. While reading this, you experience time travel as Honorée paints a beautifully vivid portrait of a Black family’s saga, of Ailey’s lineage. You will experience equal parts of heartache, anger, and edification. You experience Ailey’s journey from childhood to adulthood. You become first hand witnesses to her childhood traumas, teenage naiveté, and adult resilience. You see how the past forcefully, and without prompting, disturbs the present.
You see the consequences of centuries of the brutality and exploitations against the Black body and mind, while simultaneously seeing the strength and resiliency of the people who have suffered as a result of this.
You get to meet and fall in love with characters like Uncle Root, Coco, Lydia, Aggie, and Pop George. You reluctantly meet the most evil people on Earth and you learn that greed could very much be the root of all evil. You get to cheer and cry as this family tries to piece together what is left after slavery and after other forms of evil has done its work.
This book was an utterly exhausting once in a lifetime experience. I think this story served many purposes. It both educated and empowered. It showcased the beauty of the Black family. Most importantly, it reminded us that the story isn’t over. Black people have been fighting since the moment they were brought here and with each passing year, our hope is that the battle is a bit easier for the future generations. I have never felt so many conflicting emotions at once. I felt drained but also uplifted. Several times, I was consumed with the desire to both finish the book and throw it across the room. Ultimately, I needed to know that THIS Black family, found peace or their variation of it. Because if they could, then so could we. And if we can, our future families can as well. What I loved the most about this book was the striking depiction of the audacity of survival. You might wonder: How can a people who suffered this much persist? The answer may be different for as all but to me, it’s simple: We have no choice.
While reading about these evils: those people and their descendants are still alive. Those people who slip up and refer to Black people as “colored”. Those who defend the use of the confederate flag and argue that the war wasn’t about the right to own slaves. Those who live in poverty but are comforted with the fact that at least they aren’t Black AND poor and that they are somehow better and because even though their pedestal is built with twigs white supremacy will give them the courage to stand on it anyway. Those who say it was such a long time ago and that we should “get over it”. You know who those people are. We live among them, just like our ancestors did. And just like our ancestors, we persist, despite it all.
Overall, I gave this impactful book 5 stars and crowned it as my favorite historical fiction novel of all time AND one of my favorites of all time AND if you’ve been following me for a while you know I already named my favorite book of the year a few months back. I would like to recant that statement. This book is my favorite of the year. I encourage everyone to read this via audiobook or physical but please be sure to take care if you do. There is a lot of heavy content in this book and even though it was and is the reality for many people, it is still difficult to read.
Trigger and Content Warnings: drug addiction, drug use, pedophilia, sexual assault, rape, racism, colorism, misogyny, slavery, colonialism, loss and grief, death