The love songs of W.E.B. Du Bois A novel

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, 1967-

Book - 2021

The great scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, once wrote about what he called "Double Consciousness," a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that's made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family's past. In doing so Ailey 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

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Subjects
Genres
Historical fiction
Novels
Published
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xiv, 797 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9780062942937
006294293X
Main Author
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, 1967- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Poet Jeffers reinvigorates the multigenerational saga in her first novel, an audacious, mellifluous love song to an African American family. In alternate chapters, Jeffers traces the coming of age of her contemporary heroine, Ailey, juxtaposed against the tales of multiracial ancestors whose sufferings and blood infuse the rich Georgia soil. Jeffers' lyrical cadences shimmer across the historical chapters, echoing biblical genealogies in connecting Ailey to her roots. Her story is inseparable from those who went before, and like her beloved Uncle Root, she is destined to preserve their history. Some stories she would rather forget: the sexual abuse that will haunt Ailey and her sisters, as it did their foremothers; the indelible yet often denied connection between white masters and African slaves, resulting in family members who "pass" for white, and "color struck" Negro clubs and sororities. Yet the strength of Ailey's family bonds enable her to overcome monstrous racism and sexism to become her community's prophet. "And the Word was knowledge. And the knowledge was a sound within the flesh, which may have been the Good Lord, or may have been dead ones in Africa talking across an ocean, or our people here on this side." Incandescent and not to be missed. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

After the National Book Award long-listed The Age of Phillis, poet Jeffers returns with a debut novel tracking a Black family from Colonial times to the present. Young narrator Ailey Pearl Garfield carries the name of two august Black Americans—choreographer Alvin Ailey and her own great-grandmother—and hopes to live up to W.E.B. Du Bois's ideals. With a 75,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

DEBUT Ailey, the central character of this multigenerational saga from Jeffers (a National Book Award finalist in 2020 for her poetry collection The Age of Phillis), is the youngest daughter of an upwardly mobile Black family. Though they live in a Northern city, the family has roots in rural Georgia, where Ailey, her mother, and sometimes her siblings spend the summers. The account of Ailey's coming-of-age and self-actualization is interspersed with interludes called "songs" that tell the complex family history, beginning with Ailey's indigenous Creek ancestors, the colonization of the land by white settlers, and the legacy of slavery. We also take detours focusing on Ailey's mother, Belle, and her oldest sister, Lydia. Over the centuries, members of the family, with African, Creek, and white ancestry, experience generational trauma resulting from slavery and sexual abuse; they are occasionally visited at crucial times by dreams or visions of ancestors. The book's length and scope might feel daunting, but Ailey is an appealing protagonist, and the patient reader will be rewarded. Jeffers has created an extensive world and a cast of memorable characters, not the least of whom is Ailey's great-great-uncle Root, a retired professor and Du Bois devotee. VERDICT A worthy addition to the growing corpus of Black generational novels, and an essentially American story.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Poet Jeffers (The Age of Phyllis) debuts with a staggering and ambitious saga exploring African American history. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the youngest daughter of Geoff Garfield, a light-skinned Washington, D.C., physician, and Belle Driskell Garfield, a Southern school teacher, reckons with ancestral trauma while growing up in the 1980s and '90s. Throughout, historical sketches (or "songs") link Ailey to her ancestors: Creeks, enslaved Africans, and early Scot slave owners. Ailey follows in the footsteps of her parents, attending the southern HBCU where they met and married as undergraduates before moving north to the "City," where Geoff attended medical school at Mecca University (a thinly veiled Howard). W.E.B. Du Bois's theories emerge in epigraphs throughout and are sagaciously reflected in the plot, as the accounts of Ailey's college life correspond to the "talented tenth." Later, tragedy unfolds as Lydia, Ailey's oldest sister who is haunted by childhood sexual abuse, succumbs to crack addiction. The multigenerational story bursts open when Ailey unearths some unknown family history during her graduate studies, as well as secrets of the Black female founder of her family's alma mater. Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism, and colorism yield many rich layers. Readers will be floored. Agent: Sarah Burns, the Gernert Company. (July) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

To come to terms with who she is and what she wants, Ailey, the daughter of an accomplished doctor and a strict schoolteacher, embarks on a journey through her family's past, helping her embrace her full heritage, which is the story of the Black experience in itself.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

To come to terms with who she is and what she wants, Ailey, the daughter of an accomplished doctor and a strict schoolteacher, embarks on a journey through her family’s past, helping her embrace her full heritage, which is the story of the Black experience in itself. 75,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About'this sweeping, brilliant and beautiful narrative is at once a love song to Black girlhood, family, history, joy, pain' and so much more. 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 and Another BrooklynA People 5 Best Books of the Summer ' An Essence Best Book of the Summer ' A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year ' A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year ' A Book Page Writer to Watch ' An Observer Best Summer Book ' A BiblioLifestyle Most Anticipated Literary Book of the Summer ' A Deep South Best Book of the Summer The 2020 National Book Award'nominated poet makes her fiction debut with this magisterial epic'an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of Homegoing; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer'that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era. 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. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans'the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers'Ailey carries Du Bois's Problem on her shoulders.Ailey is reared 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 Ailey 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 Ailey 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTIONWINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION FINALIST FOR THE PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION • A FINALIST FOR THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR FICTION • SHORTLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE • A NOMINEE FOR THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDA New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year • A Time Must-Read Book of the Year • A Washington Post 10 Best Books of the Year • A Oprah Daily Top 20 Books of the Year • A People 10 Best Books of the Year • A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year • A BookPage Best Fiction Book of the Year • A Booklist 10 Best First Novels of the Year • A Kirkus 100 Best Novels of the Year • An Atlanta Journal-Constitution 10 Best Southern Books of the Year • A Parade Pick • A Chicago Public Library Top 10 Best Books of the Year • A KCRW Top 10 Books of the YearAn Instant Washington Post, USA Today, and Indie Bestseller"Epic…. I was just enraptured by the lineage and the story of this modern African-American family…. A combination of historical and modern story—I’ve never read anything quite like it. It just consumed me." —Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Book Club PickAn Indie Next Pick • A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About • A People 5 Best Books of the Summer • A Good Morning America 15 Summer Book Club Picks • An Essence Best Book of the Summer • A Washington Post 10 Books of the Month • A CNN Best Book of the Month • A Time 11 Best Books of the Month • A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A BookPage Writer to Watch • A USA Today Book Not to Miss • A Chicago Tribune Summer Must-Read • An Observer Best Summer Book • A Millions Most Anticipated Book • A Ms. Book of the Month • A Well-Read Black Girl Book Club Pick • A BiblioLifestyle Most Anticipated Literary Book of the Summer • A Deep South Best Book of the Summer • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award The 2020 NAACP Image Award-winning poet makes her fiction debut with this National Book Award-longlisted, magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of Homegoing; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer—that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era. 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. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.Ailey is reared 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 Ailey 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 Ailey 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.