Review: “The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois”

‘The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois’ is the kind of brilliant epic that comes around only once in a decade

By Ron Charles

Whatever must be said to get you to heft this daunting debut novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, I’ll say, because “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” is the kind of book that comes around only once a decade. Yes, at roughly 800 pages, it is, indeed, a mountain to climb, but the journey is engrossing, and the view from the summit will transform your understanding of America.

A poet whose most recent collection, “The Age of Phillis,” was longlisted for a National Book Award, Jeffers has poured a lifetime of experience and research into this epic about the travails of a Black family. As any honest record of several centuries must, Jeffers’s story traverses a geography of unspeakable horror, but it eventually arrives at a place of hard-won peace.

One of the many marvels of “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” is the protean quality of Jeffers’s voice. Sweeping back and forth across the years, her narration shifts nimbly to reflect the tenor of the times — from the shared legends of tribal people to the candid realism of the modern era. At the opening, set deep in the mists of history, we’re met with an incantation:

“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.” Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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