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Publisher's Summary

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTION

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 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 • An Oprah Daily Top 20 Books 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 • A Parade Pick • A Chicago Public Library Top 10 Best Books of the Year

An 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 Pick

An 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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

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The Great American Novel is finally inclusive.

A masterpiece that deserves to share a shelf with Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and anyone else you think has written the Great American Novel. Which begs the question, if it's a Great American Novel and it doesn't have Black or Indigenous people in it as protagonists, how American is it?

This epic story is both a historical narrative of an Afro-indigenous-Scottish family back through its matrilineal and patrilineal roots to the founding of this country, and a modern coming-of-age story of a Black woman who becomes a scholar. Jeffers deftly starts at the very beginning, and then close to the end, of the 300+ year long story, and knits the stories closer and closer together throughout the book. While the family lineage list is a helpful reference, Jeffers keeps the reader with her the whole time.

Some strong and original features of the novel:

-an inside view of Black upper middle class lives, with all of the colorism and classism of that culture at mid-20th century. It's unusual to see this content on the best seller list for a mass audience.
-a deep dive into the culture of a Black college - the Greek system's flavor on a Black campus, the gendered and behavioral mixed messages of the culture
-the loneliness and isolation of being the only African American in an advanced degree program, and the resilience required to deal with structural and cultural racism in academia
-a picture of small-town life in the deep south from the perspective of the Black families, where most of the current residents' families, Black and white, have lived on the land for centuries.
-integration of quotes and perspectives from W.E.B DuBois as jumping-off points framing the narrative.

Some just plain great writing strengths of this novel:

-lyrically beautiful passages, especially in the deeply historical parts. Jeffers is a poet who's been shortlisted for the National Book Award, and her command of the language shows this.
-WONDERFUL characters, complex and compelling. My personal favorite was Uncle Root, the patriarch of the modern-day family. A wise man, a raconteur, a scholar, and a source of gentle humor. No bully or abuser is depicted as all bad. No heroine or champion is all good. These are fully drawn people with all of the dimensions of being human.
-Scenes of sexuality. Jeffers shows so many faces of female sexuality - from the terrifying to the confused to the earthy and satisfying - and writes these scenes realistically and charged with emotion.

A couple of notes:

-don't be put off by the book's length. While it's long, it keeps you moving, and the time flies.
-trigger warning for survivors of child sexual abuse. There is abuse in both the historical narrative (handled from the distance of third-person omniscient) and in the modern-day narrative (first person and close third person.) The modern-day narrative captures the terror quite deftly, so take care of yourself during these parts. None of the violence is gratuitous, and Jeffers handles all of it sensitively - but honestly.

There are three audio narrators. I found two - the woman and man who do the historical narration and the W.E.B. DuBois quotes - excellent. The narrator of the main character, Ailey, has a less resonant voice and sometimes stresses the wrong word in her sentences. Not a big deal, but could have been better with a different narrator. Also, she narrates the early Ailey years in baby talk, which is a new fashion in audio books that I don't prefer.

Ultimately, this is a story of Black - and human, and female - joy and resilience. Superbly written, intense, and very hard to put down.

42 people found this helpful

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Beautiful and Complex

The last few days were filled with nonstop reading. I could not and would not stop listening. The story was beautiful, complex, dangerous, daring, brave, and spiritual. Each of the characters were lovely, stained, and full of depth. So glad I took a chance on this book.

27 people found this helpful

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A must read

Such a powerful story - a story that depicts the suffering of African Americans particularly the woman so well it gives you chills. A story that is relatable stil in this day of how black woman are treated and the pain they feel. How they are told to suffer in silence and keep it moving. This book is now a favorite of mine and I can’t wait to ré listen again and again.

21 people found this helpful

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Enthralling and Beautifully Written

29 hrs and I only stopped listening when I needed to sleep. It's historical fiction, but we know the experiences of the Native and African Americans are true. The atrocities are difficult to hear, but it was wonderful to hear about the resiliency and strength of this family. Uncle Root was my favorite character. Haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long time. Will also be buying the hardcover.

15 people found this helpful

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Just when you think Morrison, Hurston, and walker is all you need

I enjoyed this book so much. Thank you Jeffers for this beautiful work. Just when I thought all I needed in life was Morrison, Hurston, and Walker here you come with The Love Songs of WEB DuBois. The characters and story have wrapped themselves like a warm blanket around me. Thank you for this.

11 people found this helpful

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Great Title, Overall Insufferable

For some time now I’ve known the recommendations of book clubs are typically not worth much. And here’s another, much much too long, case in point. Knowing very little about Du Bois, I hoped to learn more about him. Unfortunately that wasn’t the aim of this book. The “Songs,” while beautifully narrated, were a rehash of many other slave stories of historical fiction. Most of the book is about an upper class African American young woman who, like her mother, is quite insufferable - much like the sorority girl /“Valley Girl” we’ve all endured too often. The narrator adds a unique sound that brings more distaste to the main character. While she wails about the past and being disrespected, Du Bois’ “10%” are immersed in becoming and being the leaders all of us need. (I use that last word with all sincerity.) Then suddenly our main character is a dedicated and selfless doctoral student. The intertwined histories of families from the plantation are revealed. Our main character goes on to become the incredible Black woman she always knew she was. Mama is proud. Uncle is proud and gives her his plantation property. Eye roll here. This is not a great new Southern novel. But it is long if you like to use your credits on long books.

10 people found this helpful

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Brilliant!

It’s helped me understand history in such a more clear manner…it helps me to be more empathetic to what the black culture has endured. It brought historical events to life. Brava!!! I could not stop listening!

9 people found this helpful

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the love songs of W.E.B. DuBois

This is a well written story that will go down in the bestsellers lists for a long time I believe! Thank you all for a step back in time.

7 people found this helpful

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historic fiction at its best

there is so much to say about this work and the author. I can't imagine how much research was done to get this story out and I truly applaud and thank the author for doing the work. I will stay up front that I may be a little biased and that having graduated from Morehouse college the story brought me home in touched me deeply. having said that I would highly highly recommend picking up the book using the credit taking your time and soaking it in. well done and I look forward to reading your next adventure

5 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

I loved this book, and I will miss these characters. A powerful epic that pierces through place and time.

5 people found this helpful