The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois
Book #8 of 2023
The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois is a sweeping family saga following the life and history of the Garfield family, as well as others who were intertwined with the impact they had on the small town of Chicasetta, Georgia. We are taken back to pre-colonial times to watch the impact of Europeans taking over Native American lands in flashbacks throughout the novel, which is primarily set in the latter half of the 20th century. Jeffers examines hard hitting and difficult subject matter such as prejudice, serial sexual assault in the African American community, oppression, and the incredible resilience of those enduring such heinous crimes.
While there are many view points throughout the novel, we primarily follow Ailey Garfield, who was raised in the North in the 1980s by her father, a northern man himself, and her mother, who hails from Chicasetta, Georgia. She is a direct descendent of slaves from Georgia and her southern family keeps that remembrance alive. Ailey's life is documented from a very young age all the way through her doctoral program in her early 30s. Her relationship with men, her family, and how she reacts to the outside world are at the forefront of the novel.
The complexity of the Garfield family is revealed through the viewpoints of Ailey's mother, Maybelle Lee Driskell, and her sister, Lydia Garfield. Shocking truths and difficult situations are shown in each of the young black women's lives and demonstrate the generational trauma that seems to repeat itself, from the beginning of America all the way to the late 1900s.
This novel is long and difficult and I often had to set it down due to some of the disturbing events that occured, BUT that does not take away from the importance of reading this book.
The characters in the novel were EXCELLENT. Perfect? Absolutely not...but incredibly human. The women in this book were real and raw and made decisions that made me want to throw the book across the room. Were we all not young and dumb once? Making adult decisions long before we had any right to?
I also loved how she highlighted the male role in history overall as well as in each woman's life. This novel is full of poor examples, but does highlight some strong male figures and the incredible positive impact they are able to make on woman when they are virtuous and caring. The importance of male figures in a young girl's life becomes a recurring theme.
Earlier I mentioned the repeated sexual assault and violence that African American women suffered through and continue to suffer through as a theme in The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois. While I cannot speak to this experience, I feel like Jeffers made a huge point to speak to the horrible history, and how it impacts the community. I never felt like sexual assault was used as a vice to propel the plot forward, and it was never inserted for shock factor. It was tactfully and truthfully dealt with, which often did not make it easier to read, but the sexual violence was truly apart of the history and therefore, appropriately included.