In brief: The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois; Impossible; Jan Ullrich – reviews | Books

Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
4th Estate, £9.99, pp816 (paperback)

Jeffers fills her wonderful debut with references to The Color Purplebut The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois should also be considered a lasting expression of the American experience. In the “song” sections punctuating the novel, enslaved Africans and native Americans are brutalised by European traders in the US south. Fast-forward to the late 20th century and young, funny, Ailey is our narrator; spending summers in the small Georgia town bearing the traumas of all the women in her maternal line. Jeffers brilliantly balances oppression and cruelty with resistance and resilience.

Erri De Luca (translated by NS Thompson)
Mountain Leopard, £14.99, pp160

If there’s an entry point into the work of the enduring, award-winning Italian writer Erri De Luca, then NS Thompson’s excellent translation is surely it. Combining many of De Luca’s concerns – he’s a reclusive mountain climber and sometime activist – Impossible is ostensibly a subtle detective story beginning when a hiker suspiciously falls to his death in the Dolomites. Our narrator is interrogated not just about his proximity to the event, but his time in a leftwing cadre. Thoughtful and wise about life and landscape, it’s the most cerebral of whodunnits.

Daniel Friebe
Macmillan, £25, pp304

Twenty-five years ago, the enigmatic East German Jan Ullrich won his first Tour de France and was widely tipped to dominate cycling. What happened next is a classic fall-from-grace story, a life of unbearable pressure leading to drug use, mental fragility and relationship breakdowns. Friebe, though, is less interested in picking Ullrich apart than putting a complex character back together again: “catcalls have drowned out the hosannas”. Combining journalistic rigour with real care for his subject, this is a superlative biography as well as social and sporting history.

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