20 October 2007

Review: Roots by Alex Haley

I decided to read Roots because I'd heard it was good- good enough to have 24-hour-long mini-series made about it. And because there were two copies of it in the house. I figured it was probably pretty good.

Also, it was about genealogy, sort of. It begins seven generations before the author in Africa, with the author's ancestor, Kunta Kinte, born about 1750. The book is about 730 pages long, and the first 250 of that is spent in Africa or on a boat to America. Haley did an amazing job recreating village life for Kunta as well as describing the ship ride to America.

The book had an amazing flow, and I found myself completely captivated by all the characters. I wanted Kunta's life in his African village of Juffure to continue, but I knew that he had to be captured into slavery at some point.

Kunta's life as a slave is just as interesting as his life in Juffure. I found myself immensely happy for him when he finally married and had a baby. Every joy he experienced and every pain he felt were very real to me, probably more than I have ever felt in any book. This continued with all the characters, not just Kunta.

About half-way through the book, the narrative switches to Kunta's daughter, and I really began to wonder how Haley was possibly going to write about six more generations with only half the book left. As it turned out, Haley mostly focused on the major events and left the details out- perhaps because much of slave life was so redundant and was pretty well summarized within the narrative about Kunta.

The story continues through the Civil War, and from there just becomes mostly a summary. I would have liked to have learned more details about all of the ancestors, but the book is pretty long as it is.

In the final chapters Haley describes his journey to discover his ancestors. He talks of the importance of oral history and how he was able to confirm the stories that had been passed down through two hundred years of ancestors' telling and re-telling of the events. I was completely captivated with the lives of Haley's ancestors; I was enthralled with his journey to discover his past.

This book is a fantastic read. Everyone should read it. Go get it right now.


allicat4 said...
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allicat4 said...

This is an interesting book for many reasons. I remember enjoying the mini-series when I watched, and I've always wanted to read the book. There is one TEENY problem with this supposedly "non-fiction" work. It is fiction. The author lifted several pages worth of material from another fictional book about Africa, as well as flubbing in his genealogical research. His work has been disproved by distinguished researchers, such as Elizabeth Shown Mills. Dick Eastman blogged about the hoax at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2005/07/is_alex_haleys_.html. There is a bright side to this sad story, that I felt was highlighted by people who commented on Eastman's blog. They said that Roots has inspired many people to do their genealogy, a truly awesome result if you ask me. It also provides a caution in research and how you go about it. I will still read Roots one day, knowing that I can take it with a grain of salt.