Roots chronicles the rich, tragic, triumphant history of one family. The story begins with the 1750 birth of Kunta Kinte in Gambia, West Africa. Readers are given a detailed description of the young man's life, family and tribe. It's no secret that he is captured, shipped to America and sold to a plantation owner.
From this point, Kunta Kinte endures the harsh life of a slave. He marries and has a daughter. At 16, that child is sold to another slave owner and the story passes to her. She has a son and the story moves from generation to generation until this family history reaches the author himself.
Bertha said calmly, "Sorry we didn't write. We wanted to bring you a surprise present-" She handed to Cynthia the blanketed bundle in her arms. With Will gazing incredulously over her shoulder, Cynthia pulled back the blankets top fold- revealing a round brown face.
That baby boy, six weeks old, was me.
My description may lead you to believe that this is a simple story, but I assure you it is not. History is told through the eyes of these characters that actually walked this earth at one time. The harsh treatment, the racial perceptions, assumptions, politics are all recorded by Haley's descendants. Through them we see the birth of a new nation, the election of Abraham Lincoln, the abolition of slavery and finallyfreedom.
Haley could have easily divided this book between black and white. Instead, he acknowledges several hues. For example, Kunta feels he is superior to the other slaves because he is darker and genuinely African. The author also introduces perceptions of mulatto and "high yaller" slaves as well. I found it very interesting to see how these people judged each other by the very skin hues on which they were judged themselves.
The hardest portion of the book to digest was the boat trip Kunta took from his homeland to America. Haley's description of the conditions is so vivid it was difficult for me to read, let alone imagine humans actually experiencing this nightmare.
The pacing of Roots is a bit erratic. Extensive portions of the story are devoted to Kunta Kinte and his voyage to America. Further in the book, Haley spends a lot of time with Chicken George and cockfights. In my opinion, too much time was spent describing how these roosters kill each other as folks bet on the action. Haley's later descendants get little time. The story seems to whiz pass them and their lives in a big hurry to get to the conclusion at the funeral of Haley's father.
Don't let my minor criticism discourage you, however. The size of the book is intimidating, but the story is fascinating. Haley did massive amounts of research in preparation for writing Roots, including returning to the very village from which his Kunta Kinte was taken so long ago. The description of this path can be found at the end of the book and shouldn't be missed.
Why should you read Roots? Because it was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner for 1977. You say you saw the mini-series on television? I say that event was over 20 years ago and the book can unleash feelings that can't possibly be stirred by any television program.
I also want to add that this is NOT light reading. You don't want to delve into this story while supervising kids at the pool. The book demands a lot of your attention. In 700-odd pages you will ingest 200 years of history. At the end, you will be tired but grateful for the experience of reading about one family's Roots.