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Biography

Roots

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Alex Haley. 729 p. Published 1976 by Dell Publishing.  Bought used at a library sale.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction/Autobiography

Short Bio: Kunta Kinte grows up from a young tyke into a strapping young “man” of 16 when he is suddenly captured and taken via slave ship to Maryland.  After three escape attempts, he finally resigns himself to his new status as property but determines to pass on the pride and dignity of his African heritage to his daughter, Kizzy.  The author traces the oral history of Kunta’s descendants six generations until he reaches his own birth.  The history of Haley’s family includes such extraordinary characters as Gran’mammy Kizzy, preacher-girl Mathilda, Chicken George, blacksmith Tom Lea, and lumber mill owner Walter Palmer.

Eyewitness Account: At the beginning of the year, I made a list of about 20 classics that I hadn’t yet read that I’m trying to get through in 2011.  This is one I was really excited about – and it didn’t disappoint.  Haley’s perfect combination of rich detail with gripping plot and fantastic characterization make for an excellent (though sometimes heartbreaking) read.  He spends a good majority of the book on Kunta Kinte – about half of that in Africa (I nearly died of anticipation, I kept expecting him to get snatched and he didn’t leave Africa for at least 160 pages!).  At the end of the book, Haley explains how he backtracked to find where his ancestors came from and located the very village – how incredible!

Don’t be intimidated by the length – Roots is jam-packed with interesting historical/cultural detail among a suspenseful plot and colorful people.  I practically felt myself the incredible pain and humility that Kunte experiences as he crosses the Atlantic in a crowded ship, the desperation that drives him to attempt escaping multiple times (despite severe beatings as punishment), and the utter bewilderment he feels toward his fellow slaves who accept their shameful lot so willingly.  By the time I read through most of Haley’s family history and got to the end of the Civil War, I was ready to whoop with glee when Tom and all his brothers finally got to live as free men. But my favorite part of all is the end, where Haley describes his own journey of discovering just where his great ancestor Kunte Kinte was from and how he got to America.  Well done, Haley! This is probably one of the only books I’ve given all 5-stars to.  

Notable Quotes:

“In his hut after the moro had gone that night, Kunta lay awake thinking how so many things–indeed, nearly everything they had learned– all tied together.  The past seemed with the present, the present with the future, the dead with the living, and those yet to be born; he himself with his family, his mates, his village, his tribe, his Africa; the world of man with the world of animals and growing things– they all lived with Allah.  Kunta felt very small, yet very large.  Perhaps, he thought, this is what it means to become a man.”

“I sat as if I were carved of stone.  My blood seemed to have congealed.  This man whose lifetime had been in this back-country African village had no way in the world to know that he had just echoed what I had heard all through my boyhood years on my grandma’s front porch in Henning, Tennesse . . . of an African who always had insisted that his name was “Kin-tay”, who had called a guitar a “ko” and a river within the state of Virginia, “Kamby Bolongo”; and who had been kidnapped into slavery while not far from his village, chopping wood, to make himself a drum.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?  The Book Haven, Serendipity

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★

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