My reading challenge over the Christmas 2010 break was to tackle Alex Haley’s Roots, which sat on my end table waiting to be read since last Christmas. After my finals, I cracked it open and slowly started working my way through its daunting 900 pages. At first, I read slowly — from December 10th until December 27th, I had only read about 30 pages. But with an extended holiday break, I got going and finished the book only a few days after I returned to work.
Roots is a famous work, which may not need a lot of explanation. Written by Alex Haley, it deals with his ancestral roots, starting with an African man, Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from The Gambia in 1767 and transported from the coast of Africa to colonial Virginia, where he was purchased by a white plantation owner named John Waller, and renamed Toby. Kunta Kinte attempts to escape slavery several times, finally being sold to Waller’s brother, William.
Much of the book focuses on Kunta Kinte, and it is his story that is the most interesting. Later, however, the descendants of Kinte are profiled. Here the book started to lose me a bit, particularly when it sometimes became bogged down in the details of Kinte’s grandson “Chicken George” and his career raising chickens for the purpose of cockfighting.
Still, Roots was interesting for its account of slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries, and its treatment of the feelings of desolation and loss for the men and women torn away from their families and their homeland was moving.
In the years since Roots was published (1976), there has been much controversy about its authenticity, as well as allegations of plagiarism, but taken at face value, Roots is still valuable as a challenging account of the horrors of slavery.