112 of 122 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2003
In 688 pages, Alex Haley has captured in his history of one family, the history of an entire race of people whose names and identities were stolen from them. It's hard to say if this book is fiction, history or biography, since it reads so much like all three. Haley found sizeable gaps in his efforts to trace his family roots, and of necessity had to fill in the blanks from his own imagination, but it reads so convincingly that none of the fictionalized parts detract from the overall story. Probably millions of American blacks, I among them, have wondered where we came from and tried to trace our family lines, only to inevitably run up against a brick wall. (I managed to trace my own family reliably back to my great-great-great-grandmother, who arrived here at the end of the 18th century on a slave ship, but I'll never know her tribe or her nationality.) Haley begins his story fittingly in a small African village, where a 17 year old boy named Kunta Kinte is abducted by slave traders after venturing out of his village alone. His harrowing voyage to America is told in some 50 of the most gut-wrenching pages ever written. It's been reliably estimated that the death rate on the slave ships was between 35 and 40%; translated into numbers, that means that besides the 14 million Africans who were dragged, more dead than alive, onto the shores of the Americas, another 11 million died en route. Sold into slavery to a Virginia planter, Kunta lives out his life in bondage, struggling to hold onto the few remnant of his African identity. Haley is a great storyteller and the narrative sweeps through succeeding five generations, bringing his subjects vividly to life, and it all reads like a great novel until we are brought up short by his own arrival on the scene a century and a half after his ancestor's birth, and then it hits us like a knockout punch: forget the novel, this is real. This is Haley's family and every black family in America that has struggled to survive and has not only survived, but has succeeded despite enormous odds. The most mind-blowing part of the book, for this reader, was when Haley returned to his ancestor's native Gambian village of Juffure and heard his own family history narrated by the Griot. Haley has written, in his history of one family, the story of every family in America that traces its roots back to Africa from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. In the words of old African-American saying, which has relevance for everyone, you can't know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been. Haley shows us, in vivid and at times excruciating detail, where we've been, and what we've come through to be who we are.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2007
Roots is one of the best books I've ever read, but after reading this newly released edition, I'd recommend readers find an older copy. The first section is riddled with typos and grammatical errors and so is the last section, obviously the book was edited by more than one editor because the rest of the book is perfect.
It's a disgrace that such a great book was allowed to be reprinted in such a sloppy fashion. Readers, shop around for a copy from the '70's if you want to enjoy this book as it deserves to be.
44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
I am surprised that I have not read this book sooner ~~ considering how much I love biography/family histories. This is one book that will definitely go on my top 50 books.
Alex Haley writes of his seven generations of family life ~~ beginning with "The African" ~ Kunta Kinte ~ who was abducted from his village in The Gambia and ending with a brief biography of himself. From a proud African captured and forced to become a slave to freedmen and farmers, business owners and the women who prayed for the families while keeping the stories alive ... this is one book to cherish.
You struggle with Kinte's disappointments, fears, sorrow, bitterness and joy as he watches his freedom disappears into slavery. You begin to understand his anguish at losing his family, self-respect, pride and honor. You begin to understand the stoicness behind each slave's demeanor as he or she serve their masters/mistresses and their secret longings for a home they can call theirs or even live their lives without fear of being sold off to another family plantation. And you begin to understand their relief when the Civil War ended.
I have to confess, Haley's family are among the fortunate ~~ they managed to stay together through two slave-holding families ~~ though I don't understand how the Murray family can say slavery is ok. They may be more lenient than other slaveholding families ~~ but it is still wrong to hold another human being against their will simply because of their skin color.
Haley demonstrates how the intelligence of his family helped them survive the years during slavery, after Civil War and during the Reconstruction period. And I have to confess, my favorite scene in this whole book is when Tom, shortly after being freed, comes upon a white man who had whipped him after accusing him of stealing food while working for him during the war, gives him a drink. The captain then demanded that Tom gives him a drink and Tom just looks at him steadily before walking away. He knew then that he was free and unbeholden to any white man. And Tom is my favorite character ~~ he finds a way to work around working for white men and still retaining his independence. He has the strength of The African running in his veins.
This is one book that will be sticking with me for a long time. It is rich in heritage. It is rich in dialect. It is rich in every human emotion possible, and dreams. It is rich in hope as well. This is one book that should be deemed as a classic ~~ it portrays American history in a way that we don't get to hear in classes in school. It is one dimension of a time that seeps in history ~~ and it is an African-American history. It is one that I highly recommend for everyone to read. The voices of Haley's ancestors aren't so easily forgotten. They will haunt you the next time you hear of a Civil Rights movement happening ~~ or a story about a slave ancestor. These are a people who have not forgotten their roots and where they came from. They hung onto their dreams and dignity as best as they could throughout some of the harshest times in the matters of history. And Haley captures their voices beautifully.
This is one book you won't regret picking up.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2000
When I began reading this book I had to force myself to get through the first few pages because of the details of the background and culture of Africa. Alex Haley opened the book by telling about Africa as it existed back then and gave the view of America by the Africans as they saw it. I soon began to realize, however, that the cultural background is an essential part of the novel. Every detail Haley gave in the beginning of the book became important through the rest of the book as it followed the life of one man, Kunta Kinte. Kunta Kinte is an African boy whi is taken from his homeland by white men to become a slave. As I continued the book I became attached to the Kinte family and began to feel the pain and suffering of Kunta Kinte. The story of Kunta is passed on for many generations as they learn the story of their ancestor. This book made me open my eyes to the pain and suffering that African slaves kidnapped had to go through. I loved this book and strongly recommend it to anyone.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2001
This book begins in the African village of Juffure in the mid-1700's with the birth of Kunta Kinte. The reader is permitted to partake in the first 17 years of Kunta's life, learning along with Kunta the customs of his people... We cheer with him when he graduates from one kafo to the next; we sit in awesome wonder as we read about all of the things he sees on his travels; and we cry out in agony as he is captured and kidnapped by slave traders. We follow Kunta to America, where he makes four failed attempts to escape before slave catchers cut off half of his foot. If more than half of the book is dedicated to Kunta, the remainder of the book is dedicated to his legacy. We follow the life stories of Kunta's daughter Kizzy and Kizzy's son Chicken George, all the way down to Alex himself -- who sits on his grandmother Cynthia's knee, over and over again hearing the story of "The African". I was so captivated by Roots that I took the book with me even to the bathroom. You will not be able to put this book down.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2004
This year for Black History Month, I decided to read a black history book, and I could not think of any title more celebrated than Alex Haley's "Roots". The experience was rewarding far beyond what I would have imagined in two respects. First, learning more about a cultural heritage that was different from my own was an awakening to say the least. Furthermore, Haley proved to be a master storyteller, making the read an enriching personal event.
One of the most compelling aspects of Roots is its conceptual basis. "Roots" is unique in its approach to research. The germination of "Roots" occurred when, as a youth, Haley marveled at the ancient family stories related to him by his maternal grandmother and a coterie of other female cousins and aunts. Those tales relate how a great ancestor known as "the African" was kidnapped into slavery one morning while chopping wood for a drum along a river called "Kamby Bologo". The family's oral tradition was remarkable in its time scale, covering at least five generations after the African was sold into slavery at Annapolis in 1767.
Haley expands his research beyond the family stories to include corroboration from conventional genealogical and historical sources such as official records from Spotsylvania county Virginia. In addition, Haley takes the further (and unprecedented) step of including corroboration from African oral tradition sources know as "Griots". Griots are a cultural phenomenon in West Africa. They are individuals who are combination storytellers and historical archive for a culture that has limited written records. It is the blending of information from such diverse sources that gives "Roots" its unique appeal.
As the father of two young (and darling) children, the most touching part of "Roots" for me was the beginning that related the birth, childhood and early adulthood of "the African" who was named Kunte Kinte. Having an awareness of the general storyline, and knowing what was going to happen eventually to Kunte Kinte, it was heart wrenching to read about the loving family and village relationships that would be forever severed by a terrible crime. The process of committing a person to slavery is dehumanizing in the extreme. "Roots" reversed that process by returning to the chattel that was Kunte Kinte his basic humanity. From the standpoint of prose style, the success of "Roots" herein lies. It is not merely a story from black history, but it is an important cautionary tale for any human being that is tempted to show brutality to fellow travelers.
I did not give "Roots" five stars because of another stylistic issue that I believe diminished its potential impact. It appeared to me that Haley changed his pace about mid way through the text, and I found this somewhat disappointing. Up through Kunte Kinte's sale to "Massa Waller", the character development reminded me of the level of detail you might find in a Victor Hugo novel. However, about the time Kunte Kinte is maimed by slave hunters (they chop off half his foot), it seemed to me that Haley picked up speed in his storytelling, and the years (and generations) began to pass by with ever increasing velocity. I would have preferred a more deliberate approach and greater character development to the later generations (particularly with Kizzy and Chicken George). I think that "Roots" could easily have been twice as long and yet remain a compelling epic.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2001
I'm 21 and missed the phenom that was the mini-series. I picked up "Roots" after having read "Queen" and enjoying it immensely. I was a little frustrated with the first 150-200 pages that chronicle Kunta Kinte's life in Africa. It was interesting, but I was expecting to read about antebellum American history, and this didn't appear to be it. I was quickly over it as Mr. Haley guided me on a sojourn through seven generations of Kunta Kinte's progeny. I found the story to be an educational and entertaining tale.
Then I hit page 702.
Alex Haley was born. All along I knew this story was a dramatic interpretation of his family history, but suddenly, my God, these people were real. Their sufferng was real. The inhumanities they faced were real. That young man who lived a rightous and rightful life in Africa (HOW IMPORTANT THAT I LEARNED ABOUT HIM) and had it stolen from him was, too, real.
Just another reminder of how cavilier our lives have become; how much we take as granted. Truly, I am better having read this book. Even with my blue eyes and ruddy cheeks, I found there a great and valuable piece of my own heritage as an American and the nature of us all as human beings. How ashamed I am to be a member of a species that could commit such atrocities. And how proud to be of those that bravely overcome them.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
With a book as socially important as "Roots" you must focus on two things as you read. First, consider the book on its own literary merits and quality, as you would with any other book. But in this case you must also take account of the book's importance to American culture and society. The importance of "Roots" is beyond reproach and it clearly deserves its reputation as a classic. The way this book has illuminated the African-American historical experience is obvious and can't be denied, and the sweep of this novel is up to the challenge.
Outside of the imposing social importance of this book though, there are a few things to quibble about if you just look at this book on its own strengths. In its attempt to cover seven generations of an extended family, the book is certainly lopsided, with a huge amount of space given to Kunta Kinte, and less and less to each successive generation. Of course, this was a choice of Haley's in order to keep the book to a manageable length, and Kunta's story is certainly the most dramatic, but you are left with many unanswered questions about the lives of his descendants. Kunta's early life back in Africa takes up the first fifth of the book, and this section is overlong and difficult to get through due to its lack of suspense. Kunta's happy, proud life, along with that of his village, are described in such an overly sentimental way (I hesitate to use the word "sappy," though it comes dangerously close) that you are left with the suspicion that Haley is trying to play cheerleader for the softer side of African history. Of course this was necessary back when Haley wrote the book, as ancient African cultures were barely appreciated at the time, and historians still mostly thought that Africans had spent thousands of years doing nothing until the Europeans arrived. So Haley has done a service in his coverage of Kunta's childhood by using solid African history as the backdrop, but the picture is just a little too rosy for belief. One other flaw with Haley's coverage of this period concerns the African role in the slave trade. It is now common knowledge that the slave trade got off the ground because a small number of white traders recruited vast numbers of Africans to round up their countrymen and bring them to the slave ships. This was the tragic outcome of inter-tribal rivalries, with the recruited slave raiders unaware of the horrific implications of their actions. This phenomenon is mentioned in passing, though Haley suspiciously fails to dwell on its significance, as if it were too embarrassing.
Those minor flaws aside, the book becomes impossible to put down when Kunta's life takes a tragic turn as he is kidnapped into slavery. Here is where we begin to appreciate the full power of Haley's achievement. His vast research into the experiences of the slave makes the story truly heartbreaking, with the horrific conditions of the slave ship described in great detail. We also learn of the lives of quiet desperation led by Kunta's descendants both on the plantation and on through post-slavery discrimination. Despite the severe hardships of living under a system designed to crush them, African-Americans held out with a strong hope that things would eventually get better, and a strong modern culture developed under amazing circumstances. Alex Haley's insights into the crushing despair, strong moral fortitude, and hopeful faith behind the development of African-American culture are the ultimate achievement of this book, and this should be appreciated by all Americans.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2008
It was a well written story. Unfortunately, there were a ridiculous number of grammar and spelling errors as well as a couple incorrect facts that really devalued the book for me. I couldn't read 10 pages without seeing a mistake like "the the". I was especially disappointed by these errors since it was the special 30th Anniversary reprint of the book. I would have thought they would fix most of these mistakes. As a history teacher, the factual errors were even worse for me. He wrote that the American Revolution was also known as the Seven Years' War. That is incorrect. The Seven Years' War is another name for the French and Indian War which preceded the Amer. Rev. After reading the first 500 pages and getting so annoyed I finally bought it on tape and listened to the rest.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2007
This book is, quite simply, an American classic and one of the most important pieces of literature form the 20th century. It's by no means a complex read, but the story is compelling and the narrative hooks are excellent.
In fact, the book fully deserves five stars, but for two issues:
1) It's now well known and documented that the book is fiction, and worse, lifted in large part from a previous book, "The African". To wit, Haley lost a $650,000,000.00 lawsuit because of it.
2) The book is largely fiction. Inspired fiction, to be sure. If you read it first and then find that out later, its damaging, I believe, so if you go into with the perspective of it being a fictional novel its a much better experience.
I was please to see, however, that the Forward touches on these enough that its no longer like they're hiding it.
I didn't find the book divisive... to be sure, the toubob (whites) are by and large evil incarnate. Being Canadian (ie: from the -good- end of the underground railway) I was able to read it without guilt, which probably removed a lot of the defensiveness that prods others to harsh reactions to the book.
I have the new 30th Anniversary Edition, and it has one huge problem: typos! There are more mis-spellings than this non-spell-checked review, and there's extra punctuation, missing punctuation, periods in the middle of sentences, random comma splices... its really distracting. I have no idea if this was for some reason retained from the original or if it was introduced in this new printing, but it's really bad. If you've sold a billion copies of a book, you can afford to have a college student go through the draft with a highlighter. Inexecusable.
All that said, if you can (a) find a different printing that was proofed, (b) get over the plagiarism, (c) view it as historical fiction, and (d) not take it as your only historical reference for the people of European descent in the Americas, then this is something that everyone should read.