Book Review – Roots by Alex Haley

First published, 1976

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A semi-imagined, though thoroughly researched, family memoir, Roots tells the story of seven generations of a family: from the birth of Kunte Kinte in The Gambia in 1750, kidnapped, beaten, taken into slavery in America, after a voyage that killed many aboard the ship, sold and after many attempts at escape, mutilated so that he couldn’t run – and the generations that followed this taciturn man, who refused to take the name his owner tried to force on him, instead teaching his little daughter his history and some words from his homeland. His daughter, Kizzy, then passed this knowledge on to her son, George, who passed it to his children and so on and so forth; each retelling adding a little of the life stories of subsequent generations until they reached the author.

The horror of this story is matched by the descriptive detail and the characterisations of real people who lived and suffered through an appalling period of modern history.

I know I’ve harped on in previous reviews about how deeply irked I am by phonetic dialogue. It slows the eye and therefore, messes with the pacing of the narrative. However, the use of dialogue phonetics in this book is very effective. I suspect this is because Kunte Kinte and his family, and fellow Africans, would not have been taught anything beyond broken English – just enough to comprehend the demands of slave owners and overseers.

Emotionally rich and shocking, the writing is powerful, the history damning. Perhaps as powerful as the imagery and the horrors of the slave trade is the fact that one man’s name and story was passed through his family for two-hundred years until his great-great-great-great-grandson, an author, visited Kunte Kinte’s home village in Juffure and was embraced as someone precious, thought lost.