Roots – the Saga of An American Family by Alex Hailey
Doubleday & Co., © 1976 hardcover, 688 pages

I well remember when there was a huge amount of press and discussion about this book, it’s rise on the bestseller list, the many, many reviews. Then the mini-series was made and shown on television. I watched that, a segment a week, fascinated. After that there was no way I could pass it up. I bought it, read it through and very much enjoyed it. The book had much more detail than the mini-series, though that seemed detailed at the time.

It has been on the shelf ever since that time, and I decided to re-read it. No special reason, just took it down and started reading. I found the first section, Kunta Kinte’s life as a boy growing up in Africa, of some interest, but read quickly through it (meaning I skimmed now and then). After his capture, I read with interest of the trials and suffering of the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, his sale in Virginia, his first decade as a slave. For me, this was the most interesting part of the book.

After that my interest began to wane. By the time we reached the third generation, I was bored and skimming chunks of the book. I remembered much of it and kind of knew what was happening and was going to happen, I just wasn’t interested enough to pay close attention. I even put the book down several times to read other things, including two very good books, one a short story collection, the other a mystery novel.

Finally I made it to the end. The only part I read straight through was part of Chicken George’s time with his Massa and then leaving and returning to disaster. After that it was pretty much all downhill, so I coasted it to the finish.

I guess I’m glad I read it, but it’s going into a box in the basement, no longer taking shelf space on the dining room wall with most of the other hardcovers. Who knows, I may pull it out again in a few years and give it another go, but I doubt it. With this one, I think twice is enough.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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8 Responses to Roots

  1. Heather says:

    I tried to read this years ago – I think I was about 15 and in high school. For whatever reason (probably because I was just a bit too young for it to hold too much interest), I never made it past the first chapter. I think I might give it a go again though – thanks for reminding me about this book!

  2. I read this one way back when and remember liking it. Probably have the same reaction as you did on a reread. Prbably won’t try it though.

  3. Todd Mason says:

    I never read it in book form…this is probably the only book that I read in parts in both PLAYBOY and READER’S DIGEST, two magazines that have fallen far in the world since I was 11 and 12.

  4. I have yet to read it but I will get to it in the next year or so.

  5. fence says:

    We got a request for this in at work recently (I work in a library) which prompted a bit of discussion over whether it should stay in non-fiction/biography as that is what it was marketed as, or be moved over to fiction, because that is clearly what it is.

    In the end I put it in fiction. I don’t think I’ve ever read it, but I do remember watching the tv show.

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    It may have been one of those books only suited to the times. I come across them now and then. Perhaps his subject was bigger than his writing talent.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    The first time I encountered Alex Haley’s work was in Playboy. I know there have always been a lot of jokes about reading it for the articles but I really did like the Playboy interviews each month. When they decided to do one with American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell he insisted they agree not to send a Jewish writer, so they sent Haley. Next year I read THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, which Haley co-wrote/ghostwrote.

    ROOTS was probably not up to the level of either of the previous works. It’s been well documented that Haley plagiarized large sections of THE AFRICAN in his book.

  8. Pingback: New Arrivals, Current Reading | The Broken Bullhorn

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