ROOTS by Alex Haley
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A feat of research and imagination, this long-awaited, much publicized effort is as exceptional as promised. Haley took the essence of a family story told on summer nights and traced his roots back to Kunta Kinte, an African captured while gathering wood and brought to American in 1767. Haley sensitively reconstructs everyday life in Juffure where driver-ant heads were used as surgical clamps and a hairpiece might cost three goats; it is this concentration on particulars and the slow development of Kunta's pride that dramatize how devastating his capture was--for months he expected to be eaten. The voyage was grim; once here he adjusted reluctantly, resisting the alien slave culture, detesting white domination. Vowing to remain faithful to his heritage, he told his daughter Kizzy about his past; it is this story of his capture (plus some Mandinka words and tribal customs) that traveled orally to the seventh-generation Haley. Kunta's story, the affecting part, occupies more than half the book, but among readers (and on TV this fall) he will have flamboyant competition from his grandson Chicken George, a slick gamecock trainer who earned his freedom before Lincoln emancipated the rest of the family. Characters have been added and necessarily the conversations are fabricated; for convenience the early generations always have ties to the Massa's house, enabling them to overhear major events that provide a historical framework. Haley verified the genealogy and bare facts using government records; the search in Africa was more unconventional, taking him to his family's groit who recited the complete Kinte history, specifying Kunta who disappeared while gathering wood ""in the year the King's soldiers came."" The groit's story corroborated the family story, and the listening villagers shared the significance of the discovery: they had Haley embrace their babies--the laying on of hands. Roots has the richness of a 19th-century family novel and the added draw of personal revelation--a remarkable achievement.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Doubleday