This Novel Takes Root

Jackie Collver, Writer

Roots follows Kunta Kinte, a teenager from the Gambia, and his journey through slavery in the late 1700s. It continues for nearly two centuries with Kunta Kinte’s family, through the early 1900s and eventually concludes with the author Alex Haley‘s own birth in 1921.  

There’s so much to praise when it comes to this novel, but first we should mention how Haley does an excellent job of tying history into this story. Through events around the family’s plantation in North Carolina – such as slave riots that occurred shortly before President Lincoln was elected – Haley is sure to remind us of what century we are in, an important element considering this historical novel flows over a couple of them. 

Because of the time span, Haley introduces several characters throughout the course of the novel.  Although the majority are minor, such as other slaves working at the plantation and the numerous children in the family, there are some important ones, such as Tom, the greatgreatgrandson of Kunta Kinte. The latter parts of the book follow him and his feelings about the Civil War that is developing around him, as well as problems on the plantation and within his family. These problems include their master’s growing impatience with the slaves’ work as well as the constant threat of being sold to slave traders at the plantation who stop by throughout the book.  

Although there are many characters, it isn’t as hard as you might think to keep track of them. Haley is always quick to remind us of the relationships between characters. A skill that is lacking from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.   

But anyway, back to Haley’s genius.  

The novel is almost 900 pages, but Haley presents even the most uneventful scenes well, and these scenes always have importance. For instance, the adorable scene when Tom makes a steel rose for his wife as a wedding present.  

Because of the heavy subject of the novel, there are some gory, graphic scenes. However, these are also amazingly written. It was written graphically enough to make my stomach ill, with some scenes featuring blood and feces, such as when Kunta Kinte is trapped in his own bodily fluids on a slave ship. 

Haley blends the graphics of the scene and the characters’ feelings perfectly to give the reader enough information to paint the scene in their mind, but also enough detail for the reader to be able to picture the character.  

More great parts from this story are the heartwarming family scenes. As more and more children are born throughout the novel, the parents pass down Kunta Kinte’s legacy, as well as that of his wife, Bell. A proud African, Kunta Kinte made his daughter, Kizzy, promise to pass down his story to her children, and for them to pass it down to their children. She does this and, every time a child is born, they are propped up on someone’s knee and told the story of Grandpa Kunta Kinte, who came to the United States from Africa.  

These are always super cute scenes, and make the story come to life with the sense of family. Not only do these scenes add a sense of realism and portray time passing very well, but they also makes the reader develop a connection with the characters as they bond together as a family.   

Despite the heartwarming family scenes and well written tragedies, there are some weak parts of the book. The main one for me is the characters’ dialogue.  

Because of the time period Roots is set in, the dialects are very hard to follow. Both white and black characters speak in the vernacular of the South, such as “I’se fr’m de Nawth Caro’ina.” Every time someone speaks, the reader’s eyes are blinded with the lack of consonants. It forces the reader to slow down and try to make sense of the ridiculousness of the characters’ speech. 

This isn’t a reflection of Haley’s writing, though. If anything, it proves the research he put into this novel, and his contribution to make it as detailed as possible.  

Other than this, Roots is a very easy to follow. Haley makes the reader have an emotional connection to all the characters through heartwarming scenes of family, as well as gives readers a view of relationships forming between characters. The characters are easy to keep track of throughout the novel, the passing of time is clear by cleverly laced historical events, and the story has a happy ending.   

Anyone who wants to learn more about what slavery was like for those involved would love this book, as would anyone who is looking for a well detailed novel with relationships between the characters and readers established throughout.  

So if you want a great book with awesome characters, pick up Roots.