Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 4: Finished!

Finally we have reached the end of the month, and with it, the end of the Roots readalong hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Nite. This is the fourth and final post, but you can see my thoughts over the other 3 sections of the novel in the following places:

-Chapters 1-30
-Chapters 31-60
-Chapters 61-90

I'm both happy and sad to be talking about the end of the novel. On one hand, I'm very happy that I am finished with the book. It was a huge book (my edition was 899 pages), and my hands will be grateful not to hold it up anymore. It is a great sense of accomplishment to finish such a chunky book in four weeks. On the other hand, I'm sad to leave behind the rich history found in the novel. I'm going to explain a bit more about that in a moment.

The fourth chunk of the book continues the story of Kunta Kinte's family. Now, considering we were with Kunta for about 550 pages of the book, I was skeptical of how Haley was going to bring us from 1820 to the present day in 300 pages when he spent 550 pages on 55 years. I was right in feeling that it would be rushed. From the point of Kizzy (Kunta's daughter) on, I felt like I never really got to know any of the characters, with the exception of Tom and Irene. A lot of the family history felt rushed as Haley tried to bring the history of his family through the Civil War and into his own personal history. Babies were born, barely described, and a page later, the eighth child was born. Names got confusing and I wasn't sure who was who until the end of the novel when Haley finally brings himself into the narrative and focuses on the reverse lineage of his family.

In addition to feeling that the ending was rushed (funny to say that for a 900 page book), I was also a little irritated with the amount of attention spent on Chicken George and those cock-fights. Where I felt a lot of the other description of daily life was necessary to the progress of the novel, I always felt pulled away when the focus was on Chicken George. I think that the same message could have come across without so much detail (because let's be honest, aren't we all disgusted by the idea of animal cruelty?). Had Haley pulled back and focused more on the family, which is what readers were invested in, I think he could have packed an even stronger punch (and I say this from my perspective in reading this in 2012).

As for what I did enjoy, I was surprised to see that Haley confronted a question IN the novel that would pop up after it was published. Since Haley "traced" his lineage back to Kunta Kinte and the exact village he was from, many asked whether the novel was fact or fiction. Haley points out in the last few chapters that,

"To the best of my knowledge and of my effort, every lineage statement within Roots is from either my African or American families' carefully preserved oral history, much of which I have been able conventionally to corroborate with documents," (884).

Obviously, as a reader, we know that Haley didn't know what Kunta thought or felt, but I think his inferences in the novel are pretty remarkable. He captured the sense of horror and helplessness of many slaves, and Kunta's identity confusion upon being made a slave in America seemed very realistic. And while I still don't forgive Haley for downright plagiarizing certain passages, I still think that this is an incredibly powerful and moving novel.

I think that many assume that issues of race and racism are issues of the past. I hope that most of us know that isn't true. Racism and hatred are still so prevalent. And what bothers me is how many don't "get" what actually happened. I've heard some say, "Slavery was so long ago. Get over it." But I think that those people are wrong. Why do we need to forget something that forged this country? Let's face it, the system of slavery helped shape America into what it is, and to forget that it happened, to brush it under the rug, says that those who died on the ships coming from Africa, those who were beaten to death in the fields, or shot while escaping, died for nothing. It is an ugly past, but one we need to continue to teach-to say, "Look at what we were, where we are, and where we still need to go."

Whether or not Roots is that platform...I'm undecided. I think it is an important novel, certainly, as it brings to the forefront some extremely powerful images and emotions. And I certainly think that we should read it, talk about it, and learn from the message it delivers. And while it is not a perfect novel, no work ever is. It is the imperfections that mark a great work and give us something to talk about, don't you think?

So for those of you unsure of whether Roots is a novel you want to tackle, I think you should. Beyond learning more about the history of the United States, it is also well-written. You'll want to keep reading, and rooting, for the people in it. Because while it may be fiction, the slavery was real.

*Finishing Roots marks another book finished off my Chunkster Challenge list! That's 2 down in 1 month! Go me!*


  1. I want to read this one eventually. I agree with your point that slavery is still relevant.

  2. Hi there, just wanted to post my two cents:

    I've never actually read Roots, and I only watched bits and pieces of the miniseries, but I just wanted to add that it's been a hugely important work for the field of archival theory - Roots basically popularized the idea of genealogy, and as any government or community archivist will tell you, genealogists are our bread and butter.


  3. I recently read this book for the first time in the fall and I have to agree with you about the fast-forward sense at the end. my edition had about 700 pages and it seems like it took 550 pages to get out of Africa and experience Kunte's family and then BAM! we were in the modern world. But I am glad I stuck with it!