Every year I make a hearty summer reading list for myself. Usually it’s composed of books I didn’t have time to read during the school year, classics I always wanted to read, and friends’ suggestions. This summer my reading list is wonderfully diverse and also includes a few books I’m thinking of using in my thesis. One of those books is Roots by Alex Haley.
For those of you that have been living under a rock for the last 30 or so years, Roots is the story of Kunta Kinte, an African man captured into slavery shortly after his 16th birthday. He survives the Middle Passage, is sold to a plantation, tries to escape, but eventually marries and builds a family in America. Roots follows Kunta Kinte from his life in Africa and through the generations of his family all the way to Haley himself.
Roots was smash hit when it came out and was eventually turned into a miniseries. Like the Godfather and Schindler’s List for white people, Roots is a HUGE FREAKIN’ DEAL for black people.
Unfortunately, because of the miniseries, not as many people pick up the book anymore which is sad. The book is a wonderful, it may even be better than the series. However, I’m an English major so my opinion may be somewhat biased.
Take it with a grain of salt and then go read the book.
The only problem with the book version of Roots is the length.
It’s 888 pages long.
It has 120 chapters.
They’re short chapters, but there are still 120 of them.
When you read a book that long you start to become emotionally invested in it. True, those of us that are passionately in love with literature will become invested in any piece of well-written fiction, but the circumstances are different when the book is 888 pages long. You’re invested in characters and the story, yes, but an 888 page book becomes Everest. You feel as if the book as thrown down the gauntlet and you must finish it or be proven a coward. If you’re like me, you accept the challenge and you take the book with you everywhere. The book comes with you to work, the gym, the shower, your lunch break, the couch, the bed, the car, etc.
Now, books that are 888 pages are usually not light-hearted fare.
This is the case with Roots because it’s about SLAVERY.
Imagine, if you will, sloughing through 888 pages of chains, slave auctions, beatings, rape, more rape, maiming, verbal abuse, the N word, more beatings, tears, anger, vengeance, and more slave auctions.
That does something to a person’s psyche.
What sucks is that Roots lulls you into a false sense of security for the first 200-300 pages.
Even though you know it’s about slavery in America, the books starts off in Africa. Kunta Kinte is born, his father, Omoro, takes him outside, holds him up the sky and says, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.” It’s a very touching moment. The book chronicles Kunta’s early life, his childhood friends, his relationship with his grandmother, Yaisa, his manhood training, and how Kunta plans to live out his days in the village.
Then he gets captured by white people.
And it all goes downhill from there.
He spends months on a slave ship, watches a man get beheaded, has to sleep in his own excrement, watches a girl get eaten by sharks, gets beaten to a bloody pulp, and then has his one friend on the ship die.
You guys know I suffer from anxiety right?
So reading Roots caused me to shake.
All the time.
I’m still shaking and I finished it two days ago.
Here’s a brief description of my mental state while reading Roots:
Pages 1-300: Calm
(“Oh wow! This book is wonderful! Such details! Such depth!”)
Pages 300-350: Nervous
(“Kunta, don’t go into the woods by yourself. What did Omoro say about going off into the woods by yourself?”)
Pages 351-352: Nervous and scared
(“They got Kunta! They got Kunta!”)
Pages 352-400: Concerned
(“Kunta’s gonna be ok, isn’t he? He’s the main character, he has to live.”)
Pages 401-425: More concerned
(“Watcho doin’ Kunta? No, Kunta, no!”)
Pages 426-500: Depressed
(“Did massa jus’ sell Kizzy? Aw Lawd de massa jus’ sol Kizzy!”)
Pages 501-600: Despondent
(“Lawd, why is I still readin’ dis here book? I don’t know what I’se goin’ do if sumtin’ else go wrong.”)
Pages 601-700: Confused
(“Why is my inner monologue in the voice of an 18th century southern black person?”)
Pages 700-800: Determined
(“You are going to finish this book. You have been reading it for three weeks. I don’t care what else happens; you are going to finish this book.”)
Page 801: Depressed again
(“I can’t finish this book…”)
Page 802: Conflicted
(“Finish the book and you can have a cookie. Then again, you’re getting kind of fat; do you really need the cookie? Who are you kidding? You will ALWAYS eat the cookie.”)
Pages 803-887: Euphoric
(“I’m almost finished!!!!”)
Page 888: Furious
(“WHEN IN THE HECK DID WE RUN OUT OF COOKIES!”)