Thursday, May 29, 2008

Roots by Alex Haley

Title: Roots
Author: Alex Haley
ISBN: 9780099362814
Publisher: Vintage Boooks/1977
Pages: 688

Sometimes it is not easy to talk about a book which leaves one thinking. It is a fat book which I had put off reading for so very long. Not because of the sheer size. Maybe because of the issue taken in there. Slave trade. Certain things make us go into denial. Somehow I think I put it off reading because I truly did not want to read the horrors of it.

Alex Haley has traced his roots by writing this book. It is fictionalized work of what he says his roots are. Starting from Gambia. His African origins from his maternal sides. This has been recorded only by speaking from the one generation to the other. Kunta Kinte, a descended of a warrier family in Gambia is captured as a slave when he is seventeen years of age. He is made to work in the plantation fields and tries to run away four times. Last time he attempts it, his right foot is cut off. He is bought by a master who is supposed to be a good one. There he marries Bell, the cook and has a daughter Kizzy, who is sold away because she had helped someone to escape by forging a travelling pass. Kizzy is sexually assaulted by her new master and has a son, Chicken George, who in turn marries Mathilda and has eigth children, six sons and 2 daughters.

From there we see a large family who want to be together always. A bond develops with the fellow slaves and they are more like families. We see Kunta being a Muslim, marries a Christian and thereafter, all follow the Christian faith. Kunta keeps his legacy intact by telling it to his daughter Kizzy, who in turn tells it to George and from George it passes on to his children. Of all the six sons of George, the author belongs to the family of Tom, the talented blacksmith. They are finally set free by decree of law in 1865.

Slave trade flourished for hundreds of years. Blacks were maimed and/or killed if they tried to escape. And also sold at the whim of the master, even if they had served for all their life times. Small children were not spared and separated from their families. In the background we see various movements too, being coming into effect to free the slaves. The whites resent that and protest about it.

This book has been into lot of controversies. It has been said to be plagiarised or worse said to be totally false about the claims of Haley's roots. However, even it is fiction, it is worth reading. It does not take away the fact that almost all of America practised slave trade. Every human being worth his salt ought to read this book. If only to feel ashamed that one human being is enslaved by another just because he has a different skin colour, follows a different God, and supposedly primitive. What I would like to know that if I follow a different faith, that makes me heathen? Who decides that?

Those who advocated it and those who still can't think beyond their skin colours need to to explain a lot.