Friday, June 17, 2016


The new Roots miniseries came out last month, May of 2016. In 1977, when the original miniseries came out, I was in middle school and I was far more interested in going to the skating rink than in staying home and watching the groundbreaking miniseries starring LeVar Burton, John Amos, Robert Reed, Cicely Tyson, Ed Asner, the amazing Madge Sinclair, the stellar Louis Gossett, Jr., the gorgeous Thalmus Rasulala, and so many more high-caliber stars of the time. NO, I wanted to roller skate with a cute boy at couples only skate; so I missed it when Roots was on the TV in our home each night.

I do remember my parents talking about it quite a bit but I myself didn't see it. This week I have been watching this 1977 mini series. The first episode was so moving. If I didn't love LeVar Burton before, I certainly do now. His earnest and innocent face just got to me so many times. I have to admit to my favorite moment being when Kunte Kinte is being chased by OJ Simpson who looks like a blur across the screen.

With the new miniseries released in May of this year and featuring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, Kalachi Kirby, Matthew Goode, Babs Olusonmokun, and many more, I decided it was past time for me to read the book by Alex Haley. I had alot to catch up on.


Levar Burton
as Kunta Kinte

By now it is fairly well-known that Alex Haley admitted to plagiarizing parts of the story from an author named Harold Courlander. Courlander's novel The African tells a story of a young black boy who was living in Gambia, who was captured by slave traders, who was able to survive the absolute terrors of a trans Atlantic slave ship, and who maintained a strong allegiance to his home village of the Mandinka throughout his life. This storyline is the exact trajectory of Kunta Kinte, the main character in the first generation of the Haley Roots saga.

Additionally, some researchers have done research attempting to recreate or support Haley's claims from so many generations ago, but specific tribes and individuals were not able to be verified. Additionally, much of the slave time period in Virginia and South Carolina in the 1700s and 1800s are not possible to confirm.

Can a novel of historical fiction not be worthy?
I say that it is.

Alex Haley unwisely made claims that he could not support, but had he offered this story as an historical fiction novel, authentic details and credible claims might have elevated the story from novel to historical genealogy, rather than the other way around.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley

Rather than give some sort of synopsis, which you can find in a dozen places on the internet, this writing will focus on my own experience with the reading. I've only read the first few pages so far. I do find the story reads like historical fiction so I have no idea why anyone is surprised. The idealized setting of Gambia reads like a child's garden with a looming threat just outside of the borders. And, indeed, it surely would feel that way to a young man growing up within its borders.

I'm traveling quite a bit this weekend with alot of time for reading...more later.

Alex Haley also wrote a book about his grandmother called Queenie.
Has anyone read it? It's on my list.

The real Chicken George

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