Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Book 1 of 2012: Roots

My first book of this year was a reread, Alex Haley's Roots. I first read it many years ago as a bit of a challenge from a family member.

I picked it in part because I'd been wanting to reread it for a while (and I happened to have a free slot on my bookcase to pop it onto) but also because it was a good chunky book that would keep me going for at least the first week of the year.

It turned out to be the right choice because during that first week we had a five-day power cut and grabbing extra reading material wasn't exactly top of my list of priorities during the dashes to and from the house. It also meant that I didn't have to worry about running out of reading material during down-time at work - so didn't need to carry more than one book around with me.

My copy is really battered and old, but it smells wonderful (yes, I'm one of those freaky people who likes sniffing her books, it's the reason why I just don't feel able to commit to a Kindle). This read through I noticed a few annoying typing errors though, which did pull me out of the story somewhat. It's something that I've found bothers me more as I get older, in the past I used to spot them and feel superior, but now they pull me out of the story in a way that they never did in the past. I have to stop and mentally correct them, sounding out my alternative to check that it's not just me misunderstanding. It was just in a couple of places, random things like not closing quotation marks, using the wrong character's name or a wrong spelling, but it was just enough to spoil any moment that was being built up.

Despite that, I really enjoyed rereading this book - if you can truly say that you enjoy reading a book which has graphic descriptions of the slave trade, torture and mutilation as well as the separation of families and rape of a main character. I realise that there's a bit of controversy about how real the story is (in relation to author Alex Haley's own family history) but regardless of that, the truth is, the events it describes are still very much real. They happened to real people. That makes it even more shocking and harder to read, which is why I think it took me longer to read it this time than previously. I'm older now and more aware of the truth behind the story.

There were times when I had to put the book down and leave it for a while before going back to it. Reading forty pages in one sitting which described Kunta Kinte's passage from Africa to America was really hard-going. I read it because there was nothing else I could be doing at the time (being in the middle of a power cut with no phone lines) but also because I wanted to get through that bit to get to the happier times that I knew were (briefly) ahead.

It did remind me of The Book of Negroes which I read a couple of years ago. The subject matter was, obviously, similar, but the sort of tone and story that they told made it easy to draw parallels between them. It's another book that I'm going to have to read again in the future.

Roots is a really fascinating story and I like the way that it's told, following the generations of the family. But it does, at times, feel a bit unbalanced. The first half of the book tells the story of Kunta Kinte, then the second half follows the next half-dozen generations. It feels like it very quickly whizzes through the other family members, without giving you a chance to build the same relationship with any of them. I do like the way that the end returns to the beginning, making the story come about full circle.

"But under the moon and the stars, alone with his son that eighth night, Omoro completed the naming ritual. Carrying little Kunta in his strong arms, he walked to the edge of the village, lifted his body up with his face to the heavens, and said softly, 'Fend kiling dorong leh warrata ka iteh tee'. (Behold - the only thing greater than yourself.)"
Page 11

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