Thursday, November 24, 2016

A personal history

Roots: The Saga of an American Family
By Alex Haley

I have always enjoyed historical fiction. In fact, to me, historical fiction has been even more fascinating than history itself, because of the way creativity melds with reality to produce something extraordinary. But I have never read something that I couldn't readily place into either bin - Roots, a classic work from the last century that I recently rediscovered, is my first experience with what may be called a personal history, based in large measure on fact but interceded with fiction and personal claims.

Centuries after it happened, the African slave trade is largely forgotten today, and the history of America that we read and know is largely written, as the book rightly says, by the victors, the perpetrators of a commercial enterprise that put an actual value on human life (although they considered it to be non-human). This book was unique in that stories from American history - the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War - were told through the eyes of slaves, a story you never hear.

If the book can be faulted on anything, it is that it ended rather quickly after the Civil War episode, thus making it more about the initial generations of the Kinte clan than the entire eight. To be fair though, this was also the best-researcher part, putting this book more in the history section than historical fiction. Strongly-recommended for all Americans. 

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