Wow! What a profound book. I got a bit (or a lot) behind and this read along went a bit off track, but I finally finished the book, in the midst of watching the four part miniseries, and it was quite a literary experience.
I'm still shocked and saddened by how we treated the slaves in our history. It is hard to imagine that I could possibly be descended from slave owners (knowing I have southern ancestry). However, not knowing for sure if my ancestors were slave owners, even the possibility that they might have been is disheartening. Then there was the documentary on History Channel after the airing of the miniseries in which at one point they stated that around 30 percent of Americans today are descended from slaves. Not at all surprising considering all the masters who took their liberties with female slaves. Even Kunta Kinte's own daughter had it happen to her so Alex Haley's ancestry is both black and white. Returning to the treatment of the slaves, and the attitudes that whites were better and slaves were merely property, no better than livestock, upon Kunta's observation of the parties and his eventual realization of the wealth of whites, this quote conveys it all perfectly:
"He couldn't believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they DIDN'T live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it's possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat, and mother's milk made possible the life of privilege they led."
What really struck me at the end of the book was how very important a person's ancestry really is. I found it exciting how Alex Haley extensively researched and tracked down sources, and even traveled to Juffure and listened to the stories of the griot there...the stories of his ancestors. The vocal narrative that Kunta passed on to his family was more precious than gold. In the book, someone states that "we who live in the Western culture are so conditioned to the 'crutch of print' that few among us comprehend what a trained memory is capable of." Isn't that the truth? If only my ancestors had passed on a narrative of our history as Haley's ancestors did. That history gave him the seeds to discover his heritage. As I said, profound.
Regarding the miniseries...I was a bit disappointed. I watched the original miniseries from 1977 when I was about 9 (only seeing parts of it again in later years) so I can't truly say I remember it very clearly. However, as I was reading the book, I was reminded a lot of that original miniseries. The remake was too much unlike the book, in my opinion. I did not like how they had Kunta fighting in the Revolutionary war. Not in the book. Combining the Wallers into one household. Not in the book. Adding a son to the Murray family, and a right asshole son at that. Not in the book. And then adding a fiancee, who turns out to be a spy for the North (with her "slave" as a cohort) and what the Murray son does to them. Not in the book. Shocking, yes, and titillating perhaps for viewers, but again, not in the book. And would he have gotten away with what he did to a white woman. I don't think so, but who knows. What else? Well, I could go on and on. I just think it could have been more close to the book. That being said, I still enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as the original, but again, I was 9, and my innocent mind was just learning of slavery and it was a shocking and life changing event for me back then. What I liked best about the remake was the end. The scenes with Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley, when he is taken by George and Tom to meet up with his ancestors down the line. I sobbed, and then I cried again when I was telling my mom about it (she didn't finish watching. She liked the 1977 version better). We've decided we're going to watch that version again soon.
So, did you finish the book? What did you think? What about the miniseries? Did you watch? Thoughts?
I hope you enjoyed reading along and I hope you will join me when I decide on my next read-along. In the meantime, you can join us at my TuesBookTalk Read-Alongs group, where we read a different genre each month, and non-fiction in the months of January, May and September. Click here to check it out.
Thanks for reading along!
Thanks for reading along!