The people of Juffure organize their history in relation to such magical meteorological interventions, and by nesting his own history into this non-Western historiographical paradigm, Haley suggests an essential affinity between his understanding of American history in 1976 and Kunta’s understanding of Juffure’s history in the 1750s.
To the extent that we admire Haley’s Mandinka villagers and despise his slave traders, we become receptive to the possibility that the aboriginal “mythical” understanding of history is preferable to the Western model of history in all the ways that Haley’s idealized Mandinka society is preferable to a society structured around trade in human chattel.
The book’s central appeal was that it was not just a novel, but a work of history.
The book’s website includes a page of laudatory blurbs from contemporary reviews observing that Roots “proves that not all histories ‘have been written by the winners’” and that Roots “gives us a fresh view of history itself” (“Praise”).
Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a sensation immediately after its publication in 1976.
It was adapted into a popular miniseries, and became one of the most-watched television programs in American history.
Two sequels, The Next Generation and The Gift, quickly followed.
Roots appealed to readers of every background: for African American readers, the story inspired pride and a greater understanding of the past; and for readers of other ethnicities, it was a powerful look at an American family's immigrant past.
Roots turned Kunta Kinte into a household name and reshaped the way Americans discussed the legacy of slavery.
Published in the fall of 1976, in the midst of the USA’s bicentennial ceremonies, Haley’s representation of American history from his black characters’ perspectives presented a counter-narrative for which audiences demonstrated a clear hunger.