John (William) Jakes Bruce Cook - Essay

Bruce Cook

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

While the publishing world has been agog for months over the nearly unparalleled success of Alex Haley's Roots, another venture, in its own way just as successful, has gone virtually unnoticed by journalists and critics—though not by readers. John Jakes's American Bicentennial Series of historical novels, which traces the lives and fortunes of the fictitious Kent family from colonial times, has been appearing rapidly in installments since 1974. The Warriors is the sixth of them. It is, like those that preceded it, a very long novel … and like them, too, it should sell spectacularly well, leaving Roots' millions behind….

The difference—or at least one difference—between Roots and the American Bicentennial Series is that while Alex Haley's fictionalized fantasia on his family tree was issued in legitimate hardcover format, John Jakes's novels are poor little paperback bastards. And the literary world is content to let such half-orphans run free, ignored.

Fundamentally, I think, people read both for the same reason: they want to know, if only in a general way, where they came from. Yet I'd be willing to bet that there is little overlap in readership. The racial and spiritual descendants of Kunta Kinte themselves probably have little interest in the saga of a family scattered on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line which treats the causes of North and South so evenhandedly that it is...

(The entire section is 608 words.)