By Suzanne Ruta
Updated January 28, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Crossing the River Caryl Phillips (Knopf, $22) Roots, Alex Haley’s epic of slavery and African forebears, made a classic American miniseries. The Caribbean-born, Oxford-educated Phillips has penned a new novel (after Cambridge and The Final Passage) that would be at home on Masterpiece Theatre. With irony, understatement, and artful compression he tells the story of three African children sold into slavery and so doomed to wander forever across oceans, continents, and centuries. They turn up among freed Virginia slaves returning to Liberia in the 1830s, among black pioneers trapped in a Colorado blizzard, and then with an all-black division of American soldiers stationed in England during World War II. In just over 200 pages, Phillips distills the African diaspora to an essence, bitter and unforgettable. A+ -Suzanne Ruta