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The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

The Moor's Account

by Laila Lalami

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The author describes the characters so richly, I felt I was right there with the slaves and Spaniards as they sailed to The Floridas and encountered the American Indians. This story is told from the eyes and ears of a Moorish slave who accompanied famous Spaniards such as Cabeza de Vaca on their journey. The tale shows how dictatorship and egotism can poison a crew, and petty grievances among men can do the same. The in-fighting leaves the men weakened for what awaits them once they reach land. Karma seems to be a theme, but finding your own voice and speaking your own truth is a stronger one. While the slave fights for what he wants, as do all the men, ultimately, as in life, acceptance of where he is and living in the moment brings him the peace for which he yearned. ( )
  ErinDenver | Jun 12, 2017 |
This is the tale of the Cabeza de Vaca expedition as seen through the astute eyes of a Moroccan slave. Estabanico was one of only four survivors of this tumultuous journey.
  mcmlsbookbutler | Apr 21, 2017 |
I like a bit of historical fiction from time to time – especially if its an opportunity to learn about a period I know very little about. I was cautious in approaching The Moor’s Account – our only surviving historical account of the expedition is of questionable accuracy – but intrigued by the opportunities intrinsic in telling their tale from a slave’s point of view. And this disastrous foray into a hostile New World makes for a great story (if at times a repetitive one).

Full review ( )
  imyril | Apr 15, 2017 |
We tell stories both to others and to ourselves. They are seldom written down but once in a great while a writer with imagination may create a story about a real event. That is what the Moroccan-born author Laila Lalami has done with The Moor’s Account. Her novel is a fictional memoir written by Mustafa ibn Muhammad, a Moroccan slave who participated with a Castilian exploration group exploring La Florida. The story tells how Mustafa, who is owned by Señor Dorantes, a captain assigned to the expedition, becomes part of this exploration of the land. They change direction when they discover trace amounts of gold in one of the Indian villages. The leader of the expedition, governor Narváez, captures a group of Indians and he forcibly obtains information from them about a fabled capital city known as Apalache, which is supposed to be filled with even more gold.

The expedition splits up and Mustafa and his master travel with one group over the land and discovers the city of Apalache, but there is no gold. To make matters worse, they are running low on supplies and have become lost in the unknown land. They try to find a Spanish port where they can get help, but there’s nothing to be find. Narváez refuses to give up the idea that there might be gold nearby. He keeps interrogating the Indians for information. He pushes onward, but the expedition is plagued with sickness, a lack of supplies, and constant attack from the natives.

Throughout the journey, Mustafa reminisces on his past. His family wanted him to become a notary when he was younger, but he defied their wishes and became a merchant. He was fascinated with being a merchant because of how much money they made. His desire for money continued to grow and he soon found himself trading slaves. When the town came under siege, he lost his job and struggled to make any money. With no other way to take care of his family, he sold himself into slavery.

The expedition soon falls apart and the survivors are scattered throughout the region. Mustafa and his master along with some of his other companions manage to find a friendly Indian tribe. Mustafa learns their language and customs and gets help for the expedition. Disease forces them to move once again, their numbers much smaller. Madness begins to set in for some of the survivors, who desert the group and end up resorting to cannibalism. A few members give up on returning home and try to find home among the Indians.

Through all of this Mustafa feels terrified, but also free on his journey. The survivors continue to dwindle in number until there are only four left. Together, they become legends among the different tribes thanks to their medical knowledge. Soon, they are all wed by the tribe. They spend years traveling together, treating different tribes and gathering a large group of followers. Eventually, they run into fellow Castilians, who bring them to New Spain. While welcomed by there own Mustafa finds he is a slave once again. To make matters worse, his wife is enslaved alongside him. The final sections of the story are suspenseful as the reader wonders if Mustafa will ever gain his freedom and with it a return home or some other outcome that will allow his wife to live with him on their own.

Lalami creates a believable account of the expedition from the Moor's viewpoint. This is provides a much different perspective than that of the Conquistadors. Thus the reader has a different view of the Native Americans and their surroundings that they met along the way. This is historical fiction at its best that I would recommend to all who have an interest in the history of the exploration of the Americas. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 13, 2017 |
Well-written, but suffers from a common problem of novelized biographies -- real life does not provide neat plot points or satisfying story arcs. Much like real life, the story meandered. ( )
1 vote gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
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In the name of God, most compassionate, most merciful. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds, and prayers and blessings be on our prophet Muhammad and upon all his progeny and companions. This book is the humble work of Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, being a true account of his life and travels from the city of Azemmur to the Land of the Indians, where he arrived as a slave and, in his attempt to return to freedom, was shipwrecked and lost for many years.
I could not understand this habit of naming settlements after Spanish cities even when, as in the case of Guadalajara, that city had received its name from those who had conquered it. In Arabic, the name Guadalajara evoked a valley of stones, a valley my ancestors and settled more than eight hundred years earlier. They had carried the disease of empire to Spain, the Spaniards had brought it to the new continent, and someday the people of the new continent would plant it elsewhere. That was the way of the world. Perhaps it was foolish to wish that it were different.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307911667, Hardcover)

From the widely praised author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits—a stunning piece of historical fiction: the imagined memoirs of the New World’s first explorer of African descent, a Moroccan slave known as Estebanico.
In 1527, Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from Spain with a crew of six hundred men, intending to claim for the Spanish crown what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States. But from the moment the expedition reached Florida, it met with ceaseless bad luck—storms, disease, starvation, hostile natives—and within a year there were only four survivors, including the young explorer Andrés Dorantes and his slave, Estebanico. After six years of enslavement by Native Americans, the four men escaped and wandered through what is now Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Moor’s Account brilliantly captures Estebanico’s voice and vision, giving us an alternate narrative for this famed expedition. As this dramatic chronicle unfolds, we come to understand that, contrary to popular belief, black men played a significant part in New World exploration, and that Native American men and women were not merely silent witnesses to it. In Laila Lalami’s deft hands, Estebanico’s memoir illuminates the ways in which stories can transmigrate into history, even as storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:50 -0400)

"The imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, on a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive. As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the way in which our narratives can transmigrate into history--and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival."--Provided by Publisher.… (more)

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