PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • The imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America—this "stunning [book] sheds light on all of the possible the New World exploration stories that didn’t make history” (Huffington Post).
In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the invented memoirs Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of 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 ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The hero of Laila Lalami’s third book has two names. That’s fitting given that he lives two lives: one as Mustafa, a young man in Morocco, loved and protected by his family, and another as Estebanico the slave, who embarks with Spanish explorers on the doomed Narváez expedition to America. Beautiful and meticulously researched, The Moor’s Account initially comes off as a tale of adventure, conquest, prejudice, power, and the male ego. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find an equally enthralling meditation on friendship and what it means to be truly free.
Lalami's second novel (after Secret Son) is historical fiction of the first-order, a gripping tale of Spanish exploration in the New World set in the years 1527 to 1536, as told by a Muslim slave. Meticulously researched, the novel is told in the first-person by a Moor, Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico by his Spanish master, Andres Dorantes, recounting the disastrous Narvaez expedition into Florida, the Land of the Indians. Estebanico is an educated man, sold into slavery years before, now struggling to survive in an inhospitable land, beset by hostile Indians, disease, and starvation. Greed and the lust for gold leads to unwise leadership decisions on the part of the Spanish, resulting in the deaths of most of the expedition members. Four survivors, Estebanico and three Spaniards, wander for eight years, from Florida and Texas to New Mexico and Arizona, under the constant threat of death and living on the scant generosity of various Indian tribes. Eventually, Estebanico and the Spaniards develop skills as healers, earning respect and powerful reputations, even marrying Indian women and embracing Indian culture and lifestyle. As Estebanico dreams of his freedom from slavery, he clearly understands that explorers Cortes and Coronado are only interested in conquest and empire. This is a colorful but grim tale of Spanish exploration and conquest, marked by brutality, violence, and indifference to the suffering of native peoples.
A Good Read
I enjoyed the book; it sort of fleshed out my impressions of the conquest of the New World, having read Guns, Germs, and Steel some years ago. It moved at a decent pace, kept me engrossed, but the ending left me scratching my head. It was as if the author simply ran out of time and lost interest in logically closing it off. Simply put, there was no explanation for the existence of the story's manuscript even though several times the author used phraseology hinting that the story was actually committed to a written form.
So, all that said, I enjoyed and would recommend it.
I prefer when a novel grabs me immediately and won’t let go, but such was not the case with The Moor’s Account. Whether due structural idiosyncrasies or simply not connecting with her characters, the truth is I found the novel uniquely challenging. However, now that I have completed it, I can honestly say that it was more than worth the effort. Much like I found Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a struggle is required to reach the buried treasure. This novel will remain on my all-time-great list indefinitely!
This is a pretty good adventure story though the narrator holds attitudes that are completely anachronistic and the nonsense in the last third about the power of storytelling is pretty forced.