Synopses & Reviews
In this stunning work of historical fiction, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America — a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record.
In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and famous as Hernán Cortés.
But from the moment the Narváez expedition landed in Florida, it faced peril — navigational errors, disease, starvation, as well as resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year there were only four survivors: the expedition’s treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; a Spanish nobleman named Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; a young explorer named Andrés Dorantes de Carranza; and Dorantes’s Moroccan slave, Mustafa al-Zamori, whom the three Spaniards called Estebanico. These four survivors would go on to make a journey across America that would transform them from proud conquis-tadores to humble servants, from fearful outcasts to faith healers.
The Moor’s Account brilliantly captures Estebanico’s voice and vision, giving us an alternate narrative for this famed expedition. As the dramatic chronicle unfolds, we come to understand that, contrary to popular belief, black men played a significant part in New World exploration and 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 for redemption and survival.
“A deeply layered, complex portrait of all-too-familiar characters in an unfamiliar world....A totally engrossing and captivating novel that reconsiders the overlooked roles of Africans in New World exploration.” Booklist
“Laila Lalami has fashioned an absorbing story of one of the first encounters between Spanish conquistadores and Native Americans, a frightening, brutal, and much-falsified history that here, in her brilliantly imagined fiction, is rewritten to give us something that feels very like the truth.” Salman Rushdie
“A beautiful, rousing tale that would be difficult to believe if it were not actually true. Lalami has once again shown why she is one of her generation’s most gifted writers.” Reza Aslan, author of Zealot
“Tremendous and powerful, The Moor’s Account is one of the finest historical novels I’ve encountered in a while. It rings with thunder!” Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure
“Laila Lalami’s radiant, arrestingly vivid prose instantly draws us into the world of the first black slave in the New World whose name we know — Estebanico. A bravura performance of imagination and empathy, The Moor’s Account reverberates long after the final page.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University
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.
About the Author
Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. She is the author of the short story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and the novel Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize long list. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, and The New York Times, and in many anthologies. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship and is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles.