Author: Laila Lalami
Original Publication: 2014
Many have heard of Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer of the New World who was one of four survivors of a 16th century expedition to Florida. His account was recorded for posterity as the “truth” for much of the western world for centuries, but of course it was only a sanitized fraction of it.
“The Moor’s Account” by Laila Lalami is a riveting fictional retelling of another of the survivors of the Narvaez expedition to Florida–one Mustafa al-Zamori. He was the first African explorer of the Americas, but because he was an African slave to one of the expedition’s captains (Andres Dorantes), Mustafa’s perspective and experiences were entirely erased from the official account. Lalami beautifully breathes life to this exceptional man whose story deserves to be told as much as any other man. Though all details into Mustafa’s past, upbringing, and most of his experiences in America are Lalami’s creations, they all ring true and authentic.
This expansive and grand story takes us from Morocco to the ancient coasts of Florida and across the southern United States and finally to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Mustafa’s journey lasts many years, and throughout it he encounters countless Native American tribes. He learns their languages and traditions and becomes like one of them; his experiences in this new world will change him for better or worse.
Europe’s colonizing of the Americas was ugly business. Its result was the destruction and erasure of non-European experiences and cannot be justified in any believable way. This novelization certainly does not attempt to do any such thing. What it does accomplish it to grant a voice to people who have historically been silenced and whose stories are a vital part of the storybook of human experience.
As a Pulitzer Prize finalists, this book recommends itself. But I want to bring it to your attention because it is an outstanding work of storytelling that should be read widely.