The Moor’s Account: A Novel.
Author: Laila Lalami
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 323 pages
Source: Library copy
Awards: Finalist for the Pulitzer in Fiction, American Book Award Winner, Man-Booker Prize Longlist.
This is the tale of a Moroccan man of Spain, a trader whose father is a notary, who sells himself into slavery and gives the money to his younger brothers to support his mother and her children. He becomes part of a crew of 600 who sail from Spain to the Gulf Coast of America to claim La Florida for Spain under the leadership of a Castilian conquistador. The slave’s name is Estebanico, and he is one of four men to survive the journeys. This fictional memoir provides a close-up view of a difficult journey seen through the eyes of a person whose social class is rarely represented in such reporting.
It is noteworthy that the telling of the tale is divided into smaller stories. This gives emphasis to one of the themes of the book. That is: the importance to history, as we know it, of the same story told in different ways with different details, different events, different viewpoints, and so forth. I sometimes refer to this as the mishmash of history. I still love it, even when finding one’s way through the pile of information is as difficult as it must have been to navigate through those sparsely settled coastlands of America.
The tale is not simply adventure but one strewn with moral lessons and life’s complexities. As such, it is a compelling read. And, toward the end suspense builds. What will happen to Estebanico? He has reinvented his life on several occasions. What is next for him? Will he find some degree of happiness and contentment?
This story will be of special interest to those who like history colored outside the boundaries of a Western Civilization textbook viewpoint. And yet, there is much that is familiar to those who like to learn about the early visits of Europeans to the Americas. Still, this is a time and place that may be somewhat new to lovers of historical fiction. No question: an interesting time and place to travel to with Estebanico as your guide.
Glossary: (with thanks to Wikipedia. Yes, I donated.)
Barbary Coast: term used by Europeans of the 16th-19th century to refer to the land of the Berber people (North African Coastal areas).
Moors: Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb (Barbary Coast), the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta in the Middle Ages. They were of Arab and Berber descent.
See Wikipedia for more information including about the Berber ethnic group.