Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account is the fictional memoirs of Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori (renamed Estebanico when sold into slavery), a Moroccan slave on the Navarez expedition. On the surface, this is an interesting point of view: a slave part of a conquering force, and his relationships and attitudes towards the Native Americans.
He is believed to be the first black explorer of America, but Mustafa's testimony was left out of the official record (with the exeception one line in Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle: "The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor.") so Lalami re-crafts his story, filling a missing gap in the historical narrative. As Mustafa's mother tells him at one point in the story, "Everything has already been lived and everything has already been told. If only we listened to the stories..." On a deeper level, The Moor's Account is a look into the power of storytelling and its spiritual qualities. It is split into two time frames that merge in the middle - one starting from Mustafa's birth and one from his landing in New Florida. The chapters are all stories - the Story of La Florida, the Story of the Sale, the Story of México-Tenochtitlán, etc. - and could almost serve as stand alone bits. Lalami received many accolades for this book (including a Pulitzer Prize finalist). I found all the Spanish characters a bit confusing, and I wish there was more description of his life growing up in Morocco and more nuanced female characters. But what I did love was the narrative itself: it flowed wonderfully, was told in the style of a 16th century travelogue, and fully absorbed the reader. As one reviewer wrote, "Behind everything he shows us - survival tactics, wars with the Indians, living with the Indians and the eye-opening encounters with the New World landscape so deadly and so beautiful - stands his own quest to regain his freedom. The world was not what I wished it to be, he says, but I was alive. I was alive. So he is, so he is." A remarkable tale, and Lalami gives an authentic voice to a lost history. Rating: ★★★★