Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account is a retelling of the historic Narváez expedition, a Spanish armada that set sail in 1527 in search of gold, landing on the gulf coast of what is now Florida. The doomed expedition ended in tragedy and death for all but four men. For the next eight years, the four men explored the New World, experiencing adventure and learning how to survive among the Indigenous peoples of North America.

The Moor’s Account

Of the foursome, one was a slave the Spaniards called Estebanico, a Black Arab originally from Azemmour, Morocco. In the official record, written by famed Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca, only one sentence refers to Estebanico. In Lalami’s historical-fiction novel, the author sets right this blatant historical omission by telling the story of the expedition from the point of view of Mustafa Al-Zamori (aka Estebanico). 

Lalami crafts the book as Mustafa’s memoir, a harrowing tale of survival that gives him back his humanity, agency, history, and even a name. Lalami also shines a light on the absurdities of colonization and the lives and feelings of women, particularly Indigenous women. In sharp and poignant prose, she deftly examines themes of faith, conquest, racism, greed, and redemption while enlightening the reader about the histories of the southern Indigenous peoples of North America.

The Moor’s Account is a page-turner that makes a brilliant political statement about how history is mostly written by the oppressors, and the ways in which the sale of human beings between Europe and Morocco has shaped the world we live in today.

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