"The Moors Account" by Moroccan American Laila Lalami is a captivating read. Written in the historical fiction genre, the novel is based on the voyage chronicles of Panfilo de Narvaez in the 1520s.
The narrator in this novel is Estebanico, a Moor and also the first black slave of the white world, who accompanied his Spanish masters on an exploratory mission during the era of colonial expansionism into Florida, the land of Native Americans.
Estebanico, originally Mustafa-Al-Zamori- a native of Azzemur and not a slave, falls into bad times when his father dies, and soon after, the Portuguese soldiers start taking over his homeland of Azzemur. In the face of dire poverty, Estebanico, only a teenager then, sells himself for a few gold coins to Portuguese traders in order to save his mother, his sister, and his twin brothers from starvation. That is how and when Estebanico who only a short while ago was "selling slaves" is now "sold as a slave" and not for the last time; he would soon be resold to a group of Spanish explorers and embark on a doomed expedition during which he would be "one of only four crew members to survive". Not only does he, Estebanico, survive, he also becomes the voice of his expedition, and in more ways than one. The question that arises is, will it be his, a slave's, version of what happened on this ill fated expedition that will get reported back to his Spanish conquistadors? Will the Moor's account hold credence with his colonial masters even if it does with the reader. A master writer, Lalami in "The Moor's Account" cleverly explores and lays bare the circumstances that lead to the establishment of the slave and master dynamic as it unravels in the encounters between the Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans seen through the lens of Estebanico, a black slave.
At the very outset, Estebanico tells the reader that his current name "was the name the Castillians had given.. when they bought him from Portuguese traders." His name was "a string of sounds whose foreignness still grated on his ears, and..... Estebanico was a man conceived by the Castillians, quite different from the man I really was." Who was he really, is for the reader to find out in this captivating story of Lalami's. It's a story with a 'foreign' and 'different' narrator who finds himself in an unknown and unforgiving terrain with men whose loyalties are not only sketchy but are often divided and or changing. During the course of the expedition, due to changed and challenging circumstances, the narrator, in spite of his dark skin, foreignness, and his slave status, finds himself elevated to various roles no slave had ever gotten before; those of a deal negotiator, a story teller, a medicine man, even a messiah, and most importantly a savior for his three Spanish companions, his 'masters'. This role reversal creeps up so naturally that even the three Spaniard 'masters' of Estebanico simply go along with it. It is through this role reversal that Lalami showcases the establishment of the master slave dynamic during the colonial era.
Having read this far, wouldn't you want to know the ending of the novel; it's definitely one that the reader will carry within for a while. "The Moor's Account" is a must read for anyone who likes a good story. This novel of Laila Lalami's was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist this year, and deservedly so. Ms Lalami is indeed a great story teller; she spins a yarn so engrossing around a bitter naked truth, and the reader takes it et al.