Book Review: 'The Moor's Account'
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In the 16th century, a Spanish conquistador set sail for the New World in hopes of claiming part of it for the Spanish crown. One of the members of the expedition wrote a famous account of the disasters that befell them. And now, novelist Laila Lalami has written a new version of this story from a perspective that we rarely hear - a slave. The novel is called "The Moor's Account," and Alan Cheuse has our review.
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: A slave called Estebanico, a dark skinned Moroccan man, a Muslim, emerges as the narrator. His story stands apart from that of the Spaniards as he tells how he grew up in a country worn down by war and how he sold himself into slavery so his family might avoid dying of starvation. That's how he came to be indentured to one of the leaders of the 1527 Spanish expedition. And that's how we get his account, from what Ralph Ellison once was called the lower frequencies of experience. Almost everything in the New World looks different to Estebanico, from the man to whom he is indentured, to the nobles, the soldiers and the Indians, to the entire ordeal itself. Estebanico treats us to life between the lines of the official version of the trek through this territory previously unknown to people on the other side of the Atlantic. Readers looking for hard-driving adventure may be disappointed by these pages. The novel moves in stately rather than flashy fashion, partaking of the mode of antique storytelling, which often seems slow. But ultimately the book - a huge step up from the writer's first two works of fiction - remains richly rewarding in its account of how Estebanico survives to tell this tale. 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.
SIEGEL: The novel is "The Moor's Account" by Laila Lalami. It was reviewed by Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is a collection called "An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring And Other Stories."
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