I was looking forward to reading this book when I first heard that Laila Lalami would write a fictionalized account of Estebanico as I knew she would provide the necessary insight on Morocco and a Moroccan point-of-view of the 1500s. This book exceeded my expectations.
There are many accounts of the Narvaez expedition and what happened in the years 1527 – 1536, when the four survivors (out of 600) were reunited with other Spaniards. Among the survivors was a Moroccan slave known in the accounts by his enslaved name Esteban or Estebanico. At last is a compelling historical fiction account giving a voice to the first known black explorer of the New World.
I enjoyed how Lalami through her graceful language and journal-like format places the reader in the narrator’s hands, giving him an identity other than a slave – Mustafa al-Zamori. The beginning alternates with chapters of all the pomp and arrogance of the Spaniards decisions and Mustafa telling his life before he was a slave allowing us to see the complex layered reality of his situation. Wonderful storytelling and a fresh robust take of an arduous adventure makes this a book to be read by all interested in early American history and conquest.
As the saying goes – the only new history is history yet to be discovered and I graciously thank the author for her time and research for a thoughtful informative book.