Laila Lalami
Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco

reading from

The Moor's Account

from Pantheon Books

The Moor's Account is the story of the first black explorer of America—a Moroccan slave who was left out of the history books.

In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez left the port of San Lucar de Barrameda in Spain, with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and as famous as Hernán Cortés.

But from the moment the Narváez expedition reached Florida it met with bad luck—storms, disease, starvation, hostile Indians—so that, within a year, there were only four survivors: the expedition's treasurer, Cabeza de Vaca; a Spanish nobleman named Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; a young explorer by the name of Andrés Dorantes; and his Moroccan slave, Mustafa al-Zamori, whom the other three Spaniards referred to as Estebanico.

The four survivors were forced to live as slaves to the Indians for six years, before fleeing their captivity and establishing themselves as faith healers. Together, they traveled on foot through present-day Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, gathering thousands of disciples and followers along the way.

Years later, three of the survivors—Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, and Dorantes—were asked to provide testimony about their adventure. Cabeza de Vaca even wrote a book, La Relacíon (The Account), the first European narrative of life in America. But because he was a slave, Mustafa/Estebanico was not asked to testify. His experience was considered irrelevant, or superfluous, or unreliable, or unworthy, despite the fact that he had acted as a scout, an interpreter, and a translator. This novel is his story.

About the author:

Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. She attended Université Mohammed V in Rabat, University College in London, and the University of Southern California, where she earned a Ph.D. in linguistics. She is the author of the short story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and the novel Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, The New York Times, and in numerous anthologies. Her work has been translated into ten languages. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship, and is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.

praise for The Moor's Account:


"Laila Lalami has fashioned an absorbing story of one of the first encounters between Spanish conquistadores and Native Americans, a frightening, brutal, and much-falsified history that here, in her brilliantly imagined fiction, is rewritten to give us something that feels very like the truth." —Salman Rushdie

"A beautiful, rousing tale that would be difficult to believe if it were not actually true. Lalami has once again shown why she is one of her generation's most gifted writers." —Reza Aslan, author of Zealot

"¡Qué belleza! Laila Lalami has given us a mesmerizing reimagining of one of the foundational chronicles of exploration of the New World and an indictment of the uncontainable hubris displayed by Spanish explorers—told from the point of view of Estebanillo, an Arab slave and Cabeza de Vaca's companion in a trek across the United States that is as important as that of Lewis and Clark. The style and voice of sixteenth-century crónicas are turned upside down to subtly undermine our understanding of race and religion, now and then. The Moor's Account is a worthy stepchild of Don Quixote de la Mancha."
—Ilan Stavans, author of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language and general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature

"A novel of extraordinary scope, ambition and originality. Laila Lalami has given voice to a man silenced by for five centuries, a voice both convincing and compelling. The Moor's Account is a work of creativity and compassion, one which demonstrates the full might of Lalami’s talent as a writer."
—Aminatta Forna, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Hurston Prize Legacy Award winning author of The Memory of Love, Ancestor Stones, and The Devil That Danced on the Water


Books related to this event:

Product image
The Moor's Account
A Novel
Laila Lalami
2014 Edition
From the widely praised author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits—a stunning piece of historical fiction: the imagined memoirs of the New World's first explorer of African descent, a Moroccan slave known as Estebanico.