Book Review: The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

The Moor's Account - A book by Laila Lalami The Moor’s Account takes you on an unforgettable journey following the Spanish conquest of what is now Florida. The conquistadors search for the evasive land of gold, embarking on a trek which leads them into numerous confrontations with indigenous tribes and which, ultimately, most of them will not survive. Only four of them make it into the civilised world again: three Spanish free men and Mustafa, the slave. The novel is his story.   

A Slave’s Story

The Moor’s Account feels like a true story and, while the premise is based on historical characters and events, it is in fact a fictional tale. The protagonist Mustafa is a complex character, caught between the role of the slave, who must obey, and the desire to help others and one day return to his home and family. Even his name is not his own – the Spanish call him Estebanico, and that is the name to which he must respond. His story is gradually revealed, chapter by chapter, as you travel with him through the American landscape.

I must admit that I did struggle to get into this book to begin with. It does seem to begin at quite a slow pace and to be, perhaps, slightly unnecessarily long. But eventually I did get hooked, and found it an engaging and fascinating read.

Turning a Blind Eye

The treatment of the American natives is horrific at times, and as a reader you sense Mustafa’s helpless frustration at not being able to stop it from happening. And yet it is also uncomfortable, as you feel that perhaps he is not trying hard enough, that he is turning a blind eye, and you wonder what you would do in his situation. The novel also encapsulates Mustafa’s sense of being truly alone: the only black man, surrounded by Europeans and Native Americans, a slave but also an unwilling conqueror, longing for companionship above all else.

I would certainly recommend this book. You may need determination to begin with, but once you get into the story you will certainly enjoy it, and the ending is probably one of the best novel endings I’ve read in a long time.

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