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.