The Moor’s Account, Slavery and the New World

LalamiA few weeks ago I finished Laila Lalami’s new novel A Moor’s Account, a fictionalized account of the 1527 Narvaez expedition in Floria as told through the eyes of Estevanico, a slave of Moroccan descent.

I was interested in Lalami’s book for a few reasons: she is from the same city in Morocco as my wife, I had read and enjoyed Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, and I follow her very insightful articles and commentary on twitter. So, I was excited to read her new novel.

After having read it, I realized that it was based on the same story as Walk the World’s Rim, a novel I had absolutely fallen in love with at the age of 12.

In any event, A Moor’s Account has sparked my interest in learning much more about slavery under the Spanish in the Americas and Native American history, and the Columbian Exchange. In the past few weeks since finishing Lalami’s book, I have read The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World by Greg Grandin that uses a slave mutiny aboard a Spanish vessel off the coast of Chile in 1805 to discuss the slave trade in the Southern Cone during Spanish rule and its relationship with New England.

I have since moved on to the excellent The Son by Philipp Meyer, a family saga that traces the history of Texas, and Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, soon to be followed by the sequel 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

It is amazing how much the history of slavery and Native Americans differs from what I had learned as a boy growing up in Potomac, a town with an Indian name. For example, I had not known that in the early 19th Century close to a half of Argentina’s population was of Black African descent. Their absence today is more than conspicuous. And when I was a kid in school we were given the impression that Manifest Destiny was about the expression of freedom of religion where a vast open, mostly unpopulated terrain was there for the taking.  But we wouldn’t want to upset Republicans by trying to teach our most able kids otherwise? And someone should tell Newt Gingrich that maybe Texans aren’t a people either.

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