Category Archives: Literature

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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Extinguish Thou My Eyes


Extinguish Thou my eyes:I still can see Thee,
deprive my ears of sound:I still can hear Thee,
and without feet I still can come to Thee,
and without voice I still can call to Thee.

Sever my arms from me, I still will hold Thee
with all my heart as with a single hand,
arrest my heart, my brain will keep on beating,
and Should Thy fire at last my brain consume,
the flowing of my blood will carry Thee.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

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My Year in Books 2013

Best Books 2013

Pending an end of year reading frenzy, here is the list of books I read in 2013 in reverse chronological order:

By far my favorite books from the list were: Verhese’s Cutting for Stone, Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, and Adichie’s Americanah.

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Summer of 2013: More Books

 Orphan Master

Here is a list of the books I have read since May of this year:

Let me say that The Orphan Master’s Son is a real gem, an obra maetra. It is a North Korean Casablanca which immediately reminded me also of Milan Kundera’s The Joke, Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five, and Mat Johnson’s recent Pym.

Now on deck, I have the following books to work through:

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Recent Books and the Horn of Africa

Here is the list of books that I have read since the beginning of the year, with a little bit of commentary on how it became so focused on the Horn of Africa:

Books 2013Q1

Nowadays when I browse for books, I generally look for different things: recommendations from family and friends, contemporary American authors, foreign authors who write about places and subject matters that I am unfamiliar with or wish to learn more about, what’s new from my favorite writers, and what is available for free on my Kindle. Also when I read a book that I like, I usually get excited about reading something else related to the topic.

My present list of books is a perfect example of this. Continue reading

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My Year in Books 2012

Recent Good Reads

With the help of a Kindle and a little more discipline reading on the metro, I think I was able to have a better 2012 than 2011 in terms of volume of reading.

Here is what I read in 2012:

Highlights include How You Lose Her, State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes. Were it not for the dense Heaven On Earth and the long Gai-Jin, I probably could have gotten to a lot more books on my reading list.

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Recent Good Reads

I am now subscribed to Good Reads, an online resource for tracking and sharing what you’ve been reading. It helps to remind me of what I have read, especially since I have moved to mainly reading on my Kindle, which has the major defect of not leaving a physical trophy on the book shelf to impress my friends with. This is my Good Reads list, and below is what I have read recently:

Each was good in its own way, but I would say that the biggest highlights were State of Wonder and A Life Full of Holes (and Skippy Dies if it weren’t so long winded).

And here are some of the titles on my Kindle waiting for a chance to be read:

Why so many classics, you may ask? They’re easy to find for free on the net.

I should also mention that I have uploaded song lyrics onto my Kindle as a cheat sheet for when I sing my son to sleep at night.

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