43 books finished in 2016: The Moor’s Account

43 books finished in 2016

I had no idea what this book was going to be about – or perhaps I did at one point but managed to forget over the course of the year since I bought it – but this book was wonderful. Let’s just let Wikipedia handle the description:

The Moor’s Account is a fictional memoir of Estevanico, the Moroccan slave who survived the Narvaez expedition and accompanied Cabeza de Vaca. He is widely considered to be the first black explorer of America, but little is known about his early life except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca’s chronicle: “The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor.”

Okay. Wow. I didn’t realize this was based on historic events. That makes it even more wonderful. This book was incredibly well written and had a quiet confidence that carries you through. I was so invested in the fate of the narrator yet was not confident that he’d come through okay – he was a slave in a foreign land. Though he was frequently the most morally sound of the explorers, and one of the most competent in many ways, his fate was consistently tied to the generosity and/or selfishness of the man who owned him. Watching the ways this uncertain fate affected him created a tense reading experience.

I continue to filter books by foreign-born authors through this (admittedly privileged, perhaps unfair) lens of whether or not the experiences described are explained in a way that is accessible to me as a reader. It’s difficult to discern whether this is white privilege at play – expecting authors to conform to my limited knowledge of their cultures – or if a book that transcends cultural understanding is an accurate measure of the author’s skill. It’s probably a mix of both, and I’m enjoying this process of discovering authors who can place me completely in a place and time that were previously undiscovered.

(We’re veering into end-of-year reflections, since this was my first year to actively seek out books by non-white, non-Western authors. Even with a few frustrating or difficult reading experiences, I think this was ultimately enriching – the world seems larger, and more deeply complex thanks to these books.)

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