The Moor's Account: A Novel

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The Booker’s Dozen: The 2015 Booker Longlist

In the second year that the Booker Prize has been open to U.S. authors, five American authors make the longlist. Anne Enright is the lone former winner on the list, while Marilynne Robinson is the most celebrated American to be tapped. Other notable names include Hanya Yanagihara, Tom McCarthy, and Bill Clegg, who has been better known as a high-powered literary agent and memoirist. Laila Lalami, who now calls the U.S. her home, is the first Moroccan-born writer to land on a Booker longlist. Seven countries are represented overall.

All the Booker Prize longlisters are below (with bonus links where available):

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Green Road by Anne Enright (What It Is to Be Alone: The Millions Interviews Anne Enright)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (The Book Report on A Brief History)
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (“How History Becomes Story – Three Novels” by Laila Lalami, Ship of Fools: On Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account)
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (A Millions Top 10 book)
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (“The Audacity of Prose” by Chigozie Obioma, Clickworthy Headlines about The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma)
The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision)
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Two Lives: On Hanya Yanagihara and Atticus Lish)

The 2015 Pulitzer for Fiction Goes to Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’

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Following last year’s win for Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the Pulitzer jury named Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See this year’s winner in the fiction category, a second year in a row that the year’s break-out literary bestseller took home the prize.

Here are this year’s Pulitzer winners and finalists with bonus links:


Winner: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (A World Made of Words: On Anthony Doerr’s Nouns and Verbs, Doerr’s Year in Reading 2010 and 2014)
Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford (Tossed on Life’s Tide: Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You)
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (Ship of Fools: On Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account)
Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates


General Nonfiction:

Winner: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (Extinction Stories: The Ecological True-Crime Genre)
No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos



Winner: Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth Fenn
Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert
An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker



Winner: The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer
Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism by Thomas Brothers

Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin 



Winner: Digest by Gregory Pardlo
Reel to Reel by Alan Shapiro

Compass Rose by Arthur Sze 


Winners and finalists in other categories are available at the Pulitzer Web site.

Before They Were Notable: 2014

This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books and authors as well:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Year In Reading: Anthony Doerr)
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel (Character Assassin: An Interview with Hilary Mantel)
Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore (Is She Writing About Me?: A Profile of Lorrie Moore)
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (Guerilla Grandma: On Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World)
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (In the Edges of the Maps: David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, ‘The Blank Screen Is the Enemy’: The Millions Interviews David Mitchell, Exclusive: David Mitchell’s Twitter Story “The Right Sort” Collected)
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez (Hug Your Darlings, Give the Moon the Finger: Writers On Delight)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Aloof, Quiet, and Dissonant: On Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, The Elusive Qualities of Dreams: On Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Strange Library’)
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Are You My Mother? On Maternal Abandonment in Literature)
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Scraps of Prayers: On Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing)
The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson (In a Toxic Dreamscape: On Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters)
Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford (Tossed on Life’s Tide: Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision)
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (Ship of Fools: On Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Art After Tragedy: The Narrow Road to the Deep North)
Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya (More Alive and Much Stranger: On Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s Panic in a Suitcase)
10:04 by Ben Lerner (Only Disconnect: Ben Lerner’s 10:04)
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (This Could Be Your Story: On Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves)

Ship of Fools: On Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account

Christopher Columbus, the once venerable explorer of the New World, seems to have fallen out of favor. In April of this year, Minneapolis declared the second Monday in October, his signature holiday, as Indigenous People’s Day. His eponymous voyage on the Santa Maria has inspired the irreverent and biting term “Columbused,” to describe white people’s discovery and appropriation of another group’s culture, practice or tradition. And though school textbooks continue to laud Columbus as a hero and credit his bravery, other descriptors like slave trader and murderer have soiled his once impeccable reputation.

His questionable legacy sets the stage for Leila Lalami’s stunning new novel, The Moor’s Account. Like criticism about Columbus, the vibrant testimony of former slave Mustafa al-Zamori underscores the notion that history often dismisses crucial voices, and in doing so, provides only a fraction of the truth.

Mustafa’s birth on a barge crossing a Moroccan river gives rise to his mother’s prophesy that he will someday become a world traveler. Her prediction, though dead on, included no inkling of the brutal forces that would fulfill it. Crippling drought and famine afflicting their hometown of Azemmur force Mustafa, a once wealthy merchant, to sell himself into slavery to save his family. In 1527, his fifth year as a slave, he sails with 600 men from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain to the Gulf of Mexico. In the New World, disease and starvation decimate the crew. Only four survive the first year — Mustafa, his master Andrés Dorantes and two other Castilians. They spend seven more years among the Indians in La Florida, before their rescue.

When Mustafa’s account of the fateful expedition is left out of the official records, he decides to record his memories himself. “I intend to correct the details of the history that was compiled by my companions…But unlike them I was never called to testify to the Spanish Viceroy about our journey among the Indians.” This arresting narrative alternates between his adventures in the Land of the Indians and his life before slavery. As in her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Lalami, born and raised in Morocco, elegantly unspools the agony of a fractured life, and the psychological and physical costs of a doomed journey.

Lalami artfully conveys the politics and power dynamics of bondage. Despite his own horrific subjugation, Mustafa humbly assumes responsibility for his own role in the suffering of others. When his discovery of gold brings about the torture of four Indians, he observes the devastating consequences. “I had to pretend, like my master, not to hear the cries that had begun to emerge from the storehouse. Within moments, they had turned into howls, so long and so filled with pain that I felt they were echoing in the depths of my own soul.” He later regretfully recalls the time when, as a money-hungry merchant, he traded fellow Moroccans into slavery. “I had sent three men into a life of bondage without pausing to consider my role in this evil.” Rather than dwell in self-pity, anger or bitterness for his own predicament, Mustafa graciously acknowledges his past and present privileges.

Lalami, who holds a Ph.D. in linguistics, eloquently examines the subjectivity of narrative, and the creation and manipulation of the truth. Throughout the book, Mustafa comes to understand the power of words, and how intent and motivation shape stories. “I know now that these conquerors, like many others before them, and no doubt like others after, gave speeches not to voice the truth, but to create it.” And as the doomed procession traverses the swamps of La Florida, Mustafa considers how language feeds the pride and arrogance of the Spaniards. “So they gave new names to everything around them, as though they were the All-Knowing God in the Garden of Eden.”

Homesickness and regret haunt Mustafa, and Lalami poignantly expresses his ache to reunite with his family. His cerebral account recalls the contemplative, haunting voices of Solomon Northrup in his memoir, 12 Years a Slave, and Sethe of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. “Memories of my hometown came to me at odd moments, just like this, when I least expected them, as if my grief liked to ambush me.” And later, when Mustafa senses the awkward relationship between Senior Dorantes and his younger brother Diego, he writes, “Oh, what I would not have given to be with my own brothers…it was my desire to know and my yearning for them that dictated everything I did in those days…” Mustafa’s heartfelt sorrow and palpable anguish fuel his drive to survive.

As does his steadfast belief in God. A devout Muslim forced to convert to Christianity upon enslavement, Mustafa experiences enlightenment of another kind, one where he comes to value diversity in worship and appreciate the many, equally worthy paths to salvation. “Surely it would have been in His power to make us one faith if that had been His wish. Now the idea that there was only one set of stories for all of mankind seemed strange to me.” Mustafa the Moor exhibits a level of sophistication, compassion, and reverence that few of his other companions possess.

Above all else, as a memoirist, Mustafa’s penetrating narrative affords him the power, visibility, and autonomy he lacks as a Moor. He becomes the master of his own story, the notary of his own destiny, and through evocative, exacting language, breaks loose from the shackles of censorship. “Maybe if our experiences, in all of their glorious, magnificent colors, were somehow added up, they would lead us to the blinding light of truth.”

And with this magnificent novel, Lalami, through fiction, has penned a revelation and tribute to truth.

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