Matthew Quann's Reviews > The Moor's Account

The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami
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really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks

I worried that I had made a huge mistake with this audiobook in its first few minutes.

See, right off the bat, Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori’s verbose introduction to his account sets the stage for a historical fiction novel with really pretty prose. The rub: I’m relatively new to the audiobook scene, but the more interesting the writing, the more likely I am to want to read it rather than listen to it.

Audiobooks can have a tendency to slip into the background over long periods of listening. Sometimes I find there’s just no time to contemplate what I’ve just heard. This worked well for me during William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, where you could slip out of the story for 30 seconds or so and slide right back into the narrative.

But The Moor’s Account had me straight sketching out the gate. Had I made a mistake?

Dear reader, worry not for my concerns were unfounded! Neil Shah’s narration brings to life the characters of Laila Lalami’s novel. His adoption of different accents and cadences for different characters was stunning; really, it is more of a performance than a perfunctory reading of the story. I also found it excellent to hear Shah properly pronounce the names of characters or places that would have just become a blur in my reading.

The prose, though beautiful, was actually quite pleasant to listen to as Mustafa’s voice took over the story. The consistent viewpoint of Mustafa from the alternating expedition/childhood sections of the early book through to the exploration and horrors of the later story anchored me throughout what could have been a tedious read. Of course, under Lalami’s deft pen, the tale soars.

Mustafa’s fictionalized memoir seeks to illuminate the travels of the purported first black explorer of America. Thematically, the novel tackles some pretty hefty literary themes: slavery, redemption, colonialism, doing what is right, the pursuit of family, freedom, and happiness. I mean, no wonder this was a Pulitzer finalist! My favorite sections were the early ones set in Morocco where Lalami’s depiction of Azamor built a city in the scant pages devoted to it. Though, that’s not to say that the sections in Florida are by any means dull.

My complaints are few, though I did find that the middle section drags as Mustafa and his companions move from tribe to tribe. Though there are some things that set these visitations apart, I found that the novel slipped into repetition during this section that lost my attention most often. Conversely, I enjoyed this setting and time period quite a bit. I can’t remember any other novel I’ve read set in the 1500’s that dealt with Spanish colonialism.

I found myself thinking on a novel I read last year as I listened to this novel: English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. Both are tales of colonialism that don’t shy away from the atrocities committed by explorers to foreign lands while also highlighting truly noble characters. Both also impressed me throughout the reading/listening experience, though I wasn’t truly blown away by either of them.

Having said that, I really liked The Moor’s Account. A buddy of mine had been on my back to read this one, and I’m glad I finally took his advice. Though the narrative can be slow moving at points, Mustafa’s character arc is captivating and kept me interested throughout. The side characters feel believable and they too help the more horrifying beats of the story land emotionally, where as in less talented hands they would only serve as torture porn.

So: this is a good one! I think a lot of you will like The Moor’s Account and it is definitely a great audiobook for a long drive. I listened to the whole thing over 13 hours and two days of driving, and was sad that it would be the last I’d hear of Mustafa, but also satisfied with the ending.

[Review of Audiobook]
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Reading Progress

September 25, 2015 – Shelved
September 25, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
July 13, 2016 – Started Reading
July 13, 2016 –
70.0% "Extensive driving made easy with the awesome narration of this audiobook."
July 15, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 5, 2016 – Shelved as: audiobooks

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Wonderful review, Matthew. Thank you.


Matthew Quann Anne wrote: "Wonderful review, Matthew. Thank you."

Thanks for the read and kind comment Anne!


Roger Brunyate I liked English Passengers quite a bit more, but you are very fair to this one. Audiobooks are a very different experience, aren't they? R.


Matthew Quann Roger, you know, I think I'd have to agree with you that English Passengers is the better of the two books. Or at least the one I enjoyed more.

Audiobooks are a very different experience. I've enjoyed my experimentation with them so far and plan on listening to more in the future.


message 5: by Roger (last edited Jul 16, 2016 02:31PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Roger Brunyate I do very little of it, because I seldom take trips that are long enough. But I wrote a review once about what a different experience it could be, listening to a set of Alice Munro stories in the car. R.


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