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September 12, 2014

Book Notes - Laila Lalami "The Moor's Account"

Sherwood Nation

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Laila Lalami's ambitious and captivating The Moor's Account impresses with its authentic voice and illumination of the 16th century conquistadors interactions with the New World.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Estebanico’s account alternates between this disastrous mission and his past as a merchant, with the two threads combining to create a deeply layered, complex portrait of all-too-familiar characters in an unfamiliar world. The result is a totally engrossing and captivating novel that reconsiders the overlooked roles of Africans in New World exploration"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Laila Lalami's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Moor's Account:


My third novel, The Moor's Account is based on the true story of the first African explorer of America, a Moroccan slave known as Estebanico. To write the book, I had to do a lot of research on Spanish conquest of America and, more specifically, on the failed Narváez expedition of 1527. I read dozens of sources on the political and cultural climate of sixteenth-century Morocco, Spain, and America. And I had to write about this often bloody history while maintaining the voice and point of view of a sixteenth-century Moroccan slave. Here are some of the pieces I listened to while writing the book:

"Symphony No. 4," Brahms
I started all my workdays with Brahms. Often, I would still be answering emails when "Symphony No. 4" began to play, but by the end of the first movement, I was ready to write. I can't explain how or why it inspired me so much, but it always did.

"Ech Edani," Souad Massi
The North African darbouka drum pairs well with the Spanish guitar. Add Souad Massi's mesmerizing voice and her beautiful lyrics and you have the perfect song for a book like The Moor's Account, where cross-cultural encounters are so central to the story.

"The Promised Land" – Bruce Springsteen
My commute to the University of California, where I teach fiction and nonfiction, is frighteningly long. To keep myself from losing my mind, I listen to Bruce Springsteen. I often use my time in the car to think about problems I have in a scene.

"Marikan" - Aza
I came across Aza's music at a concert in Los Angeles six or seven years ago, where they played Tamazight (Berber) music. They use both traditional instruments, like the guenbri, and modern instruments, like the electric bass. The fusion is particularly successful on this track.

"Killing in the Name Of" – Rage Against the Machine
I'm not generally a fan of angry rock, but the themes of this song make it a good fit for a novel about conquest. Every time RATM came up on the radio last year, my ten-year-old and I head-banged together.

Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis
When I was revising the novel, I used different tricks to force myself to look at the text with new eyes. For instance, I changed the font type and size or I went to sit in a different room in the house. I also listened to Birth of the Cool, which always gave me the energy to take on yet another draft.

"Cello Sonata No. 1" – Brahms
Another favorite is this cello sonata from Brahms. One of the challenges of writing this book was creating the voice of a sixteenth-century man, which had to feel authentic without being dated or stilted. To do that, I relied a lot on instrumental music, which is why my beloved Brahms was such a big part of my daily routine.


Laila Lalami and The Moor's Account links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
The Millions review
New York Times review

All Things Considered interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Secret Son
The Nervous Breakdown self-interview by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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