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In 1527 the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez arrived on the coast of modern-day Florida with hundreds of settlers, and claimed the region for Spain. Almost immediately, the expedition was decimated by a combination of navigational errors, disease, starvation and fierce resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year, only four survivors remained: three noblemen and a Moroccan slave called “Estebanico”. The official record, set down after a reunion with Spanish forces in 1536, contains only the three freemen’s accounts. The fourth, to which the title of Laila Lalami’s masterful novel alludes, is Estebanico’s own.
Improbable Journey /By Rubén Martínez
Rubén Martínez is Fletcher Jones Chair of Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of several books including, most recently, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West.