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Paperback A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca: The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Book

ISBN: 0465068413

ISBN13: 9780465068418

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca: The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the

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Book Overview

From a Bancroft Prize-winning historian, the "gripping" tale of a shipwrecked Spaniard who walked across America in the sixteenth century (Financial Times)

In 1528, a mission set out from Spain to colonize Florida. But the expedition went horribly wrong: Delayed by a hurricane, knocked off course by a colossal error of navigation, and ultimately doomed by a disastrous decision to separate the men from their ships, the mission...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A different kind of Conquistador

The primary sources for this epic tale are the official transcript of and report on the testimomy of three of the survivors and Alzar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 narrative report on his 8 year odyssey from what is now Tampa, Florida to Mexico City. Andrés Reséndez retells this story in a hugely entertaining and informative way. The book is well written and fast paced. The numerous maps, illustrations, detailed footnotes and extensive bibliograpy are extremely helpful. Many of the footnotes add significantly to the narrative and could have been made part of the text. Reséndez demonstrates an easy mastery of both primary and secondary materials. His expertise enables him to set the original Narvaez expedition in context and to provide valuable background information on all the major players. Beyond the almost miraculous survival of the Royal Treasurer Cabeza de Vaca, Captains Andres Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo, and the black slave, Estebanico, the central puzzle of this survival saga is how these four sole survivors out of a force of over 300 managed to go from essentially captive slaves to shamans and revered healers. Reséndez provides a reasonable explanation: Castillo's father was a physician from Salamanca, Spain's great university town, and that his exposure to basic medical practices and demeanour probably equipped him with sufficient knowledge to effectively deal with certain illnesses. Castillo's family heritage plus the practical extensions of what these well-travelled soldiers had seen or personally experienced - for example, the extracting of an arrow and the suturing of the wound - helps partially explain their transformation from slaves to successful shamans. Reséndez also persuasively suggests that the Christianity of at least three of the four, their openness to the miraculous plus their ability to maintain a certain humility helped cement their roles as healers. In explaining how the four survivors became shamans, Reséndez does a much better job than Paul Schneider in his recent retelling of the same story (Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America). (I reviewed Schneider's book two years ago and was struck by the limited way in which he addressed this issue. Schneider's book is still very good - but not nearly as informative as Resendez's.) Reséndez also sketches out Cabeza de Vaca's almost modern and certainly more truly Christian views of the Indians and how to work with them. He sharply, unemotionally and objectively contrasts Cabeza de Vaca's enlightened views with the brutal, exploitative and counter-productive views of most leading Conquistadors - particularly Guzman and Mendoza - who were more interested in enslaving the indigenous population. Reséndez interestingly notes how Cabeza de Vaca's efforts to implement his more humane views when he became Governor of Rio de la Plata (Argentina) failed due to both the resistance of the Spanish settlers and the Indians. Latin Amer

A land so strange

I couldn't put it down, couldn't wait to get to the next page to find out what happened. Gave a historical prespective of life in the 1500s in Spain and the life of the native americans in the New world. Maybe not a book for everyone, but I thought it was fanastic reading, I even read the footnotes.

One of the greatest stories retold by a great historian

I had a hard time putting this book down!!! This is one of the greatest stories ever told, retold by a historian who really knows the story. Resendez recounts the tale of Cabeza de Vaca (and crew) with wise speculation about places, times, and the details that bring a "real" history to the story. Without a doubt, one can tell that Resendez researched this topic with vigor. Resendez's story is can imagine that he wished to be there with the expedition! The maps are the best. They really help one understand de Vaca's original adventure. ***If you have never heard of Cabeza de (or borrow from a library) now "Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America."

Great storytelling

This is a remarkable story about a remarkable 16th-century transcontinental adventure. Resendez is not just a solid narrative historian, but a born story teller. Reading this is like listening to the adventures of Cabeza and his partners around a campfire. Especially valuable is the author's ability to make the many Indian groups full participants in the history, not just part of the background as is so commonly done. This story was once well known, but it has faded. I hope that this book will bring it back, and remind Anglo Americans that Indians and Spaniards were spinning history on this continent long before the first Englishman landed at Jamestown.

astonishing but true

Almost 500 years ago the New World had just been opened up to European exploration. Columbus opened the floodgates for what was mostly a Spanish invasion early on. 30 years after Columbus made that historic first voyage the Spaniards were plundering places like Mexico and Peru. The Spanish Crown granted land rights to the unexplored Florida territory. It stretched clear across the southern region of North America, from present day Florida to Baja California. An expedition set forth to lay claim to this domain. They sailed from Cuba-hundreds of Spaniards lusting for treasure. Back in those days, it was tough finding good navigators to this little known region. They were trying to land along the coast of northern Mexico. Instead, they ended up on the coast of Florida. Native peoples lived in great numbers all along the Gulf coast. The voyage became a total disaster and a fight for survival as the invaders were felled by attacks from indigenous people, accidents, climate, disease, starvation, and their own incredible stupidity. This story was once well known. The author has gone back and excavated lots of early source material. The most valuable was the account of the experience written by Cabeza de Vaca. I won't say any more about how this huge force of invaders was ultimately reduced to 4 starving, naked men. But it was. One of them was de Vaca. There were 3 Spaniards and a Moorish slave. They wandered the area for years and made it all the way across the continent. It is an extraordinary story. I'll leave those accounts for you, the reader to discover on your own.
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