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Would you listen to A Land So Strange again? Why?
Yes, if only to re-read the opening chapters with full knowledge of where the characters they introduce were going to end up. Resendez starts off with plenty of history, of the Spanish colonization project, the backgrounds of the principal figures in the narrative and their relations with the Spanish court and colonial administrators, and it's a lot to assimilate. But it's absolutely critical background for understanding what Cabeza de Vaca's shipmates thought their mission was in the New World, and why they made the mistakes they did.
What about Jonathan Davis’s performance did you like?
Davis is one of the best narrators of nonfiction I've heard on audiobook. His pacing and intonation are consistently spot on. His pronunciation of Spanish is also of near-native quality. (This does mean that an English speaker may not always catch a name on first hearing; but that's a small price to pay for a narrator capable of being so faithful to his material.)
Any additional comments?
Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is many things: an epic story of survival, a harrowing tragedy, a lesson in the folly and hubris of the Spanish conquistadores, a rare source of evidence about the lives of numerous Native peoples just before their lives were changed forever by European expansion. If you've read his own telling of it, you know that there are, for the modern reader, lots of puzzling gaps and unanswered questions. Resendez's project is to fill in those gaps and answer as many of the questions as he can while retelling chronologically the story of the Narváez expedition. He's good on the Native American background and especially good on the Spanish background—at moments you feel like you're actually present at the court of Charles I or dockside in Seville watching the colonists' ships being loaded. The result is a story that's gripping enough for someone encountering it for the first time, but informative enough to satisfy someone who knows it well.
(For what it's worth, the publisher's summary is a bit inaccurate. Only four men survived until the end of the tale, but many of the original 300 made it as far as Texas. The four survivors weren't originally trying to get to the Pacific—as we learn, that was a shift in destination made very late in their story.)
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
I was first introduced to this story in Tony Horwitz's book "A Journey Long And Strange". (A fantastic book, by the way). In that book, this tale took up about one chapter, but I found it to be really compelling, so when I saw there was a whole book about it, I had to check it out.
It's a cool book. A little short for my taste, but quality material all the way through. If you prefer books under 10 hours, this one is excellent. It's such an fascinating story that it's hard to complain too much about it, although it may have been better off as a short story in a collection of two or three short stories. The scant evidence that Mr Resendez had to work with is kind of apparent. As short as it is, it still feels like he had to milk every last drop out of the material he had to work with. Still, I had it on my headphones all day without switching to anything else, and I think most history buffs will have a hard time putting it down.
Oh yeah, and Jonathan Davis is surprisingly good. This was the first book I heard him read, and I'm currently listening to him read a book on the civil war. He's the definition of a reader you forget is there. He's so perfectly clear and understandable that his voice never distracts from the text.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful