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The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this after reading a little about Cabeza de Vaca in another book (Richard Grant's American Nomads--check it out). It was worth reading if you have an interest in these kinds of things: whether its history, exploration, and discovery that interest you, or wandering, roughing it, and exciting stories of survival.

I haven't looked at any other versions of this book, so I don't have anything to compare it to. That being said, this version did have a lot of background, in the forms of introductory material as well as footnotes. These were both helpful and cumbersome. A lot of the footnotes were essentially useless for my purpose in reading the book. I just wanted the story-- I didn't really care about the exact locations and time frames, which is what a lot of the footnotes were about. But I'm sure that if you were doing something more scholarly with the book, the footnotes would be invaluable.

One of it's most interesting features to me was Cabeza de Vaca's thinking. By today's standards, he's still a racist, but for his time, he's outrageously sympathetic to the Indians and their ways of life. He tries to see the reasons behind actions that his civilized contemporaries would instantly dismiss as savage.

It's a great story. A Spanish exploration goes bad, and the few survivors fight against the odds and eventually make it out alive after walking across North America. It's a true story that would put the best Hollywood screenwriter to shame. But like a lot of firsthand accounts from that time period, it can be kind of dense. I got used to that, but it did take a little time. On the plus side, the story doesn't really take off until a little ways into the book, so you can use the first part to get used to the writing style.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Cabeza de Vaca's story, told in his own words, is a priceless view into a world that is no more, the world of North America before Europeans arrived. It's a view into how the Native Americans really lived, not how scholars think they lived. The Indians of the Texas coast have long been reported as ferocious cannibals, even in present-day textbooks. But these same Indians greeted the freezing, starving shipwreck victims, of which Cabeza de Vaca was one, with tears and compassion, taking them back to their campfires and saving their lives. The entire narrative gives glimpses into the interactions amongst tribes, customs, beliefs and superstitions, survival techniques (what they ate) and all manner of other interesting facts about how these Indians lived. Sadly, before any other person could live among them, know them and tell their stories, most of the Native American tribes that Cabeza de Vaca lived and travelled among, were decimated by European diseases. Their history is, otherwise, lost. They have been eradicated, so this one narrative is now their story, too. This is why I believe it is priceless, and I often wonder why it is so seemingly overlooked in our history books and resources.

In addition to providing important details on what the entire south central region of the US was like before Europeans arrived, the Narrative is extremely entertaining in the way that a good book or modern movie would be. Cabeza de Vaca was like Job, a well-educated adventurer, a Spanish conquistador off to find a fortune in gold (this was not an unrealistic quest, as many had alreay done so and many would in the years ahead). He was at the top of his game in that day and age, at least by European standards. But poor decisions and bad luck caused a complete loss of the ships and supplies, and left a small group of the men stranded without any provisions or clothes, in wintertime on what is present-day Galveston Island. Surrounded by people whose language and customs were completely foreign in every way, in a land they knew nothing about, de Vaca and his companions were at the mercy of the land and its residents. Everything that they once had of value -- their weapons, government, educations, religion, clothing, language, and status -- was gone. On top of that, they had to face the elements head-on and had to learn to avoid death or enslavement by the natives.

The Narrative is the story of how this one man survived, and after years of life in this strange land (that is now "our" home!), eventually walked to Mexico and recaptured his old European life. He returned to Spain, but he was a different man altogether. The third, and perhaps most human and intriguing layer of this story, is the change that was made inside the heart of Cabeza de Vaca. He came as an arrogant European and left humbled and indebted to a people who respected him and supported him along his thousands of miles of wanderings. In the end, though he pleaded to his countrymen, he was not able to affect the status or demise of the Indians. This is a piece of their story still here today for us to read, know and feel.

Again, I believe this book is priceless and should be read by every American.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
It is perhaps fitting that the first great European account of an American overland journey begins with a narrative so astonishing that it qualifies at least in part as myth. It is also fitting that it describes in vivid detail the many indigenous socieites that existed in the south-western American territory before the European conquests.

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three comrades, the two Spaniards Castillo and Dorantes, and the black Moor, Estevanico, made what is the first documented overland journey across a vast stretch of America. Perhaps the term `history' can only be used loosely to describe what Cabeza de Vaca wrote, for though there is little doubt that the Relacion (the original name of this publication in Spanish) is by Cabeza de Vaca's hand, what he claims to have transpired in the Texas penisula is often so fantastic, it requires a suspension of disbelief that no sensible historian or scientist can long justify. So vivid is its imagery, it rivals the Odyssey of Homer in its wonderous depiction, and one wonders whether it wasn't a source of Voltaire's incredulity as he wrote his scathing satire of a similarly inauspicious misadventure in Candide. Whatever the Relacion of Cabeza de Vaca is, it counts among the most remarkable narratives, real or fictional, of a journey made anywhere in the world.
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Format: Audible Audio Edition
The introduction to this narrative is a little over an hour in length however, it is greatly insightful. I thought I was getting lost in names, dates, and locations but alas, I remembered that it was just the intro. I especially liked the beginning quote from Thomas Jefferson from the year 1787 stating that citizens of the new U.S. should study Spanish because the ancient part of American history is written chiefly in Spanish. I couldn’t agree more.

I really enjoy the publications by University Press. They are all informative and great listens. This one is especially good as it’s a narrative. I truly loved listening to the translation of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca’s journey to the new United States. Knowing this is a first rate accounting of what he saw and documented in Spanish is absolutely fascinating. Being a native Texan, this story really resonated with me.

The narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca is a captivating story and real-life account of the 1527 Pánfilo de Narváez expedition, with no knowledge of navigation. For nine years he walked lost and naked. I enjoyed the stories of what it was like at that time in America when the expedition encountered the settlers, Native Americans, and African-Americans.

About the narrator: Claton Butcher did a phenomenal job with this audiobook. He kept the story moving forward and took great command of this work. His Spanish is impeccable and music to my ears as I love the language. I’ve grown spoiled listening to Claton Butcher narrate these books. He has a great voice.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This review is about the book itself: It is not a journal, or even a direct narrative of the journey of Cabeza de Vaco. Rather it is the account of the journey that de Vaco prepared and presented to the Spanish court. As such it more akin to the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (a subjective, somewhat suspect account of events) than other "non-fiction." A very interesting text nonetheless.
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on January 21, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A friend saw this and wanted it, so I bought it as a gift for his birthday. He thoroughly enjoyed it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Here is an adventure story that puts fiction to shame. Cabeza de Vaca survives an ill-fated attempt at conquest of what is now Florida, but manages to walk to New Spain's frontier settlements in the Southwest United States in the 1500s! His descriptions of the country and its inhabitants before they were contaminated by colonists from Europe is truly an extraordinary tale that is far stranger than fiction. A fabulous tale that would be unbelievable if it wasn't true.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I give this book four stars and not five because I find the introdution to be kind of long and tedious. Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying for the introduction is used to lay out a much needed backround that truly does help to understand the narrative. I just found it to be difficult to keep my attention focused on it.

As a history buff though, I thouroughly enjoy reading history through the words and eyes of those who created it. Bravo!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book arrive fairly promptly and is in good shape. It was everything I expected with no surprises, which is good. The large amount of footnotes was helpful and the narrative itself is very fascinating. I was interested in the flora and fauna in the Southwest during this period and it was well described. A book for history buffs, fans of Southwest history and those interested in survival stories.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
One detailed travel account. It is hard to believe the author lived to tell the tale! Keep this account next to your atlas!
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