The Account of Cabeza de Vaca

The Account of Cabeza de Vaca: A Literal Translation With Analysis and Commentary combines a new English translation of La Relación ("The Account") by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca with the translator's analysis and commentary.

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Book Description

La Relación is Cabeza de Vaca's first-hand account of the Narváez Expedition - Spain's failed attempt to colonize Florida in 1528. It tells the story of the first non-indigenous people to visit a large part of the present-day United States and Mexico and documents their first contacts with a number of pre-Columbian native American tribes. It describes the series of disasters and calamities that reduced Narváez's army of 300 men down to four, including skirmishes with naked, bow-wielding natives, getting lost at sea, becoming shipwrecked, and being captured and forced to live as slaves of people who tortured them for their own amusement. It further describes how, after the four survivors were at their lowest, with nothing but their faith in God to keep them going, their fortunes turned, enabling them to emerge triumphantly from the wilderness, after eight years of being lost, surrounded by hundreds of adoring natives who believed them to be Children of the Sun.

The heart of this book is David Carson's accurate, literal translation of Cabeza de Vaca's account. Not content with the typical approach of loosely paraphrasing the original text so as to get the basic idea across, Carson painstakingly chooses each English word so as to best replicate the author's words and voice. The result is the closest thing there is to reading La Relación in Spanish.

Next, Carson takes on the roles of editor, analyst, and commentator. Through over 500 annotations to the text, Carson tracks the Narváez Expedition members' movements across Florida, the Gulf coast, Texas, and northern Mexico to an impressive level of detail and with insights that should settle several long-standing controversies about where the castaways went, and when they were there. He then goes even deeper, analyzing the castaways' motives in light of the culture of Spanish exploration in the Age of Discovery and pointing out the author's occasional contradictions and exaggerations. To bolster his analysis, Carson brings in relevant material from other 16th-century records, including Gonzalo de Oviedo's paraphrased version of the "Joint Report," which Cabeza de Vaca also co-authored. All of Carson's annotations are set off as footnotes, meaning one can make full use of them if desired, or simply skip them and read only the basic translation. Maps, a chronology, a glossary, a prologue, and an epilogue complete the book.

If you have not read Cabeza de Vaca before, prepare for a fascinating story that will show you a side of American history you never knew about. If you consider yourself a well-read student of the Narváez Expedition, this edition of "The Account" will surely become your ultimate reference book on the subject.