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A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza De Vaca [Paperback]

Andre Resendez
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 July 2008
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 quickly became a desperate journey of survival. Of the three hundred men who had embarked on the journey, only four survived--three Spaniards and an African slave. This tiny band endured a horrific march through Florida, a harrowing raft passage across the Louisiana coast, and years of enslavement in the American Southwest. They journeyed for almost ten years in search of the Pacific Ocean that would guide them home, and they were forever changed by their experience. The men lived with a variety of nomadic Indians and learned several indigenous languages. They saw lands, peoples, plants, and animals that no outsider had ever seen before. In this enthralling tale of four castaways wandering in an unknown land, Andres Resendez brings to life the vast, dynamic world of North America just a few years before European settlers would transform it forever.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (15 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465068413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465068418
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 13.7 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,073,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"an extraordinary adventure story ... (which) offers a very different sort of paradigm for Europe's encounter with the Americas." --The Scotsman

indefatigable scholarship, knowledge of the context and craftsmanlike storytelling provide a model account: concise, solid, moving. --Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Andres Resendez is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and has written numerous books and articles on such subjects as the history of Mexico and the American Southwest. He lives in Davis, California, with his family.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story well told 16 Dec 2010
As a schoolboy I remember seeing a little map in my history book showing the way Cabeza de Vaca had travelled during his crossing of North America on foot. I had barely heard anything about him since, until I accidentally came accross this book, and in the absence of anything else to read, decided to buy it. Am I glad I did so! The book sets you in the epoch, and gives the bakground of how that expedition came about, which is interesting in itself, but without detouring unnecessarily from the main line of the story. It is a pretty straightforward account. I was moved during the reading imagining the tremendous sufferings that the people involved had to endure. More often than not, the end of each individual story is not a happy one. This book deserves praise, and the piece of history it tells deserves to be remembered. I only wish the book had been a little longer and more detailed, but there probably aren't many more details known at all. I also would have liked some more photographs (there is just one) of the landscape or natural settings of some of the places where the events happened.
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By Jules
Format:Kindle Edition
An almost unbelievable story of survival in an alien world. The European desire for conquest and mastery is savagely portrayed and and set against the alternative 'savage' viewpoint of survival and life balance. An incredible piece of history brilliantly told.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Un-imaginable hardships 3 Jun 2010
Synopsis : Spanish explorer requires gold , land and fame

Such a journey like this is only comparable to Homers Odyssey. Broken and lost at the whim of the natives the journey to civilization take 10 long years.

From master to slave to master again . The book has been brought together well for a very cogent read
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
From the promising first scene in which the ragged band of survivors encounters some brutal conquistadores in western New Spain, this book continually disappointed me. It is superficial, lacking in density, and strangely unfocused. To be clear: I read this not to get a survival adventure, but first for a deep look into native indian cultures as encountered by de Vaco and secondly for historical context. While there are the bare outlines of the survival story, the book sadly fails to address any of the deeper, and to my mind far more interesting questions about a clash of civilizations. While well written, it is barely worth a skim in terms of content.

On its surface, it is an amazing story. A band of 300 settlers - dropped in FLorida over 900 miles off course - make their way across country, walking and then via makeshift raft. Their number gets whittled down gradually by starvation, disease, and hostile Indian attacks, until its leader's authority falls apart completely. In the end, only 4 men are left (one a slave with great linguistic ability and the others noblemen), with de Vaco as their leader. They are enslaved for approx 7 years, then escape to become famous healer-shamans, walking across the land with sometimes thousands of followers, who would deliver them to the next settlements at the price of pillaging their belongings. de Vaco survives with a paternalistic vision of great idealism, only to fail in his quest to change Spanish imperial policy towards the Americas.

That plot is so rich with possibility that I felt increasingly disgusted with the inability or unwillingness of the author to explore its implications.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different kind of Conquistador 9 Feb 2008
By Observer - Published on Amazon.com
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 America may have turned out a completely different place, if Cabeza de Vaca's approach to colonization had been adopted.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great storytelling 20 Dec 2007
By David A. Clary - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest stories retold by a great historian 5 Jan 2008
By Brian M. Kemp - Published on Amazon.com
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 exciting...you 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 Vaca...buy (or borrow from a library) now "Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America."
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars astonishing but true 28 Nov 2007
By Richard Cumming - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A land so strange 20 Jan 2008
By John Niles MD - Published on Amazon.com
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.
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