Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.3 September  2015                                          Pp. 191-204

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 “I could right what had been made wrong”:
Laila Lalami’s appropriation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko 

  Yousef Awad
Department of English Language and Literature
Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Jordan
Amman,  Jordan



This paper investigates Arab American novelist Laila Lalami (b. 1968)’s re-writing of Álvar Núňez Cabeza de Vaca’s La Relacíon, a travelogue that chronicles Spanish conquistador Panfilo de Narváez (1470–1528)’s expedition to claim La Florida to the Spanish crown in the sixteenth century. Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (2014) is a historical novel narrated by Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdulssalam al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave known in Spanish annals as Estevanico/Estebanico, who was one of four survivors of the Narváez expedition and whose testimony, unlike those of his Castilian companions, was left out of the official record. As a postcolonial historical novel, The Moor’s Account recovers Mustafa’s voice and empowers him to narrate the adventures he undertakes in La Florida for eight years. The paper argues that in re-imagining and re-constructing Mustafa’s story, Lalami appropriates and adapts Aphra Behn’s seventeenth century novel Oroonoko (1688) which is one of the earliest English novels to foreground the themes of displacement and enslavement through relating the eponymous hero’s adventures in Surinam. Hence, this study is both analytical and comparative: on the one hand, the paper gives a close reading of Lalami’s The Moor’s Account; on the other hand, the paper highlights the similarities and differences between the two texts. The two novels attempt to recover the silenced voices of two African men / Moors who have traded in slaves and were themselves enslaved at a later point in their lives. At the same time, the two novels differ in their narrative techniques, representation of women and dénouements.
Keywords: adaptation, appropriation, Aphra Behn, Arab American Literature, Laila Lalami, The Moor’s Account (2014), postcolonial historical novel

Cite as: Awad,  Y.(2015). “I could right what had been made wrong”: Laila Lalami’s appropriation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.
Arab World English Journal, 8 (3).


Dr. Yousef Awad obtained his PhD from the University of Manchester, UK, in 2011. Since
then, he has been working as assistant professor at the University of Jordan. Dr. Awad has
published a monograph on Arab writers in diaspora titled The Arab Atlantic. He also published a
number of articles that explore a range of themes like cultural translation, identity and
multiculturalism in the works of Arab writers in diaspora. Recently, Dr. Awad has started a
project that focuses on the appropriation of Shakespeare by Arab writers in diaspora.