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Castaways (or Naufragios) is the first major narrative of the exploration of North America by Europeans (1528-1536). It is also an enthralling story of adventure and survival against unimaginable odds. Its author, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, a fortune-seeking sixteenth-century Spanish nobleman, was the treasurer of an expedition to claim for the Spanish Crown a vast area that includes today's Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. A shipwreck forced him and a handful of men to make the long journey to the West coast, where they would meet up with Hernan Cortes, on foot. They endured unspeakable hardships, some of them surviving only by eating the dead. Others, including Cabeza de Vaca joined native peoples he met along the way, learning their languages and practices, and serving them as a slave and later as a physician. When after eight years he finally reached the West, he was not recognized by his compatriots. Cabeza de Vaca displays great interest in the cultures – so alien to his own – of the native peoples he encountered on his odyssey, observing their customs and belief systems with a degree of sophistication and sensitivity unusual in the conquistador. As he forged intimate bonds with some of them, sharing their brutal living conditions and curing their sick, he found himself on a voyage of self-discovery that was to make his reunion with his fellow Spaniards less joyful than expected. Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is a marvelously gripping story, but it is also much more. It is a first-hand account of sixteenth-century Spanish colonization, of the encounter between the conquistador and the Native American, of the aspirations and fears of exploration. It is a trove of ethnographicinformation, its descriptions and interpretations of native peoples' cultures making it a powerful precursor to modern anthropology. And it is a masterpiece of exploration writing, its author keenly aware of the fictive thrust that often energizes the writing of history.