Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Novel Recounts de las Casas’ Life as Civil Rights Advocate

 

Bartolomé de las Casas was one of the earliest civil rights advocates. One of the first Spanish settlers in the New World, he became wealthy as a slave-owning plantation owner.

Then he freed his Indian slaves, abandoned his land holdings and began to fight for better treatment of the Americas’ indigenous people. He even went to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, to secure better treatment. Charles officially appointed de la Casa “Protector of the Indians.”

Bartolomé de las Casas: Chronicle of a Dream, a novel by José Luis Olaizola, is a fictionalized retelling of de la Casas’s early life.

The story is told retrospectively, in the form of a memoir written by de la Casa. The novel opens with de la Casa, as an old man in his 80s, writing an account of his early life at the request of his superiors. In reality, by then, he had retired as Bishop of Chiapas and had withdrawn to a monastic cell at the College of San Gregorio, in Valladolid, Spain.

The fictional de la Casa relates his early life, from childhood to the failure of a colony he attempted to establish in Venezuela. He recounts his childhood in Seville, his journey to the Santo Domingo and his adventures there as a gold prospector, a soldier and a planter.

He also describes the events that led to his change of heart and his transformation from a predator to a protector of the Taino Indians of the Caribbean.

The book, scrupulously accurate in matters of history, offers readers a look at what life in the Americas was like in the early 16th century. Olaizola captures the sense of wonder felt by the first Spaniards who settled there. He also captures the casual cruelty, which turned de la Casa against the encomienda system established in the New World.

The de la Casa of the book recounts his battles with those determined to held on to wealth gained through others’ misery, battles de la Casas eventually loses. Yet, Chronicle of a Dream remains an enticing book, one that entertains as it informs.

“Bartolomé de las Casas: Chronicle of a Dream, A Novel” by José Luis Olaizola, Ignatius Press, 2019, 288 pages, $16.95

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

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There are 4 comments.

  1. danys Thatcher
    danys Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This sounds very interesting. I’m curious to read about the New World experience from the Spanish point of view.

    • #1
    • December 16, 2019, at 7:31 PM PST
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  2. Titus Techera Contributor

    Well, maybe he was such a great guy, but maybe not:

    https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/10/a-loving-ambivalence

    • #2
    • December 16, 2019, at 11:29 PM PST
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  3. J Ro Member

    Bartolomé de las Casas’ own A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (Penguin Classics), dedicated to Philip II to alert the Castilian Crown to the atrocities being committed under Spanish colonialism in the New World, is a shorter and more historic look at his amazing experiences. 

    The atrocities he reports having been committed in Puerto Rico, leaving “fewer than two hundred” native survivors on the island, is a reminder that while Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez traces her ancestry to that island and claims woke privileges as a “person of color” it is likely that her roots are among the Spanish conquistadores more than among the exterminated natives or the African slaves brought in to replace them. 

    But politicians and other advocates will claim or propose almost anything to be on the right side of history. Even de las Casas, Protector of the Indians, once proposed the transport of African natives to the New World to be exploited instead of American natives. 

    • #3
    • December 17, 2019, at 2:42 AM PST
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  4. GeezerBob Coolidge

    One would hope that this account, albeit fiction, will address the fact that this “human right champion” effectively established the African slave trade as a replacement for the natives. The numbers -less than 200, for example- are dubious. I suggest looking at this video,

    This will give a little perspective on the matter. The whole story of the Spanish conquest of the New World is a complicated, sordid mess, but I suspect that de las Casas is not quite the human rights hero this book might portray.

    (If the link does not survive the censors, search for “In Defense of Columbus: An Exaggerated Evil” on Youtube.)

    • #4
    • December 18, 2019, at 9:53 AM PST
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