I admit, I’ve never heard of Bartolomé de las Casas and I probably never would have if I didn’t pick up this book. He was a 16th-century Spanish colonist who acted as a historian and social reformer before becoming a Dominican friar. He was appointed as the resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed “Protector of the Indians”. If you’re unfamiliar, too, what you need to know is that he protected and chronicled the ongoings of the colonization of the West Indes (of the Caribbean). Since nobody else was willing to spread the news of the atrocities in their official capacity, he did so as a cleric.
Bartolomé de las Casas: Chronicle of a Dream is the narrative of the famous historical novelist José Luis Olaizola. José a lawyer in Spain for fifteen years until he found his vocation in writing. He’s an international award winner and also a beloved author for Catholics, having written on saints like Elizabeth of the Trinity, as well. In Chronicle of a Dream, his writing brings to light some of the key aspects of a singular figure, including the least known period of his life: Las Casas’s time in youth.
This historical novel follows the life of the most important human rights advocate in the early days of the Spanish Conquest. Bartolome de Las Casas sailed to the New World as a wealthy land owner. He ended his life as the greatest fighter for Native American rights history has ever known. Follow the ups and downs of Las Casas as he comes to grips with his privilege, eventually forsaking all for the rights of the Indians he came to know and respect. To me, it read much like the Confessions of Augustine, consistently and inspiringly self-reflecting and reporting candid thoughts on the events surrounding his life.
On every page I was learning the thoughts and life-facts about this young Dominican cleric turned gold enthusiast, and also about his incredible descriptions of the atrocities that plummeted the reputations of the explorers. The pages are filled with details of the incredible virtue and heroism of the Spanish and their relations with the Natives, and also the sad state of life that inevitably occurs when one puts wealth and power in front of human dignity as a priority.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The opening chapters are swift and the author’s pace kept my attention at all time. It is a fine biography written in the form of a novel. At least that’s how I’d describe it. In fact, I wish more “saint books” were written with this sort of form. Historians and Catholics will benefit from reading Bartolomé de las Casas: Chronicle of a Dream.