Community Book: I, Juan de Pareja

As a book club of sorts, St. Bernard’s chose one book for the faculty and boys in grades V-IX to read over the summer and meet in September to discuss.  The conversations around last year’s book, Refugee, were very rewarding.  This year’s selection was I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.
The story is set in seventeenth century Spain.  Juan de Pareja was the slave of the great painter Diego Velasquez.  I, Juan de Pareja is Juan’s story in his own words.  This historical novel deals with slavery and its evils, but it also portrays art and painting in a dynamic time in Spanish history.

Mr. Bowcock organized a special assembly for the middle and upper school boys, in which Mr. Seacrest, Ms. Dreux, and Mr. Rodino provided us with context about what is was like for the great master painters at that time, how paint was made, and a bit on Spanish history.

A highlight was when two Grade VIII boys stood at the podium and spoke eloquently on what the book meant to them.  Here is an excerpt from Max G.’s speech:

“Don Diego’s kindness and compassion are extremely moving and even though owning a slave is a heinous crime, his freeing of Juan shows that he is a good person.  Another really heartwarming thing is the fact that Juan has this love for Don Diego that is exhibited when he says, ‘He was looking at me with the gentle affection he had always shown me.’ Another example of this love is the letter he keeps both for sentimental value and necessity.  This love for his master confuses me because of the circumstances but is also pure and heartening.”

Next, Oliver G. keenly remarked, “Throughout the book, Juan discusses his sadness as a result of death and losses and his desire to be free so that he can paint.  Although these tough themes remain poignant throughout the book, Juan always focuses on the positives in his life and is very optimistic.”

After the assembly, the boys split up into smaller group discussions led by various members of the faculty.  The community book read was a fulfilling experience for the boys and faculty alike.