Nica-American novelist Silvio Sirias in HECHO magazine

Novelist Silvio Sirias

Silvio Sirias – Author

By Joshua Berman Photo courtesy of Silvio Sirias

His childhood bridged both Nicaraguan and U.S. culture, so novelist Silvio Sirias has a rather distinct perspective on both countries. He puts it this way: “Because of the unusual circumstances of my upbringing—born in Los Angeles to Nicaraguan parents but having spent my adolescent years in Nicaragua—I feel at home straddling the hyphen, the dash between my Nicaraguan and American identities. Yet, in all honesty, when I’m in need of a break from my cultural and linguistic schizophrenia, I seek refuge on my ‘American’ side as I find English [is] the language in which my brain likes to relax.”

He prefers to write in English as well, enabling him to grant non–Spanish speakers a stunning insider’s view of la vida Nica. Sirias’s two Nicaragua-set novels, Bernardo and the Virgin (2007) and Meet Me Under the Ceiba (2009), are unlike any book I’ve read about the country, in both form and content. In addition to his sharp bicultural lens, Sirias employs multi-voice narratives to present fictionalized accounts of real-life events—specifically, miracles and murders in small-town Nicaragua.

Sirias offers a simple yet remarkably accurate portrayal of daily Nicaraguan life. His text is riddled with distinctive Nicaraguanismos and sensory details. The sickly-sweet taste of Rojita, for example, or the sour smell of rum-breath as his characters go about their business.

“My top priority when writing a novel is develop a strong plot,” he says. “The storyline has to hold a reader’s interest from the opening sentence through the concluding one. But I’m also convinced that a good tale must have interesting characters; and interesting characters require an interesting setting. So, as you can see, the setting is a key ingredient in my fictional mosaic … Nicaragua is a place of wonders. Yet for me to take the reader there successfully, story, character, setting, and cultural authenticity must each be dealt with meticulously, as well as lovingly.”

Silvio Sirias lives in Panama City, where he is a professor of literature. His next book takes place in El Salvador.

Joshua Berman is also the author of the Moon Nicaragua Handbook. This article first appeared in HECHO in 2010.

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