The magic of place: Silvio Sirias’s expansive portrayal of Nicaragua in Bernardo and the Virgin

Bernardo and the Virgin: A Novel

The first book I ever read about Nicaragua was Blood of Brothers, by Stephen Kinzer. It provided me with a sharp, alluring portrait of a country during its hottest hours (the Sandinista revolution of 1979 and subsequent social experiment and civil war that lasted till 1990); but I was looking for more.
It was 1997 and I’d just learned that I was headed to Nicaragua for the next two and a half years of my life as a US Peace Corps Volunteer. I was trying to get a sense of what  life would be like there. The second book I found about Nicaragua was also non-fiction, by a Nicaraguan this time, also about the war. And the third. And fourth. You get the picture. It took some digging to find books about other periods of Nicaraguan history, and still, I found few descriptions in the literature about modern-day, small-town Nicaragua.

Nicaragua MapYears later, in 2005, Silvio Sirias wrote Bernardo and the Virgin, a novel based on real events and characters from deep within the Nicaraguan culture and countryside. It deals with recent history, but in a more personable, creative way than any nonfiction I’d read. I wish he’d written it before I left for Nicaragua. So in the meantime, I got to learn about and experience Nicaraguan culture for myself, with all its pride, passion, peculiarities, beauty, and sensory barrages.

First I lived in Pio XII (the same village where Sirias sets his second novel), then in La Trinidad, Estelí­. This experience was followed by a decade traveling all over Nicaragua. I was there during some of the same events about which Sirias writes in his novels. His stories feel like home to me.

Sirias lets the characters in Bernardo do all the talking—literally, they all take turns at being the narrator, each presenting a unique, opinionated slice of some aspect of Nicaraguan life (as priest, new mother, young man, etc.). In addition to telling an incredible story, Bernardo offers the kinds of detail I wanted back in 1997, before I set foot in Central America, when I found only war memoirs. The reader devours each perfectly-placed Nicaraguanismo, cultural tick, and Chontaleño landscape, all amid the smell of woodsmoke and coffee, and under the watchful eye of doña Tula, the town gossip.


RELATED LINKS:

Buy BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN.

MY INTERVIEW with the author: “Nicaragua is a place of wonder”: A Chat with Silvio Sirias, author of Meet Me Under the Ceiba

A recent profile I wrote about Silvio Sirias for HECHO magazine

JUNE 2010 BOOK TOUR | Bernardo and the Virgin by Silvio Sirias

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