Silvio Sirias is the author of Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion, Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me Under the Ceiba. He has been listed as a Top Ten Latinos to Watch and Read in 2010 by Latino Stories
I've read and enjoyed both Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me Under the Ceiba, and among other things, one of the most striking aspects of both novels for me was Sirias' use of setting, which comes off almost like a character itself. The fields of Cuapa and dusty back roads of La Curva and Pio XII, seem to add more of an experience than a description of a setting. A common theme in reviews of both novels has been the special touch that Sirias uses to bring the places of his novels, and Nicaragua as a whole, to life.
Because I was deeply touched by the sense of place in both novels, and because of my hunger for knowledge as an aspiring author, I asked Silvio to share some words about what role a place has within a story.
Of course, as always, I was humbled when he accepted, and now I'm thrilled to share his thoughts with you.
*Note* Friday June 18th concludes Silvio Sirias' book tour of Bernardo and the Virgin with Condor Book Tours. On June 18th there will be a live chat with Silvio Sirias from 7-8pm EST at Condor's Author Chat Salon. Please join us in a literary discussion and overall celebration of literature and culture!
And Then There’s the Question of Place . . .
by Silvio Sirias
If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.-Barry Lopez, “A Literature of Place”
Place is a crucial element in the work of most novelists. It is impossible to consider Gabriel García Márquez, for instance, without taking Macondo into account; or to ponder on the contribution of J.R.R. Tolkien while leaving out Middle Earth; or to examine Anne Rice and bypass New Orleans.
The notion of place has been a crucial element of my fiction, thus far. In my life, there are two places that have played a significant role in shaping the person I am today: Los Angeles, California, my birthplace, and Granada, Nicaragua, the community where I spent my adolescence. But I couldn’t have grown up in two more dissimilar locations.
Los Angeles, even in the early 1960s, was a massive, chaotic web of urban sprawl. Culturally, nevertheless, the city was on the cutting edge of media development—an enterprise that Americans ravenously consume and continue to export throughout the globe.
On the other hand, Granada, like the rest of Nicaragua, seemed a century behind the times. And although I had an acute awareness of my birthplace—to this day you can drop me anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area and I’ll able figure out where I need to be—something about Nicaragua, about Granada in particular, made me feel a sense of intimacy and of belonging that I had never experienced in California.
Perhaps it had to do with the size of the community back then—the entire city of Granada could fit into Dodger Stadium and there would still be twenty-thousand empty seats. Or maybe the true reason I developed such an intimate conversation with Nicaragua is because of a familial calling. Once, while interviewing the Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya, I asked him why he has never lived anywhere other than New Mexico. To this, he answered, “New Mexico . . . has the feel of my ancestors. Their spirits are here. They speak to me. If all this is happening and I live in a spiritual place, why would I leave?” At once I understood what Anaya meant, and I still believe that he’s especially blessed because he hasn’t been forced to uproot himself like so many of us today.
In Nicaragua, I did hear my ancestors speaking, telling me their stories. Perhaps that’s why I became a writer—to honor their spirits.
Both of my published novels—Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me under the Ceiba—are set in small Nicaraguan towns. What’s particularly important about this, I believe, is that my writing has never really been about the landscape, but about the people that inhabit it. And small towns are fascinating—and I lived in a few—because every person shares with others the big and the small that make up our lives.
That experience of a shared unity—with the implicit drawbacks as well—although confining, makes it possible for a person to experience the oneness that is humankind. And this feature facilitates my work as a writer—the small town is, in essence, an omniscient narrator, the voice that knows all.
I often wonder what the Los Angeles novel inside of me is—a novel where I can explore the role this extraordinary city has played in my life. I certainly hope I can soon discover the answer. It’s a challenge I wish to tackle. And although I won’t have the spirits of my ancestors to guide me along the way, perhaps the diverse choruses that make up the complex human map of my birthplace will come to my aid, helping me to establish a creative dialogue with the city that gave me birth. But until then . . . small towns in Central America will do.
A big thank you to Silvio for sharing these thoughts with us. Many readers of this post will undoubtedly have been following the Bernardo and the Virgin Book Tour, which concludes today.
Silvio will be stopping by today to answer any questions or comments you may have. So please leave a comment! One random winner will be chosen from the comments to receive a beautiful woven craft piece and change purse that use the techinique Mola, by indigenous Kuna artisans of Panama.
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