Silvio Sirias was born to Nicaragua parents living in California and when he was 11 the family returned to the homeland, a change that Sirias calls the most pivotal moment of his life. This week he returns home to Granada, the city he dreamily calls “the most beautiful city in the world.”
The beauty Sirias found wasn’t just in the landscapes and architecture, he also discovered the enchantment its people and heritage and magic – of which he is now an important part. Through his writing he has taken small but important events that help define the culture as a whole and given them a definitive, permanent place on the shelf of history.
His first two novels were set in Nicaragua, while his third, The Saint of Santa Fe, published in December, is set in Panama, where he has lived for thirteen years. The book centers on the story of Colombian priest Héctor Gallego’s attempt to liberate a poor Panamanian community that got him abducted by the military in 1971. He was never heard from again, but the community, transformed forever, never forgot him.
The priest’s mistake was taking on the local caudillo, a cousin of dictator Omar Torrijos. As with his other books, at the heart of the novel is a true story that might otherwise be lost to time without his treatment. In the case of Gallego, the priest was inspired by liberation theology, which inspired him to help the community organize and become self-sufficient. Liberation theory was something that also had a strong affect on a young Sirias.
“Up to now, the connection I have had with every novel has had to do with my move to Granada at age eleven and the seven years I lived there as an adolescent,” Sirias said. “My memories of these formative years still haunt me because of their beauty as well as their humanity.”
He added, “The story of Héctor Gallego, even though it took place in Panama, mirrored my experiences in Granada at the time that liberation theology exploded upon the scene. As a 15-year-old who was very active in the Catholic Church, this theological stance shaped the way I see religion’s role in the world. The priests who worked with Granada’s youth embraced liberation theology. What happened to Gallego could’ve happened to any of them. Part of my intention for writing The Saint of Santa Fe was to honor the priests – including El Salvador’s Archbishop Romero – who sacrificed their lives throughout Central America between 1970 and 1998 in the hope of bringing social justice to the region.”
While he has found his voice writing in English, most of the events at the center of his books are virtually unheard outside the Spanish-speaking world. Because of their obscurity, he is likely granting them a life they would never have otherwise and his novels could very well become the accepted versions of events.
“I am aware that my novels may supplant the historical versions of events,” he said. “That’s something well-written fiction can do. Only posterity will tell if my narratives eventually become the accepted truth. But this consideration ranks low on my priorities. My number one goal is to tell a story in an engaging manner that will stir the reader.
“I like to think of my work as a relaxed translation of true events. Yet, at the same time, because many of my readers are outside of the Nicaraguan and Panamanian cultures, I feel I have an obligation to stay as close to the truth as possible.”
This will be the third appearance in conjunction with Lucha Libro in two years. When he came through in March he was putting the finishing touches on his first young adult novel, The Season of Stories. It was inspired by his last year in Los Angeles, after his parents decided to return to live in Nicaragua.
“The boy who tells the story is now an old man who looks back at the time and the importance of friends, family, school, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in his life. In that same year, he meets an award-winning author who writes novels for young adults. They become friends and the author is invited to the boy’s school to tell the story of Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Anayansi – the Indian princess with whom he fell in love. Thus, Balboa’s and the boy’s stories are intertwined.”
Like all of his novels, Silvio’s alter-ego will be alive and well in The Season, something he says helps him “gain control of the telling of the story.” Time will tell if he’s the little boy or the award-winning author or both.
Silvio Sirias will be part of the Literature + Politics + Conversation event in Granada on Sun., Nov. 2 at La Hacienda. For more on the event go to http://luchalibrobooks.com/events/ and www.facebook.com/events/649707971810878/. For more on Silvio visit http://silviosirias.com. Sirias, Kenneth E. Morris and Joseph B. Frazier, will also be appearing at El Gato Negro on Sat., Nov. 1 and Búho Books in León on Tues., Nov. 4. Novelist Jim Lynch will also be on the bill for the Granada event.