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Silvio Sirias on Granada and Nicaragua
This is an interview between Troy Fuss, owner of Lucha Libros, and Silvio Sirias, the author of Meet Me Under the Ceiba.
Having lived in the States, Granada, and now Panama, how would you describe the differences between the three and why does Granada seem to hold such a strong place in your heart?
My wife describes the differences between Panama and Nicaragua with a couple of phrases that, in my mind, sum up everything. She calls Panama “Latin America Lite.” Panama is making a concerted push to become a developed nation. Any modern person will find life in Panama manageable. Life is comfortable there, and the people are welcoming. I love living in Panama. On the other hand, as my wife says, “Nicaragua ain’t for sissies, but it’s got a lot of soul.” Folks accustomed to life in the US need an incredibly adventurous spirit if they are to adjust to Nicaragua. Life is challenging here, for everyone. If you’re from the US, forget the creature comforts of home. But the reward is that one develops intimate relationships with the people and the land, and these will fill one’s heart forever. And that’s why I love Granada: I spent my adolescence here and the experience filled my heart with wondrous memories and stories.
Despite having only lived a few years in Nicaragua, it has been the setting for your most of your published writings. What makes Nicaragua such fertile ground for your literature?
My parents are from Nicaragua, from Granada. I came here when I was eleven and stayed until I graduated from high school. I spent my childhood in Los Angeles and as a result I knew nothing about my Nicaraguan heritage. When my family moved here, I embraced my Nicaraguan half at once. In fact, for many years I was so fascinated with my life and so taken with the stories I was learning that I forgot about my American half. What’s more, I chose to become a writer because I wanted readers in the US to understand what it means to be Nicaraguan–the joys and the tears.
Nicaragua is where I learned the first stories that inspired me to become a writer. I also feel very comfortable “translating” Nica stories for an English-reading audience. But I’ve been spreading my wings in my last two efforts. The Saint of Santa Fe is based on the true story of a young priest who disappeared in Panama in 1971, the victim of a military directive. His life story is remarkable and the work he performed in a small town is still bearing fruit. At this moment, the manuscript is circulating among potential publishers in the States. And I’m currently working on a young adult novel titled The Season of Stories. It is set in Los Angeles and it’s loosely-based on my memories of the last year I lived there before moving to Nicaragua. So I am experimenting with different settings. I would love to write more novels set in Nicaragua. God knows I have a surplus of ideas. But there’s the financial aspect to consider. I’d have to spend a few months in the country to research the details, and the tab for that adds up quickly.
Ceiba is based on a real event in Nicaragua and tackles some issues that aren’t always talked about in polite conversation or literature. How did the reality of what happened free you to take on issues that you might not have had the opportunity to discuss otherwise?
The actual story that inspired Meet Me under the Ceiba was so gripping—a complex tale of murder, love, lust, prejudice, and greed—that the more controversial issues of sexual identity seemed secondary. I had the hunch that if I tackled the story of the murder head on, the topic of gay and lesbian rights would emerge strongly without my having to preach. I am glad I followed my instincts because my impression is that readers come away from the novel having learned something about a problem they may not have thought about, but they find the journey entertaining and worthwhile.
This being your first time in Nicaragua in three years, do you see Granada as a changed place and do you see it moving in a direction that is positive or negative?
Everything moves slowly in Granada. But whatever happens, the city endures. It has been ransacked by British pirates and burned to the ground by an American filibuster. Yet it looks much the same as when I lived here many, many years ago. This city should be the tourist Mecca of Central America, but the locals seem unable to grasp Granada’s potential. Now, with that said, I see a healthier spirit than I did three years ago. There’s more respect for tourist. But one thing I’ve learned about my fellow Granadinos over the years: they are slow to accept change–even changes that will have a positive impact on everyone’s lives.
You have mentioned that you think Granada is the most beautiful city in the world. What is it about Granada that you find so fascinating? And, saying that, why don’t you live here?
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it, Troy? And in my eyes, there is no city in the world like Granada. But then my prejudice is undeniable. There are three reasons I find this city fascinating. One, I honestly can say that I spent the happiest years of my life here. Now, that’s nostalgia speaking, but I’m not going to argue with those feelings. Two, Granada is full of personal memories. Whenever I walk down a street, they assault me–with great fondness, of course. And, three, Granada is soon going to celebrate its quincentennial. As a writer, I’d give an arm for the colonial walls to tell me every interesting event they’ve witnessed. My supply of stories would then become infinite. No other place on this planet has that effect on me.
If my wife and I were independently wealthy, we would choose to live in Granada. But we’re not able to quit our day jobs yet.
For more on Silvia Sirias visit his website at www.silviosirias.com.
By Troy Fuss
Troy Fuss is the co-owner of Granada’s Lucha Libro Books. For more go to www.facebook.com/LuchaLibroBooks. His bookstore is located between Ole Boutique and Imagine Restaurant just off Calzada. The best source for English and Spanish books in Granada. Many history books on Nicaragua.