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Bernardo and the Virgin by Silvio Sirias (thoughts)

June 13, 2011

As in Under the Ceiba Tree, Sirias created this novel on the inspiration of a true-life event; in this case the appearance of the Virgin (Mary of course) to a lower class Nicaraguan country dweller. The structure is unusual; it goes back and forth in time, and changes narrators so that we see Bernardo’s life, and subsequent fame, from a variety of angles (a note on the religion in the book: Sirias handles it in such a way that as a non-Catholic I never felt preached to but I imagine my Catholic grandmother would be happy as well). This is more a twist on the traditional novel than as segmented as, say, an inter-connected short story collection. Sirias’ writing is so good that I quickly settled in and couldn’t wait to see who would take over the narration next. He succeeds in making the different narrators sound different, which is no small feat and one that I very much applaud. The story itself is handled well and reveals a lot about Nicaraguan culture and politics (the Sandistas, being Communists, are opposed to the Catholic church and at one point try to make Bernardo recant; there’s also a lot of class-based discussions) without ever feeling lecture-y. I cared about Bernardo and the other characters and found myself reacting to them on quite a visceral level. In fact, for almost the entire novel, I thought my post would be an unconditional gushfest; unfortunately, the last narrator is a Nicaraguan writer thinking about novelising the events, and I found this a bit too meta for me. This section seemed to drag a bit too; if I had been the editor, I’d have suggested cutting it completely. Still, this is an entrancing story that provides a marvelous window into Nicaraguan life, and one I’d highly recommend! I only hope Sirias has another novel in the works. :)

Suggested Companion Reads (linked to my thoughts)

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2011 7:13 am

    Sounds interesting, I’m not sure if I’ve read any Nicaraguan works so this will be going on my wish list! Thanks :)

    • June 14, 2011 7:32 am

      You might be even more interested in Meet Me Under the Ceiba Tree, which deals with LGBT issues!

  2. June 13, 2011 7:27 am

    This looks stunning even with the slow parts. Cool stuff, Eva!

    • June 14, 2011 7:31 am

      The only slow part is the last chapter; the rest is perfectly paced! :)

  3. June 13, 2011 12:01 pm

    I like your new review format Eva and the links to suggested companion reads. I fear my TBR will topple over soon!

  4. June 13, 2011 1:59 pm

    I agree Eva. I hope he has another novel in the works. I did tours for both novels. Under the Ceiba Tree is my favorite of the two.

  5. June 13, 2011 6:07 pm

    Eva, thank you so much for your generous review. I have always admired your insight as well you your honesty. I’m sorry the final chapter wasn’t to your pleasing, but that’s perfectly ok. Oddly, it’s the most autobiographical chapter I’ve ever written. Lots of angst producing it. Still, you liked the novel and that’s what really is important. And, Terri (and you too, Eva), I have a collection of essays coming out very, very soon: LOVE MADE VISIBLE: REFLECTIONS ON WRITING, TEACHING, AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS. The essay I wrote for your blog, Eva, is included there. Eva and Terri, if you’ve succumbed to the temptations of Kindle (or any e-reader for that matter), let me know and I will send you a complimentary copy. Hugs, Silvio.

    • June 14, 2011 7:35 am

      Thank you for such a gracious comment Silvio! I really did love the book, even if the last chapter didn’t flow as well for me; I think I just get freaked out by meta-fiction, so it wasn’t your writing but my reading. :)

      I love essay collections, so I’m excited to hear you have one being published soon! Especially since it includes the marvelous essay you guest posted here. :) I have a Nook, and I would definitely love to get a copy to read!

  6. June 13, 2011 6:50 pm

    I loved this book. I agree with Terri that I think I liked Meet Me Under the Ceiba a littlebit more than this one, but I still loved this one :)

    • June 14, 2011 7:36 am

      I can’t decide which one I liked more! Right now, I’m leaning towards this one…but it might be because it’s the most recent. ;)

  7. June 26, 2011 3:17 pm

    Eva, your choice of books are always absolutely incredible. Whenever I read your thoughts on something you’ve read, I always automatically want to track it down and read it. :)

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