Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Meet Me Under the Ceiba" by Silvio Sirias

As a blog host, I now have the fun task of reading books by newly discovered writers, and I consider having read Meet Me Under the Ceiba by Silvio Sirias both an honor and a treat.

If you have been following this online book tour, then you know what this story is all about. But for those of you who are just joining us, here is a quick recap of the story.

"An American professor of Nicaraguan descent spending the summer in his parents’ homeland learns of Adela’s murder and vows to unravel the threads of the mystery. The suspense builds as he patiently interviews the townspeople and extracts their intriguing and often outlandish accounts of Adela’s life and death in this backwater town. It quickly becomes apparent that Adela—a hard-working campesina who never learned to read and write—and Don Roque had one thing in common: the beautiful Ixelia Cruz. The love of Adela’s life, Ixelia was one of Don Roque’s many possessions until Adela lured her away.
The interviews with Adela’s family, neighbors, and former lovers shed light on the circumstances of her death and reveal the lively community left reeling by her brutal murder, including: Adela’s older sister Mariela and her five children, who spent Christmas morning with Adela, excitedly unwrapping the gifts their beloved aunt brought them that fateful day; her neighbor and friend, Lizbeth Hodgson, the beautiful mulata who early in their relationship rejected Adela’s passionate advances; Padre Uriel, who did not welcome Adela to mass because she loved women; Adela’s former lover Gloria, the town’s midwife, who is forever destined to beg her charges to name their newborn daughters Adela.
Through stories and gossip that expose jealousies, scandals, and misfortunes, Sirias lovingly portrays the community of La Curva, Nicaragua, in all its beauty and ugliness. The winner of the Chicano / Latino Literary Prize, this spellbinding novel captures the essence of a world rarely seen in American literature. "

What I liked most about this book was how it reads as both a journal and a story at the same time. Sirias makes you feel like you are a part of the characters' lives and histories, and you feel like you were right there--in the middle of that love triangle, just standing there witnessing the greed, anger, jealousy, and lust. It just pulls you in and devours you completely. I can honestly say that I could not put this book down.

I would now like to take the opportunity to welcome Silvio Sirias today.

Sandra: Welcome! First of all, your story concept reminded me a great deal of "The Salvation of La Purisima" by T.M. Spooner. It was about an anglo who traveled to Mexico and discovers a mysterious death that has plagued a village for so long, and he is the only one who can help heal the town. How did you come up with the idea for "Meet Me Under the Ceiba" and, more importantly, how did you come up with the title?*

Silvio: In February of the year 2000, about six months after my wife and I moved to Nicaragua from North Carolina, the papers in Nicaragua started carrying a news item that centered on the disappearance of a woman, named Aura Rosa Pavón, who lived in the small town of La Curva, in the province of Masaya. As details of the mystery began to filter out—the result of the sister’s desperate search to locate her—I began to surmise that the disappearance had to do with Aura Rosa’s involvement in a love-triangle.

The day her body was discovered, three suspects were apprehended; subsequently they were put on trial, and found guilty. And, Sandra, as the picture became clearer regarding what had taken place, the story became sublimely “novelesque” in my mind. There, right before me, was a writers’s dream: a narrative that contained many of the elements that constitute marvelous fiction—love, lust, greed, exploitation, hope, fear, compassion and, to top these off, homophobia. Although at the time I was committed to completing my first novel, BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN, I knew that as soon as I had finished this task I’d be moving on to tell Aura Rosa’s story. And eight years later, here we are.

The title was inspired by a phrase in a note that lured Aura Rosa Pavon to her death. In it, someone posing as her former lover wrote: “Meet me under the chilamate.” That note and that phrase stuck to me throughout the research stage and I knew they would figure prominently in the narrative. Now, the chilamate is a tree that grows in abundance in Nicaragua. While it’s a striking tree, I hardly found inspiration in it. The ceiba, on the other hand, has a rich religious lore that goes back centuries, particularly with the Yoruban people of Western Africa and the Mayans of Central America. This lore has been mined by other writers of the Caribbean region, so it was an easy decision to substitute “chilamate” for “ceiba.” And, in the end, my writer’s intuition had been correct as the pivotal scene in the novel revolves around the phrase, hence the title.

Sandra: I see you were named one of the top ten Latino Writers to watch for 2010. How does that make you feel?*

Silvio: As a published novelist yourself, Sandra, you’re well aware of the long, lonely hours—and, in my case, decades—spent trying to master the craft. On top of this, it takes months, if not years, to complete a novel. To be named one of the Top Ten New Latino Writers to Watch (and Read) in 2010 is, to me, one of the most gratifying moments I’ve experience in my career. The honor means that every second I’ve spent suffering to get the right turn of the phrase, to make a scene call out, to try to get the story to grab a reader’s heart has well been worth the sacrifices.

Sandra: Thank you for joining us and good luck with your book!

About the Author:
SILVIO SIRIAS is the author of a novel, Bernardo and the Virgin (Northwestern University Press, 2007), and he has written and edited several books on Latino/a literature, including Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion (Greenwood Press, 2001) and Conversations with Rudolfo Anaya (University Press of Mississippi, 1998). He received his doctorate in Spanish from the University of Arizona and worked as a professor of Spanish and U.S. Latino/a literature for several years before returning to live in Nicaragua in 1999. He currently lives in Panama.

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arte Publico Pr (September 30, 2009)
• Language: English
• ISBN-13: 978-1558855922

Link to author's website: http://www.silviosirias.com/

Blog Tour associated with Latino Book Tours

Silvio Sirias Blog Tour Dates:
Monday 11th: Book Lover Carol http://bookluver-carol.blogspot.com/
Tuesday Jan 12th: Brown Girl Speaks www.browngirl.weebly.com/book-speak.html
Wed Jan 13th: Regular Ruminations http://www.regularrumination.wordpress.com/
Thursday Jan 14th: The Tranquilo Traveler http://blog.joshuaberman.net/
Friday Jan 15th: Pisti Totol http://www.pistitotol.wordpress.com/
Monday 18th: Mama XXI http://www.mamaxxi.blogspot.com/
Tuesday 19th: Farm Lane Books http://www.farmlanebooks.co.uk/
Wed 20th: Sandra's Book Club http://sandrasbookclub.blogspot.com/
Thurs. 21st: Latino Books Examiner www.examiner.com/x-6309-Latino-Books-Examiner
Friday 22nd: Una in a Million http://unainamillion.blogspot.com/


  1. This has been such a fun tour because each blog host has added a little bit of spice at each stop. So thanks to Sandra for the nice recap on the story and for sharing what she most liked about the novel.

    Sandra, your post highlights how easy it is to feel like a part of the characters' lives. We've heard from Dr. Sirias that while the majority of them are based on real people, some of them are completely fictitious.

    A question for Dr. Sirias:

    I read somewhere that asking a writer which character is his/her favorite in his/her own novel would be like asking which of his/her children he/she likes best. That sounds slightly cruel! But, oh well, which of your children in Meet Me Under the Ceiba do you like best? :)

  2. Don Silvio,
    As far as I know Nicaragua continues to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. We still have Article 204 of the Nicaraguan Penal Code that states, "Anyone who induces, promotes, propagandizes or practices in scandalous form sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex commits the crime of sodomy and shall incur 1 to 3 years' imprisonment." I never heard anybody been prosecuted under this Article but it seems to me that the potential for not only gay and lesbians to be persecuted exists as well for anyone who campaigns for their rights or therefore anyone showing any interest on the issue. So, I am very curious to know, if at any point while researching for your novel you felt threat/frustrated/helpless or else by the existing "sodomy law" in Nicaragua?

  3. Thank you, Silvio, for allowing me to be part of your blog tour. One other question I had was about the cover. The lady looks so creepy and dismal with the dark purple draped over it. It reminds me of death, which I am sure was the intention. I also noticed the silohuette of the tree is the prime design throughout the book. Did you have any say in the design? Is that silohuette the actual "ceiba?"

  4. Great Post, Sandra! And Sandra Mariela, that's a great question-I've just heard from Silvio, he is having a hard time logging in to leave a comment, so hang in tight, you will see his response shortly!

  5. Greetings,

    My apologies for the lateness of my responses, but the server at work was being very temperamental by not allowing me to post comments. I am at home now where everything seems to be working fine.

    My answers will soon follow.


  6. Ok, I'm on. First for Sandra Mariela. Thank you for putting me on the spot, as usual. ;-)

    The characters I'm always fondest of are the ones that make me smile when I recall them. In the case of MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA two stand out in this regard: Erasmo (the man of the mirrors) and Gilberto Wong (the police commissioner). In a previous stop of this tour someone mentioned Erasmo as their favorite, but no one has yet brought up Gilberto Wong, who I find fascinating.

    Anyway, if you must know, I am fondest of those two.



  7. Now on to Yvel's question:

    Article 204 was repealed in March of 2008. Joshua Berman and I discussed this at http://blog.joshuaberman.net/10-01/a-chat-with-silvio-sirias-author-of-meet-me-under-the-ceiba-comment-below-and-win-an-autographed-copy.html

    What I did find sad, Yvel, was learning that in real life one of Aura Rosa Pavón's murderers accused her of sodomy under this article and as a result the future murder victim spent two months in prison. As I told Josh, when I researched the law--all on the internet, nothing glamorous or dangerous--I discovered that it was implemented while Central America was still a Spanish colony. The instigator of the law? The Inquisition. Often when writing a novel one learns all types of interesting little facts that never make it into the story.

    Thank you for such a provocative question and for visiting today,


  8. And to Sandra Lopez,

    First, thank you for hosting MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA today and, second, I apologize for being so late on answering the questions, but the technical difficulties were far beyond my control.

    Regarding the cover, it was based on a painting by Esperanza Gama, and you can learn more about her work here:


    Dr. Nicolas Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press chose the painting himself after having read the manuscript. Although I had no say whatsoever, I thought he made a marvelous choice. And I agree with you, there is a death-like quality to that portrait, and it fits the story perfectly.

    Regarding the outlined tree on the cover, I think it pretty much resembles a ceiba. The ceiba is an extremely tall tree whose boughs and branches spread out high above the ground, sort of reminiscent of a mushroom.

    Thanks for the question; I think Arte Público was spot-on with the art work for the novel.


  9. Dr. Sirias,

    I was starting to suspect that your silence had to do with not wanting to choose between your children :)

    But knowing that it was only due to technical difficulties, care to reveal your Bernardo and the Virgin favorite characters?


    p.s. Special attention will be paid to Erasmo and Gilberto.

  10. Hi Silvio:

    Sandra, thanks for hosting..I enjoyed reading your perspective on CEIBA. I also enjoyed that the novel read like a "journal" and we could follow along with the "chronicler's" interviews and discoveries.

    Silvio, I wondered if you could talk a little about the difference for you in essay writing vs. your creative writing. Is the process the same/different? What purpose does writing the essays have for you?

    I found your weblog a few months ago and have enjoyed reading through the archives. I always look forward to the quotes in the beginning and how they relate to your essay.

    Also, what if anything has your teaching experience, taught you about writing?

    Thank you! and look forward to your response.

  11. Hi again, Sandra Mariela,

    Reaching back into the archives, I see. Well, in BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN there are two characters who invariably make me smile. The first is Nicolás Salazar--a dirty-old-man, of sorts, who thinks of himself as a stud but is really a lost soul--and Germán Sotelo, the goofy college professor who's obsessed with literary theory. They are both over the top and as a result fun to write.

    Thanks, as always, Sandra Mariela,


  12. Hi Sandra, great post! It's amazing how each post in this tour has it's unique content and style.Congratulations!
    Hi Silvio! How are You? It's wonderful how this book and it's story can teach us, so many things so important.
    Esta es la magia del arte y de la buena literatura, que trasciende fronteras, abriendo nuestras mentes, y nos conecta con los corazones, aunque sea imaginariamente, de nuestros hermanos. Saludos!!!

  13. And, Lourdes, hi again:

    You've really fired off some challenging questions. I love them!

    I find major differences between writing fiction and essays. Speaking for myself, in fiction, I have to be absolutely sure where I am headed, or at least have a good idea. As a result, I spend a lot of time outlining, extensively. First an outline of the entire book--a basic drawing of sorts--and then very detailed outlines of each chapter as I advance. And my basic rule is that I have to be true to the spirit and reality of each character.

    When I was in graduate school, I was trained to write academic essays. At first I enjoyed doing this, especially when they started getting published. But after a while it started to become repetitive, plus may readership was small--only other college professors and graduate students in my field.

    As I was working on MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA, I started to want to learn the art of writing short--and hopefully interesting--essays. I had to discard most of what I had been taught in graduate school. It took me a while to learn how to write in a relaxed manner that I could enjoy reading my own work. So, in order to do this I developed a no-outline approach. I take notes to have the correct information, and then I go on to discover what I think about the topic I choose to write about. Essayists speak of the "Ah-ha Experience," that occurs when we make a startling discovery through our own writing. That's what I aim for when I write an essay.

    Now that I think about it, I'm far more relaxed when writing an essay than when writing fiction.

    As for the use of quotes--and I'm glad you take notice--they help to center my thoughts, to keep me from going off on tangents.

    Teaching writing has taught me, and it's not a small thing at all, how to talk about writing--the terminology and approaches to the craft. Thanks to my time in the classroom, I can talk to any audience about writing until they pass out of boredom. ;-)

    Great questions, Lourdes. I'm going to have to write an essay on each of them--seriously.


  14. Romina,

    Gracias por su visita. Y déjeme decirle de nuevo que disfruté completamente mi estadía en MamaXXI.

    Un abrazo,


  15. Thanks Silvio...really enjoyed reading your answer...look forward to more of your essays in the future.

    Just want to add that I like them for the fact that they are short and interesting. Even when it's a topic I'm not really interested in reading. The essay on Alexis Arguello for example...initially I thought I wouldn't have cared very much about an essay on a boxer--a sport I really don't like--but his story was pretty fascinating. A few days later my husband and I were at a small place called Bronx Pizza which is covered in framed pix of former boxers...there was a picture of Arguello...my husband already knew who he was, but it was great to be able to tell him about what I had learned from your essay and to talk about the success and tragedy of his life.

    Your writing that "I had to discard most of what I had been taught in graduate school," makes me feel better about having postponed grad school:).

    THanks again!

  16. Thank you, Lourdes.

    Kind words like you make a writer's week--or month, even.


  17. Sorry for joining the tour so late. It is a different side of the world that I live in. :)

    Thank you, Sandra, for your post. It gives me more perspectives on the novel.

    Thank you, Silvio, and to everybody. Today's discussions made me feel that I should start to write!

    Thinking about writing something considered unusual in the society that we live in, I really cannot imagine how hard your work was, Silvio. And here is the same. But it is getting better everytime, I hope.

    I enjoyed today's post. :)
    Thank you.