Note: The Saint of Santa Fe is an english novel. The reading will be conducted in english. The questions and conversation that follow the reading will be conducted in both english and spanish.
Nota: El Santo de Santa Fe es una novela escrita en Inglés. La lectura se llevará a cabo en Inglés. Las preguntas y la conversación que siguen a la lectura se llevarán a cabo tanto en Inglés como en español.
In conversation with Silvio Sirias…
What was the genesis of inspiration for your latest novel, The Saint of Santa Fe?
I moved to Panama in 2002, after living in Nicaragua for three years. When I arrived, I knew virtually nothing about Panamanian history and culture, so I started to read voraciously and ask countless questions.
It was in a newspaper article that I learned about Father Hector Gallego. Oddly enough, the tragedy resonated strongly with me because at the time of his disappearance, in 1971, I was in my senior year of high school in the Colegio Salesiano, here in Granada. Back then, liberation theology was spreading like wildfire through the region. As an idealistic adolescent, I fell in love with its notions. When I read Father Gallego’s story, I began to see him as the embodiment the noblest traits of this religious stance. In Panama, there’s a movement to have him declared a saint for what he did in life and for his sacrifice. The more I learned about the events of that time, including the intimate involvement of General Omar Torrijos in the tragedy, the more compelled I felt to tell the story.
Relative to your other novels, has your creative process changed?
Writing a novel is like embarking on a pilgrimage, and no two pilgrimages are alike. I have habits that I adhere to as a writer, but then every story demands something different of me. My first two novels, Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me under the Ceiba, are set in Nicaragua, and I was very comfortable telling these as, in a very real way, I grew up among such tales. But writing a story set in Panama placed me out of my comfort zone. That’s why this novel has been the most challenging one I’ve ever written. I’m happy with how it turned out, and it will be very interesting to see the reaction The Saint of Santa Fe gets in Panama. The first local review, in The Panama News, has stated that “Yes, it a book about this diminutive and extraordinary young priest, but it’s probably more important as a book about who Panamanians are and what we can be.” Reactions such as this one make the long, painful journey of writing a novel worthwhile.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m close to completing a young adult novel titled The Season of Stories. I’ve redefined myself since the move to Panama, having now become a high-school teacher. In the process, I’ve learned to love teaching ninth-graders—freshmen are such a fun crowd. My contact with them inspired me to try to write something that would appeal to them. There were two novels I wanted to write, one that would be loosely autobiographical, drawn from memories of my last year living in Los Angeles before my parents decided to return to Nicaragua, their homeland, and the other based on the life of the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa. In a wild and daring moment, I decided to merge both stories. Marrying such disparate tales was the equivalent of a throwing a Hail Mary pass in football, but I believe I pulled it off. The celebration for The Season of Stories is still down the road, however. For now, I’m celebrating the release of The Saint of Santa Fe.
Silvio Sirias – Author’s Web Site