01 December 2009

Book Review: Bernardo and the Virgin by Silvio Sirias

Every once in a while, I pick up a piece of historical fiction, and it usually turns out to be a good piece that I wish it never ended. This is one such book.

This is the story of Bernardo Martinez, a tailor from Nicaragua, who claimed that in 1980, while Nicaragua was in the midst of a civil war, the Virgin Mary appeared to him. The virgin appeared several times, and Bernardo was given the task to propagate the message of the importance of praying the rosary to the Nicaraguans. The tale narrates the various difficulties and challenges that Bernardo had to face, including persecution from the Sandinistas, who wanted to silence him, and the apprehension of the Catholic Church with respect to his visions, mostly because he wasn't the most educated man in Nicaragua.

With respect to the plot, I have nothing bad to say. The author made a great job of writing a novel out of a historical fact. I am not a believer when it comes to the apparition, but I do respect the way other people construct their truth. Bernardo Martinez really existed, and for him, what he saw was the truth. I do not contest that. Truth for me is relative, and we can have contradicting truths because we construct our reality in differing ways. And the events that surrounded the apparition gave the author a lot of material to construct this wonderfully written historical novel.

The novel itself was written in a post-modern style. Every chapter had a different narrator. Somehow, I tended to pick novels in this style; My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, which I read recently, was also of this style. But somehow I think this novel did a better job with respect to this style. After all, having the various different narrators provided the reader with access as to the various different opinions and points of view with respect to the affair of the apparition.

Another aspect of the novel that I liked is the non-linear aspect of narration. For every chapter, there was a date, and the story ran from 1931 to 2000, but it was not chronologically organized. Instead, it was divided into three parts: Innocence, War, and Peace. It was more of a triptych, with three parts spanning various moments in the life of Bernardo Martinez.

Finally, I liked the way the author gave me access to the Nicaraguan lifestyle. I have not been to Nicaragua, so I have no idea how the natives live, but this book was vivid enough to let me glean that from the text. It provided a very nice access to the scenery, and my imagination was more than happy to deal with it.

All in all, I was impressed with this book. I was glad that I picked it up from the library. It provided me with a glimpse of Central America, letting me visit that place in a vicarious manner.

See my other book reviews here.

(Christmas with the Romans, from my DC Buildings Series)


  1. Sidney,

    It was! As with other post-modern fiction that I read, it took a little while getting comfy with it. I hated how it started, but I loved how it ended.