Sergio Ramirez: “I Live in Nicaragua Through Literature”

Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez during an interview in Panama City. Photo: EFE/Bienvenido Velasco

“To have one’s country taken away, to have the doors of return closed, will always be a sorrow. One must know how to endure it,” says the writer from exile.

By EFE (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez “lives” in Nicaragua through his literature, even in his most recent book, despite his exile since 2021 and the loss of his nationality, which he refuses to relinquish, as it is in that “imaginary” country where his childhood, life, and memories remain.

“My writing always returns me to the lost country, which becomes an imaginary country. Everything that is in memory is imaginary. One reconstructs, and what one does not remember, one invents. That is the writer’s craft,” said the Cervantes Prize winner in an interview with EFE.

“I can say that I always live in that country (Nicaragua) through literature,” Ramirez notes from Panama for the XI edition of Centroamérica Cuenta, the largest itinerant literary festival in the region, dedicated this year to the Nicaraguan-Salvadoran poet Claribel Alegría.

This event, founded by Ramírez in Managua in 2013, is being held for the first time in Panama from Wednesday to Sunday, bringing together important Latin American writers such as Gioconda Belli, Leonardo Padura, and Horacio Castellanos Moya, among others.

Sergio Ramirez, Denationalized and in Exile

In 2023, the Nicaraguan government, led by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, stripped him of his nationality —along with 94 others— but two years earlier, a detention order had been issued against him, forcing him into a second exile after his forced departure during the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s.

“Worse than being deprived of my country by being prevented from returning is being told that I never belonged to that country. That is fiction. No one can take away the country where one was born, but I have to take it as an act of dictatorial imposition, refuse to accept it, but live it as a reality,” says Ramirez.

Since then, he has lived in Spain, recalling that his native country of volcanoes and lakes through his books like “El caballo dorado” (Alfaguara, 2024) and “Tongolele no sabía bailar” (Alfaguara, 2021), the two most recent works set in Nicaragua.

“I believe that every writer has a leading element that is their own reality and experience. A country is not an individual; a country is childhood, memory, experience… it is life. Therefore, the best way to miss a country is through literature, doing what’s possible,” asserts Sergio Ramirez.

The writer was an active part of Nicaragua’s history: he participated in the Sandinista revolution and after overthrowing Somoza, he became Ortega’s vice president during the Sandinista government (1985-1990). However, after losing the elections to Violeta Chamorro and disagreeing with his former guerrilla companion’s actions, Ramírez distanced himself from politics.

Reflecting on that past, the author admits, “If I were to have the age again, I would surely do exactly the same thing.”

Writing as a Healing Process

For the novelist, writing is a process of “accountability” that helps to heal complicated moments, like this latest exile, which he describes as “harsh,” but “bearable” thanks to this craft.

“If it hadn’t been invented as a punishment, it wouldn’t be harsh. To have one’s country taken away, to have the doors of return closed, will always be a sorrow. One must know how to endure it, and I think the best way (…) is by writing about that country, not forgetting it. It will always return in memories through writing,” he says.

While resigning himself to not forgetting Nicaragua, he states: “I think one is always appealing to one’s own conscience to write, there is always a dialogue with oneself. Writing becomes an accountability, which is good healing.”

Ramirez’s literary universe is inspired by —or located in— Nicaragua, an example of which is his latest work: “El caballo dorado,” a picaresque novel that unleashes the novelist’s imagination traveling from the Carpathian region during the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Managua in 1917, under US military occupation.

The 2017 Cervantes Prize winner begins that book with a quote from “Don Quixote” to narrate “the journey that the carousel (and) the (lame) princess makes from the Carpathians (…) until reaching the coasts of Nicaragua at a time when a dictator is being overthrown and the country is experiencing the US military occupation.”

“This is a novel about lost illusions and great dreams,” he adds.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.