Divine Punishment
  • Author: Ramirez, Sergio
  • Binding: Clothbound, sewn, jacketed
  • Pages: 512
  • Size: 5.5x8.5"
  • Pub. Year: 2015
  • ISBN: 978-1-62054-014-5
  • In Stock: No
Price: $30.00



Read sample pages: Opening chapters (pdf)

Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor with Hebe Powell.

Winner upon its original publication of the International Dashiell Hammett Prize, Divine Punishment was declared by Carlos Fuentes to be the quintessential Central American novel. In this, the greatest work of a storied literary career, Sergio Ramírez transforms the most celebrated criminal trial in Nicaraguan history—the alleged murders in 1933 of two high society women and his employer by a Casanova named Oliverio Castañeda—into an examination of the entire Nicaraguan society at the brink of the first Somosa dictatorship. Passion, money, sex, gossip, political intrigue, medical malpractice and judicial corruption all merge into a novel that reads like a courtroom drama wrapped in yellow journalism disguised as historical fiction posing as a scandal of the first order.

Divine Punishment has been translated into many languages, but never before into English.

Publication of Divine Punishment was celebrated with appearances by the author and translator on May 6, 2015 at the Americas Society in New York City (in association with Instituto Cervantes, NYC) during the PEN World Voices festival.

Divine Punishment is by far the best novel by Sergio Ramírez, former vice-president of Nicaragua, and one of my favorite novels, period. Set in the Nicaraguan city of León in the 1930s, and based on a true story, it concerns the case of Oliverio Castaneda, a young charmer and social climber accused of killing neighbors, patrons, and lovers by poisoning. The convoluted affair (still used as a case study in Central American law schools) was never solved, and Ramírez himself cagily leaves it open-ended. Hilarious, riveting, beautifully constructed and written.” – Dan Bellm

"Divine Punishment is a chronicle of (apparent) murder and the prosecution of the man presumably responsible, but it's also a portrait of the society and structures of that time. Among the conflicts that form part of the narrative is the ongoing one between two of the local doctors, who take very different positions regarding the causes of death (and the proper assessment of the post mortem evidence) -- a charged relationship between mentor and student that shifts as the case progresses. Though arguably provincial, this León is not some simple backwater town; among the interesting dynamics are also those between the local establishment and the outsiders involved in the case (notably the judge and, of course, Castañeda).
Even as so much documentation is presented in Divine Punishment, Ramírez's novel does not feel simply documentary; it is not a simple case-account or procedural. Yet Ramírez also scrupulously avoids taking advantage of his authorial position in guiding readers to specific conclusions: even as the unpleasant Castañeda's guilt can hardly be questioned, Divine Punishment remains in many ways a murky tale (appropriately sinking in particularly dark mire in its resolution, and Castañeda's fate).
All in all, it's an unusual piece of fiction: part legal-criminal thriller, part period-piece, often with a subversive little humorous touch, Divine Punishment doesn't conform to many expectations, but proves, in going its own (distinctive, roundabout) way, successful in its own right."--Michael Orthofer, THE COMPLETE REVIEW (complete-review.com)

“... Ramírez extends Flaubert's techniques to a whole society, which becomes a true microcosm of Central America, for although located in Leon, Nicaragua, the action reverberates in Costa Rica and Guatemala. . . . Melodrama is comedy without humor. Sergio Ramírez returns the smile to the newspaper serial, but in the end this smile freezes on the lips—we are back in the heart of the darkness. Between the fullness of comedy and the imminence of tragedy, Sergio Ramírez has written the great novel of Central America—the novel that it was necessary to have in order to reach an intimacy with its peoples, to visit the edge between their traditional recalcitrance and their potential for renewal. . .”—Carlos Fuentes

“As with the works of Henry James, Divine Punishment is an epic of consciousness. But unlike them, the consciousness stirred here is not individual but collective ... Sergio Ramírez draws one of the most formidable portraits of bourgeois hypocrisy ever written in Latin America...”—Tomás Eloy Martinez

“...the main character is language, as well as the entire society of the city of Leon. . . . [Divine Punishment] is a poetic novel, as well as being dramatic and pathetic, and tragic, humorous, macabre, romantic, realistic, and political . . .”—Ernesto Cardenal

"“Divine Punishment is a darkly comic detective novel set in León in 1933. A stranger comes to town with all the latest fox-trot records and is welcomed into the hearts and beds of the mother and two daughters of the most respectable family in town. Soon the young wife and the paterfamilias drop dead, apparently poisoned. Justice has nothing to do with power, as the young investigative judge sent from the capital soon finds out. A ripping good read, set in the author's hometown ten years before his birth.”—John Oliver Simon

Sergio Ramirez was awarded the 2014 Carlos Fuentes Prize of $250,000 for his entire oeuvre by the government of Mexico. He was born in Masatepe, Nicaragua in 1942. His first book was published in 1963; the following year he earned a law degree at the University of Nicaragua. After a lengthy voluntary exile in Costa Rica and Germany —during which he continued to write works of fiction and nonfiction — he became active as the leader of the Group of Twelve, consisting of intellectuals, businessmen and priests united against the Somoza regime.

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