cover image When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep

When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep

Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, . . Riverhead, $24.95 (325pp) ISBN 978-1-59448-954-9

As Sellers-García’s rich debut opens in 1993, Nítido Amán is seeking his origins in Guatemala following his father’s death by spending a year as a teacher in the remote village of Río Roto. His father had said that the Amáns came from a place “very near there,” but was never specific as to the family’s home village. Upon arrival, Nítido is immediately mistaken for an arriving priest and is too tired at first to correct the man who meets his bus and settles him in the sacristry. When, the next morning, his innocent questions about the burned schoolhouse and the path to a certain village are met with evasion, stony silence and worse, Nítido begins to suspect that Río Roto hides a deep trauma. On the third morning, when he is suddenly called in to give a woman last rites, Nítido, for reasons even he doesn’t fully understand, tacitly accepts the role of priest. In a moving tale of mourning and revelation, Sellers-García puts Nítido’s secret and hidden origins on a slow-motion collision course with the secrets of the town. While the pace is slowed by Nítido’s letters to his dead father, this spare and vivid debut brings together wrenching personal and political histories. (Jan.)