“Sylvia Sellers-García writes a marvelous prose: spare, cinematic, utterly compelling. The story – the slow revelation of meaning out of unspoken knowledge and hoarded memories in a Guatemalan village -unfolds with ceremonious dignity. But it is this young novelist’s superb control of pace which astonishes.”

—Inga Clendinnen, author of Reading the Holocaust and Dancing with Strangers

“Mysteries unfold across time and space in this spell-binding journey into Latin America’s tragic past and unsettled present. With grace and verve, Sylvia Sellers-García dissects the baroque heart of a rural village and finds the emotional tissue that binds it to one man’s soul.”

—Héctor Tobar, author of The Tattooed Soldier and Translation Nation

“Sylvia Sellers-García has invented a rich and strange place, and her novel is possessed of a narrative voice that brings to mind the atmosphere and tension of Gabriel García Márquez’s No One Writes to the Colonel. When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep is an extraordinarily assured novel. It’s a mesmerizing debut.”
—Katharine Weber, author of Triangle and The Little Women

“FIRST NOVEL IS A BRILLIANT BEGINNING: Some first novels give the feeling of having grown in a chrysalis, only to emerge at the very height of readiness. Sylvia Sellers-García’s When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep is just that kind of novel… In what might be the book’s best asset, accomplished scholar and short-story writer Sellers-García evokes compassion as she describes historical events on the ground level.” – BookPage

“When the Ground Turns in its Sleep is a complex tale told in simple, lyrical language, on that more faithfully reports the sufferings of the Guatemalan people than does any United Nations document decrying this infamous period of history and its gross abuse of human rights.” — Martha Gies, Women’s Review of Books

“This impressive début is narrated by Nítido Amán, a high-school teacher born in Guatemala but brought up in America. Reading about the atrocities of the nineteen-eighties warfare in his homeland, Amán returns there, in order, he says, “to fill the silences” left by his parents and by “the wide margins of the newspaper.” Arriving in 1993 in an isolated village near his parents’ birthplace, he is mistaken for the town’s new priest, and … the stage is set for the dramatic unravelling of near and distant savageries.” — The New Yorker

“There is nothing in this impressive first novel to suggest that the author is a UC Berkeley PhD candidate in Latin American history. While Sylvia Sellers-García demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the region’s history and literature (as well as a postmodern distrust of conventional narrative), her spare, graceful prose is anything but cerebral or academic… Part folk tale, part noir mystery, part meditation on the burden of history, this is a remarkable debut.” — Sheerly Avni, San Francisco Magazine

“‘When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep’ … investigates the very nature and value of truth – a question that… comes off not as academic but as meaty and salient… A smart inflection in the searching-for-roots trope. History plays not as something to dig up, but something to be.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“After his father’s death in 1993, Nítido Amán leaves Oregon, where their family has lived for years, for Guatemala, where he was born. His parents never spoke of their life in Guatemala, so he hopes to piece together their story, especially their reasons for leaving.
Upon his arrival in Río Roto, where he thinks they lived, Nítido is mistaken for the new priest, so he adopts that role in hopes of solving the puzzle of his parents’ past. He gradually becomes privy to the details of what happened to the village’s inhabitants – both from the confessional, where he hears the names of hundreds who died, and from those villagers who unknowingly assist in his deception. The priest from a neighboring village tells Nítido of the guerrillas who took over Río Roto and the price the village paid for harboring them. Sellers-García deftly juxtaposes Nítido’s anguish over his lost past with his joy at discovering family he never realized he had in this beautifully rendered glimpse into the persistence of cultural identity even through tragedy approaching annihilation.” — Deborah Donovan, Booklist

“In her debut novel, Sellers-Garcia draws from her own experience as a transnational whose cultural identity springs from both the United States and Central America. This beautiful and only partly fictional account features Nitido Aman, an American born in Guatemala. His parents were always kind, but it was clear that discussions about the past were forbidden. A twist of fate leads Nitido to a remote village in Guatemala’s highlands, where he is mistaken for a visiting priest. Having lived through years of horrific guerilla warfare, the villagers each have a cache of unspoken terror. Familiar with his parents’ conspiracy of silence, Nitido is not confounded by what he encounters among the villagers of Rio Roto; their silence staves off what they cannot bear. Sellers-Garcia succeeds in evoking the scent of the mud and the sound of the sugar cane swaying in the wind. Likewise, she reveals the details of the past ever so slowly, so that we gradually come to understand the paralyzing fear the people had to endure. Unsettling, evocative, and fascinating, this is a well-drawn portrait of a time and place very, very different from our own. Highly recommended for collections of literary fiction, especially those with an interest in Central America.” —Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati and Hamilton Cty., OH, Library Journal (starred review)

“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.” — Publisher’s Weekly