WHEN THE GROUND TURNS IN ITS SLEEP by Sylvia Sellers-García

WHEN THE GROUND TURNS IN ITS SLEEP

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Looking for his roots, a young American travels to rural Guatemala in 1993.

Nítido Amán’s immigrant parents were always tight-lipped about their early life. He travels to Río Roto, the village he’s surmised they may have come from, only after a spate of trouble in his own life. Dismissed from a teaching job, Nítido goes to Oregon to nurse his dying and terribly diminished father. (The story of his stay in Río Roto is addressed to him.) Nítido is a bewildered pilgrim, not sure why he’s there or for how long or on what terms. When he’s mistaken for the priest the town has been promised, he plays along, thinking the vestments and the trust accorded them will help him get the answers he wants. But Río Roto is a suspicious, hostile and above all a sorrowful place; no one is very forthcoming with this young foreigner. Early on it becomes clear that the answers to Nítido’s questions will be found in Naranjo. This village splintered off from Río Roto, and its very name evokes grimaces of disgust from townsfolk. Debut novelist Sellers-García does a fine job with his story’s powerful historical and political background, and he paints a fascinating portrait of enigmatic Xinia, the priest’s assistant, guide and liaison to Río Roto. But Nítido remains an oddly incurious cipher, the prose is plodding and the plot twists easily anticipated. The author tries much too hard to channel Gabriel García-Marquez and the great Mexican political novelist Juan Rulfo.

Atmospheric, to be sure, but all atmosphere.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59448-954-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2007