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Sellers-García, Sylvia 1975(?)-

Sellers-García, Sylvia 1975(?)-


Born c. 1975, in Boston, MA. Education: Graduated from Brown University; attended Oxford University and University of California, Berkeley.


Agent—Dorian Karchmar, William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]


Novelist. Also worked at Harper's and the New Yorker.


Julia Ward Howe Book Prize, Boston Authors Club, 2008, for When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep.


When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2007.


In Sylvia Sellers-García's debut novel When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, protagonist Nítido Amán recently lost his job as a teacher for failing to complete his degree. Also, with the death of his father from Alzheimer's disease, Nítido feels somewhat rootless. Nítido takes a journey back to the site of his late father's Guatemalan village of Naranjo to learn the reasons he left years ago and never returned. Reaching a neighboring village called Río Roto, Nítido is mistaken for the new priest and, rather than attempting to change the villagers' minds, he cooperates with their misconception. He quickly comes to understand that the residents of Río Roto are trying to deal with part of their past that has torn them apart. "One local authority, Santos, tells Nítido that, in the wake of a guerrilla massacre, a band of Naranjo men had rescued a newly orphaned infant, Hilario," explained San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Theo Schell-Lambert. "But another, Xinia, says that Hilario wasn't saved at all: He was kidnapped." "The point here," Schell-Lambert concluded, "isn't that the stories conflict, but the way each is, in a sense, correct." "As the realizations unfold, Nítido feels the horror of stumbling among lives disrupted by bloody conflict," stated Jessica Inman in a review for Book-Page. "He's a stranger here, and yet not a stranger at all."

When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep is in fact grounded in Sellers-García's family history. Her mother immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, and one of her uncles—a former member of the Árbenz government that was overthrown by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—was killed in 1972 during one of the country's more recent violent upheavals. The novel "is a personal history violently entwined in the political history of Guatemala," Barbara Bamberger Scott stated in a review for Curled Up with a Good Book, "despoiled by unfeeling dictatorships and savage guerilla forces in almost equal measure. In the long exhausting struggle between these two forces, common people are the losers." "In many essential ways," Sellers-García stated in an interview on her home page, "the silence described in the novel continues to have a hold on many households and towns." In a way, the willingness of the residents of Río Roto to accept Nítido as a priest—even though he is not entitled to call himself one—is a method of atoning for the sin of silence following the massacre at Naranjo. "In terms of politics," Sellers-García continued, "my feeling is that there is a great deal of disillusionment with the political process among Guatemalans…. It's also true that many of the progressive leaders who might have provided political alternatives were effectively exiled, silenced, or killed over the last several decades. Nevertheless, the country is not without other political alternatives."

Reviewers celebrated Sellers-García's accomplishment in When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a "moving tale of mourning and revelation" in which "Sellers-García puts Nítido's secret and hidden origins on a slow-motion collision course with the secrets of the town." "Debut novelist Sellers-García does a fine job with [her] story's powerful historical and political background," a writer for Kirkus Reviews declared, "and she paints a fascinating portrait of enigmatic Xinia, the priest's assistant." Booklist contributor Deborah Donovan wrote: "Sellers-García deftly juxtaposes Nítido's anguish over his lost past with his joy at discovering family he never realized he had." "Unsettling, evocative, and fascinating," Susanne Wells concluded in a review for Library Journal, When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep "is a well-drawn portrait of a time and place very, very different from our own."

Sellers-García told CA: "After the recent election, I would say that there is certainly more guarded optimism among Guatemalans than there was before. The country has not transformed overnight, of course, but there is now more room to be hopeful.

"I first became interested in writing by reading. Like many writers, I'm sure, I remember losing myself in books from an early age. For better or worse, those books shaped my understanding of the world as much as or more than the people around me did. Over time, different books occupied different roles, but books were always my most influential acquaintances. Writing became the way of being in conversation with them.

"I hope that my writing will prompt readers to feel a curiosity and openness toward people and places that may have been previously unknown to them. In the case of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, I would love to hear that reading the book has led the reader to other books. History books, memoirs, and other fictions about the recent Guatemalan past are, I hope, just beyond the last page of the novel."



Booklist, November 15, 2007, Deborah Donovan, review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, p. 20.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007, review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep. Library Journal, October 1, 2007, Susanne Wells, review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, p. 65.

Publishers Weekly, September 10, 2007, review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, p. 37.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 2007, Theo Schell-Lambert, "Man Poses as a Priest, Searching for Memories as His Father Loses His," review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep, p. M-1.


BookPage, (July 17, 2008), Jessica Inman, "First Novel Is a Brilliant Beginning," review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep.

Curled Up with a Good Book, (July 17, 2008), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep.

Sylvia Sellers-García Home Page, (July 17, 2008).

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