Her Central American roots have inspired this novel by Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, which takes place in the beautiful but perilous killing fields of rural Guatemala.
The book begins with a deception. Nitido Aman, an American who was born in Guatemala, returns to the land he left at age
three, determined to learn more about his father, who has recently died in the clutches of Alzheimer's Disease. His father left hand-written journals which lead Nitido on, even though the entries are puzzling and disjointed. When Nitido arrives in the tiny town of Rio Roto ("broken river"), he is mistaken for the priest who was expected there and, confused himself, he takes on the mantle of the local "Father."
In this guise, Nitido learns some strange lore: no one will talk to him about Naranjo, a nearby village where his father was originally from, no one will enter the sacristy where he is quartered, and in hearing confessions, he discovers that the villagers believe that their mysterious physical ailments are caused by sin and require spiritual absolution. Nitido meets an earthy, enigmatic woman named Xinia and the former priest of Naranjo, both of whom gradually begin to reveal the brutal truths about his father's hometown.
It is a personal history violently entwined in the political history of Guatemala, 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, and the web of deceit and fear spread wide, affecting everyone Nitido contacts.
This rich and satisfying tale is told in a series of flashbacks to Nitido's childhood and his recent memories of his dying father. Putting together his father's fractured and tormented role in the country's desperate aspirations for freedom involves suffering, both mental and physical, for the young man. He receives unbearable revelations, is attacked and nearly killed by his own relatives, and finally finds both love and acceptance even as he is making a decision to leave Rio Roto. Failed as a teacher in the United States because of his lack of an advanced degree, he realizes that he has much to give in the country of his birth. He even learns that he can be forgiven for his sin of deception; a new priest has miraculously been located and no one will admit to having suspected him of being anything other than a real Father.