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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Me, Who Dove into
the Heart of the World


by
Sabina Berman


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World



Title: Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
Author: Sabina Berman
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 242 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World - US
La mujer que buceó dentro del corazón del mundo - US
The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World - UK
Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World - Canada
Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World - India
Moi - France
Die Frau, die ins Innerste der Welt tauchte - Deutschland
La donna che si immerse nel cuore del mondo - Italia
La mujer que buceó dentro del corazón del mundo - España
  • Spanish title: La mujer que buceó dentro del corazón del mundo
  • US title: Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
  • UK title: The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World
  • Translated by Lisa Dillman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : striking, and well-done -- but also very bizarre

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Observer . 6/10/2012 Adam Feinstein
Publishers Weekly . 2/7/2012 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Berman's book glows with its very own enticing charm and assurance. Her portrayal of Karen is alluringly perceptive on many aspects of the autistic condition -- echolalia, the quest for sensory arousal, an inability to lie or to understand metaphors." - Adam Feinstein, The Observer

  • "The unique voice -- lyrical and questioning, is powerful enough to carry the story, but the conservation plot line adds an extra boost." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World or, as the UK title has it, The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World -- is narrated by the now forty one-year old Karen Nieto. Spending her earliest years as a feral child, her aunt took over her upbringing after she inherited the family's Mazatlán mansion and Consolation Tuna cannery. Karen is apparently autistic: she has difficulties with many social activities and norms -- "I seem not to feel all those complicated things and imaginary things that standard humans feel" -- and functions at basic elementary-school level in certain areas even now -- but she also excels in others: she has an excellent memory, superior spatial awareness and attention span, and excellent organizational abilities. As her aunt explained to her:

in 90% of standard measures of intelligence you are somewhere between imbecile an idiot, but in 10% you are on top of the world.
       Karen generally doesn't shake hands or look people in the eye. She is confounded by the future tense ("How could you talk about a time that doesn't exist and nobody knopws what it will be like when it does ?") and metaphors ("Metaphors undermine the truth of your information. Why the hell can't you people live without metaphors ?" she complains). She's incapable of lying or fantasizing.
       Her aunt came to see the child's abilities and did her best to foster them. Eventually, Karen even went to university -- though she stuck a label on her chest saying: "Different Abilities" to warn her professors and classmates. She's also a test subject for the students of the Quanitative Psychology class, while she studies animal husbandry.
       Karen is fascinated by the family fishing business -- which is faring poorly after the US banned imports from Mexico, ostensibly because the tuna-catch also netted dolphins. Karen literally swims with the fishes, observing them and what happens to them closely; she devises more humane ways of catching and slaughtering them, and ensures that dolphins aren't harmed in the process. Eventually, she even moves upmarket -- and away from Mexico -- developing a process that guarantees the highest quality tuna meat, the catch now sold for sushi rather than canned.
       In summary, this is a bizarre story -- and in its details it is frequently even more bizarre. Among the figures playing prominent roles are a professor who first introduces Karen to the idea of humane slaughter, aggressive (and occasionally very creative) animal rights activists, as well as a worldly business partner who has a knack for turning most everything, including Karen's different abilities (and one of her inventions), to his advantage. Karen eventually shows a bit imagination (and understanding of the future tense) in planning and looking ahead. Still, this is a protagonist whose business card for most of the novel reads: 'Engineer in Humane Slaughter' and who still occasionally finds the need to rig up a harness so she can rest like a dead fish, or wander around in her wetsuit (with and without flippers).
       Repeatedly Karen brings up Descartes and Darwin -- despising the former, worshipping the latter. The notion of cogito ergo sum baffles her -- and she thinks it has held humanity back from properly understanding and relating to wildlife:
if I were world secretary of education, I would burn all of Descartes's books, and not only his but also all books by all writers who think like him -- approximately 99% of those published in the past 3 centuries -- and students, trees, and fauna would thank Me for it.
       Karen is an unusual narrator, of course, recounting entirely without emotion. There are numerous scenes of industrial animal slaughter that can be hard to take, but even these she presents entirely neutrally; the lack of any moral outrage or emotional reaction on her part makes these even more disturbing than they already are. Yet Karen does move towards some understanding of animals that has an emotional aspect to it, and eventually does take on an entirely different role -- making, all in all, an intriguing (if rather unlikely) journey of personal and public discovery.
       Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World a truly odd book. In some ways it seems entirely formulaic, and yet it's also strikingly original. There are constantly surprises in the plot, yet as bizarre as it all is it somehow doesn't feel unreasonable. Certainly, Berman's command of tone helps sustain the narrative and holds it together -- even as that voice is such an odd one. There are inspired ideas and scenes -- including the revenge exacted on Professor Huntington, the top American expert on slaughterhouses -- and perhaps one reason the novel is so involving is because Berman does so many so very different settings and situations so well.
       Ultimately, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is unsettling much as (and certainly also because -- though not solely) Karen herself is unsettling -- fascinating yet difficult to deal with up-close. In that sense, the novel is entirely successful. Yet a nagging feeling remains, that much of the novel is also flawed -- from its unlikely characters and many of the episodes to the plot itself.
       Perhaps the reason the novel causes so much unease is that Karen can, by definition, not be seen as an unreliable narrator, even as the story of Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World seems like an entirely unreliable one .....
       Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is certainly a remarkable novel, but it's hard not to have very mixed feelings about this (but, again: that presumably was also Berman's intention). It is a compelling, disturbing, and frustrating read -- and certainly an unusual and eminently readable work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 December 2012

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Links:

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Sabina Berman is a Mexican author and playwright.

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© 2012 the complete review

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