12th Sep 2012
Me, Who Dove Into The Heart of the World by Sabina Berman
It’s not even a literal translation of the Mexican author, playwright and screenwriter’s original title, which would be The Woman Who Dived Into the Heart of the World – as indeed, the publishers of the UK version have titled it.
If the pedants allow themselves to get through the first ten-page chapter, they will understand perfectly where the book’s title comes from, and why it is perfect, and why it could not possibly be anything else.
Now, moving swiftly on:
As awareness of the autistic spectrum — and those who fall along it — increases, misconceptions still abound about what is or is not autism.
In the character of Karen Nieto, Berman presents us with both a rounded human being – complete with her flaws and failings, instead of just her genius – and a sympathetic inside look at life with disability.
While we may all laugh at Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, he is, finally, a child in a man’s body; beyond stunted emotional development, his interests include action figures and model trains.
Karen’s aunt is the heiress of a tuna canning company, and works to find a place for her complicated niece in the family business.
It’s here that Karen becomes fascinated with diving and the fish, and ultimately with humane slaughter. Her determination to reduce the stress of the fish before their death makes her a kind of Temple Grandin of tuna, and fuels the passion of her adult life.
Karen is also preoccupied with Descartes’ philosophy, “I think, therefore, I am,” because she believes that every being is defined by existence, not by thought. Her rejection of Descartes is central to her belief that all creatures have an existence that should be valued – that animals deserve the same respect as people.
There are quite a few tree-hugging moments in Me, Who Dove…, but above all Karen’s story is one of personal contentment and her struggle to cope with the demands of a world that she doesn’t understand and that can’t understand her. For Karen, personal contentment involved finding harmony in the natural world in order to find peace within herself.
Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World is available now through Henry Holt & Company in the US (the edition we reviewed) in hardback priced at $24, and through Simon & Schuser in the UK in paperback for £7.94.
Recommended for: Those who appreciate the inner workings of the mind and the complexities of human relationships. Anyone who has ever had a fixation on anything will be taken in by Karen’s passion for tuna.
Other recommended reading: For a first-person account of living with autism, check out Temple Grandin’s extraordinary Thinking in Pictures. If you particularly enjoy the graphic details of food processing and packaging, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation is a must.