Saturday, June 22, 2013

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman

Sabina Berman touchingly illuminates social interactions from the clearly focused, often times cutting perspective of Karen Nieto, autistic erudite specializing in cruelty free tuna-fishing.

Karen grows up without language or socialization until her mentally-ill mother's death results in her being adopted by her aunt. Karen slowly learns to become conscious of herself and her behavior, beginning with learning the words "me" and "you," to a lifelong fascination with Descartes, Darwin, and her commitment to the fundamental rights of all creatures.

That someone could so completely imagine such a different way of thinking and foreign self-awareness is incredible, and Berman creates Karen with such a careful, steady voice that you never doubt her "different abilities" (as Karen herself refers to her autism). This is not a novel so fixated on Karen's genius with the development of stress-free tuna harvesting that it pays no attention to the problems her condition make for her. Indeed, Karen rarely fantasizes, can't lie, and is as blunt as you could fathom, yet the depth of her emotional experiences and integrity make for a stunningly unique picture of human nature.

Karen is a character who brilliantly exposes the nuances of people purportedly better suited for social interactions than herself. Sometimes it seems as if others' vices, greed, naivety, or self interest are magnified by her viewpoint, and this is the most cutting element of her story. It's a bittersweet commentary on how we value life, in all of its varieties.

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