Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World
A Novel by Sabina Berman
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
(2010) 2012 / 256 Pages
When Isabelle Nieto inherits her family’s failing tuna fishery after the death of her sister, she moves to the Nieto estate in Mexico in hopes of reviving the business. Soon after moving into the new house, Isabel encounters a strange and wild young girl who seems to be living in the basement. The housekeeper says that Isabelle’s sister took pity on the girl and gave her a place to stay out of “charity,” but Isabelle knows that child must be her niece, Karen.
At first, Karen appears to be permanently brain damaged and “dim-witted,” but Isabelle immediately notices something different about Karen – a spark behind her eyes, a potential to thrive, and an unusual affinity for animals and sea creatures. Thinking that Karen might be stimulated by the activities at the tuna facilities, Isabelle begins to take her to the cannery in between reading and language lessons. It soon becomes apparent that, while Karen might be considered far below average in most fields of education, she excels in other areas of brain development. And while Karen may struggle with daily tasks and human interaction in general, her ability to understand and empathize with animals lead her on a spectacular journey of curiosity, discovery, experience, and wealth. Written from Karen’s extraordinary perspective, Me, Who Dove Into the Hear of the World is structured to mimic the way Karen sees the world – full of surprises, confusing, overwhelming, multifaceted, and completely mesmerizing.
When Karen later attends college, she learns that she is a “highly functioning autistic,” but Karen’s own perspective on her condition is much more fascinating. She says:
I don’t feel those 101 things that are somewhere between pain, fear, and happiness, or between hunger and sleepiness. Which, the way I see it, it to my advantage.
I mean, I know that I am dimwitted, at least compared to standard humans. I know that on standard IQ tests I score somewhere between idiot and imbecile. But I have 3 virtues, and they are big ones.
1. I don’t know how to lie.
2. I don’t fantasize, so things that don’t exist don’t worry Me or hurt Me.
3. I know that I only know what I know, and that what I don’t know – which is a lot more – I am sure I don’t know.
With this unique perspective, Karen accomplishes much more for the tuna company than her aunt ever imagined. As she goes on to achieve wealth, national fame and recognition, her three virtues remain unchanged, and this is what makes Karen such a memorable and compelling character. While her environment is constantly evolving, Karen remains true to herself, her family, and her intentions. Sabina Berman has created such a funny, original, and complex character and voiced her in a way makes readers envy Karen for the elegance of her mind. It is not overcrowded with anxieties, fantasies, and fear, and despite her test scores, she does not lack intelligence or compassion. Karen Nieto is one of the most pure literary characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter, and Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World should be celebrated for its brilliance and charm.