23 August 2012

Book Review: Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman

I received a copy of this book from my MPS sales rep, Bob, because (if I recall correctly) there weren't any more ARCs of the book. This book caught my eye because it was published to great critical acclaim in Mexico by a major poet, dramatist, and journalist, and yet I'd never heard of her.  Such is the myopathy of American readers like me, much to our discredit.

This is the story of Karen Nieto, an autistic child who runs wilder than the feral dogs & cats of her neighborhood until around the age of eight.  Unspeaking, and thus unable to give voice to the unspeakable horrors she has survived at the hands of her mother, she learns language at the hands of her aunt. Her aunt is the new mistress of her family's fishery & cannery, Consuelo Tuna, and as Karen learns to speak and to navigate the bewildering social world of humans, she discovers an affinity for thinking like fish.  For the first time in her life, Karen has somebody who encourages her to think of what she can accomplish, rather than be fettered by her differences.

The obvious parallel for me was Temple Grandin, and I kept flashing back to what I know of Grandin from the bibopic made of her life (sadly, I never read any of Grandin's books).  Both young women have difficulty in college in their identical fields of study. Like Grandin's special cattle cage that she crawls into during times of stress, Karen puts on a wetsuit and then suspends herself from a ceiling harness.  Like Grandin, who could visualize animals' fear in the abbatoir and devised far more humane methods of slaughter, Karen can see things from the tuna's point of view and she revamps the entire fishing industry.

So while certain plot points may feel familiar based on what I know of Temple Grandin's life, the main thing underlying this book is Karen's success on her terms in a world that befuddles, irritates, and scares her.  I also think that it is a triumph of translation, as Karen's first-person voice is clear and consistent, so brava to Lisa Dillman for her work on this novel, too.  People who have read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night will know what I mean about reading Karen's distinctive first person voice.

NB: I requested and received a comp copy of this book from my sales rep, Bob, when I placed my summer '12 frontlist order. I don't believe any ARCs were available, so the copy I read was a finished copy. It's published by Holt. 


  1. Emily - is there a podcast of your Roundtable discussion on NPR?

    1. I just checked WAMC's website and they have the listing up but not the audio yet. Sometimes it takes them a few days to get the audio proponent listed, but here's the website if you want to check it occasionally to see if it's up yet:


    2. Thanks, dear! I think it will be so fun to hear your voice.

  2. I have all of Temple Grandin's books on my WishList...such an interested story. While our college kids shopped in Ireland when I was there this last spring, I was in the bookstore taking pics of books with my Iphone (taking pics bc there were so many I wanted to add to my lists and it was faster to bunch them together and take snapshots instead of try and type them all on a list right then and there). These were incredible looking books by Irish authors that I'd never even heard of...it made me crazy to think what all we may be missing out on in other countries!

  3. I've never heard of the author either but that sounds really interesting, especially since I liked Curious Incident. I'll have to get my hands on a copy.


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