Friday, October 2, 2020

Freeform Friday: Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World - Sabina Berman

Summary:  As intimate as it is profound, and as clear-eyed as it is warmhearted, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World marks an extraordinary fiction debut by the award-winning Mexican playwright, journalist, and poet Sabin Berman.

Karen Nieto passed her earliest years as a feral child, left alone to wander the vast beach property near her family's failing tuna cannery.  But when her aunt Isabelle comes to Mexico to take over the family business, she discovers amid the squalor a real girl.  So begins a miraculous journey for autistic savant Karen, who finds freedom not only in the love and patient instruction of her aunt but eventually at the bottom of the ocean swimming among the creatures of the sea.  Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World takes us on a global journey that explores how we live, what we eat, and how our lives can defy even our own wildest expectations.

(Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  The first thing you should know is that I just got stung by a bee and had to take two Benadryl when my throat started to feel funny.  I shouldn't even be typing right now, but I am.  This could be a disaster.

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is  an undeniably well-written, character-driven story, filled with all sorts of moments that would make a seasoned writer drool.  As such, I probably should have enjoyed it more than I did.  I loved the premise and the main character but often didn't understand everything she was trying to say.  I got the sense that I was missing a deeper point, but didn't ever feel like expending the effort to dig it up. 

While I didn't always get things, there were parts of the story that I truly enjoyed, such as small moments of humor and tenderness, and themes about happiness and the value of both human and non-human life.  Additionally, the narrator's autism affects how she sees, interprets, and reacts to the world around her and offered a compelling glimpse of what it might be like to live on the spectrum.  As the main character grows, she learns how to better navigate her world (e.g. how to find comfort and how to communicate emotion through mimicry) and, as I read, her perspective helped me understand how to better relate with others on the spectrum.

I'm feeling a bit woozy right now, but I want to share a line from the book that I've had rolling around in my head a bit.  I feel like it illustrates both the writers skill and the depth (that I didn't always get):  To exist, which for ME is to unlearn to rush.  To relax the muscles of my heart and let it beat in its own time.  To be in the heat of the sun without thinking heat.  To eat when hunger is hungry and give in to the tiredness that arrives with nightfall and darkness covers things and things in the darkness can rest.  Just to be.  To be and to see.  And to see all that is as it is, while it is, today, because we don't know if it will be, tomorrow.

Despite its strengths, Me Who Dove into the Heart of the World did not fill the reading void I was hoping it would fill.  It was many things that a good book should be but I simply wasn't riveted to the page.  In the end, you get out what you put in.  I opted to snorkel on the surface of things rather than take a deep dive.  Perhaps, if I had, this review might have turned out differently.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Plenty of swearing and some crude language.  I eventually stopped keeping track.  The narrator is an autistic savant with little to no 'filter'.  Occasionally she will say, write, or do things that seem far outside the norm of typical human behavior (such as taking off her shirt in front of a man to show him the scars on her back). Other times people will say things or try to do things to her that she doesn't really understand, but the reader will (like when that same man tried to touch her inappropriately).  The main character also describes sexual situations from a very literal, technical standpoint that can be both detailed and uncomfortable.  The R word is occasionally used to refer to her intelligence.

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