Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Woman who Dived into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman

The first novel from Mexican Playwright Sabina Berman is a rather intriguing look at the life and world of an Autistic/Asperger child who grows into a rather remarkable if irascible young lady.
Renamed Karen, Me as she calls herself grew up as a feral child, unwanted and unloved but not entirely neglected, her basic wants and needs were meet but her wild and withdrawn behaviour, her outbursts and rages made her impossible to control and so she was relegated to life below stairs until her Aunt Isabelle arrives on the death of Me/Karens mother, to collect her inheritance which includes the families Tuna Packing Factory and the assorted belongings that go with it.
Stunned that anyone would leave a child in such surroundings, Isabelle begins a journey that will change her life and that of her niece, who with much care and patience responds, learning to express herself and show that although hampered socially by her Autism, she has a very good intellect, one that will allow her to flourish as she becomes her own person and impacts not just on those around her but in a circle that spreads near and far.
Berman`s narrative is driven by the powerful voice of Me/Karen and it is a voice rich with the language that her aunt has taught her and the understanding of the challenges and traps that an autistic would face in a world that will never be entirely welcoming. The portrait that Berman paints for the reader is expansive and very real, her characters are well defined and realistic, a number are quirky and are busy trying to make sense of their own worlds with makes it easier to identify with both them and Karen/Me, some you will like, some you wont. The painful experiences of University life and the forging of friendships are sensitively handled and very realistic, there is humour as well, it can be quite stark and black but that is the way an autistic person would see things. At times the words are quite lyrical and even magical and the descriptions especially of the tuna fishing expeditions were fascinating to me but you have to be open to them as not all readers would feel the same and in certain instances Berman risks losing the reader with over wordy descriptions. All in all the writing was a little uneven and at times the narrative did become disjointed, almost jumping from one point to the next without proper bridging. This is however Berman`s first novel and she may very well improve in these aspects of her writing with more experience, it could also be that translation has taken something away from Berman`s writing.
This was an interesting read which I much enjoyed, there is plenty of learning for the willing reader in its pages and the character of Me/Karen will stay with me for a sometime.
My copy of this book was an ARC from Penguin Books via Booksellers NZ, I thank them for providing it.

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