Narrated by a savant rescued from a feral existence by a woman who discovers her in the basement of the house she inherits in Mazatlán, Mexico, this is a novel of ideas masquerading as a story about sustainable tuna fishing. Preposterous as that sounds, it's an assured and satisfying debut.
Isabelle Nieto arrives in Mazatlán to collect her inheritance: a tuna-packing company, a fleet of fishing boats and a dilapidated mansion. The company is successful. Isabelle is wealthy, determined. When she learns from the housekeeper, Gorda, that the feral child trashing the basement is a tenant of sorts, Isabelle investigates. She brings the wild thing up, teaches it to read and write. Karen is "born." Suffering from what we call Asperger’s syndrome, Karen proceeds to change the world, one tuna harvest at a time. Ideas perfume the narrative as thoroughly as wine does stew. To Karen’s way of thinking, Darwin refutes Descartes. How strange “standard human” behavior appears, how bizarre our ideas are, when seen from her peculiar perspective. Karen hates metaphor. Not because she doesn’t understand it, but because she experiences it as lying. This leads to conflict, violent and scabrous; also to hilarious comedy and genuine insight. Even if her migration from the cellar to the jet set is too pat, her revelation a bit trite, Karen is a fully realized character.
A satisfying novel.