Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Helen Keller In Love

Helen Keller In Love by Rosie Sultan

Publication Date: April 26, 2012
Publisher: Penguin USA
Genre: Historical Romance
Pages: Hardcover, 256pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0670023493
ISBN: 0670023493

(Received for an honest review from Viking)

Rosie Sultan on the WEB: Webpage, Facebook

Excerpt from Helen Keller In Love


Helen Keller has long been a towering figure in the pantheon of world heroines. Yet the enduring portrait of her in the popular imagination is The Miracle Worker, which ends when Helen is seven years old. Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines a part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke of or wrote about: the man she once loved. When Helen is in her thirties and Anne Sullivan is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a young man steps in as a private secretary. Peter Fagan opens a new world to Helen, and their sensual interactions—signing and lipreading with hands and fingers—quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair. It’s not long before Helen’s secret is discovered and met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. As pressure mounts, the lovers plot to elope, and Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.

Richly textured and deeply sympathetic, Sultan’s highly inventive telling of a story Keller herself would not tell is both a captivating romance and a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of an inspirational figure.


Rosie Sultan takes a risky move with a controversial story based on Helen Keller's adult life. Helen Keller in Love features Helen long after the popular movie depicting her early life, "The Miracle Worker." Sultan uses Helen's own voice to tell a fictional account of her relationship with her one time secretary, Peter Fagan. Sultan also delves into the restrictions of Helen's life and her speaking career. A very interesting book showing Helen Keller in a very different light than readers are used to.

Helen Keller is a woman that most readers have heard about. They were probably even taught about her as school children. She was a remarkable woman, humanitarian, and speaker. But very little is known about Helen's personal life, since her family believed in keeping things very private and very safe where Helen was concerned. Rosie Sultan gives readers a glimpse into Helen as a person. The things that she was passionate about and the people she surrounded herself with. Readers need to keep in mind that is not a factual account, it is fictional and gives insight in to what Helen may have been feeling and doing during this time in her life. 

Many readers already know that Helen was blind and deaf and that Annie Sullivan was a teacher employed by her family to teach her about the world around her. Annie has a huge impact on Helen's life and effectively gave her a voice. Helen eventually learned lip-touching, Braille and sign language. She became a wonderful speaker and supported not only herself but Annie as well after the death of her father. 

Helen began to interject many of her own political views into her speaking and eventually she became one of the founders of ALCU. Not much has been recorded historically about Helen's very staunch political views or her relationship with Peter Fagan. Rosie Sultan tells this story through Helen's own voice and makes her real to the reader. Here is a young woman who has been very sheltered and restricted due to her handicaps. She finally comes into contact with a young man and he only sees dollar signs and not the wonderful person she really is. That must have been a shock and difficult heartbreak.

I thought Sultan did a wonderful job with this book, though there are moments when the story drags a little bit. She took a risk by depicting Helen, a much revered historical figure as less than perfect, but I think she pulled it off with style. Helen was after all only human. Sultan's research is evident in every page. She obviously was very passionate about the subject and felt this story deserved to be heard. The writing is smooth and elegant and truly shows the reader a young woman in love and in heartache. A very well written novel!

Helen Keller In Love is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Rosie Sultan won a PEN Discovery Award for fiction. She earned her MFA at Goddard College and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught writing at Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, and Suffolk University. She lives with her husband and son outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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