From Publishers Weekly
After writing two books about Helen Keller, historian Nielsen (The Radical Lives of Helen Keller
) vowed she would never again write anything even remotely related to her. Fortunately, she couldn't help herself: upon reviewing the letters of Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, Nielsen became convinced [we] had shortchanged the woman known only as the teacher of Helen Keller. Through Sullivan's correspondence and notes, Nielsen remedies this lack with a lightly fictionalized autobiography drawing on the written impressions of Keller and others. Nielsen devotedly chronicles Sullivan's emergence as an opinionated and intelligent if troubled woman who was born poor, afflicted early on with a debilitating eye disease and abandoned to an almshouse after her mother's death. Luck and innate ability plucked her out of the asylum and placed her in the classroom. But Nielsen concedes that Sullivan's relationship with Keller took center stage in both the public consciousness and private life. Citing historical uncertainty, Nielsen self-consciously skims over Sullivan's early teaching methods, including that iconic moment at the water pump—the very moment we all wonder about. 4 b&w photos. (May)
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Nearly a footnote to history, Anne Sullivan Macy achieved both fame and notoriety as Helen Keller’s devoted teacher—the so-called miracle worker who took an obstreperous, willful deaf and blind child and transformed her into a gifted communicator. Given her inauspicious start in life as an orphaned resident of a fetid almshouse straight out of Dickens, Macy improbably succeeded, only to have her groundbreaking achievements eclipsed by her student’s charisma. Always a headstrong personality, Macy earned legions of detractors as a result of her firm handling of her prize pupil. Yet through it all, Keller and Macy forged a loving, lifelong bond that superseded all other familial and romantic attachments. Historian Nielsen focuses attention on Macy’s troubled beginnings, her own devastating eye ailments, and her prodigious ambition to create a considerate yet equitable biography of a complex woman whose singular contributions to the burgeoning field of education for the blind have often been misjudged. --Carol Haggas