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Helen Keller in Love: A Novel Hardcover – April 26, 2012
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“Rosie Sultan is adventurous—and brave. She has immersed herself in every available piece of information about Keller and, to an amazing degree, puts herself into her heroine’s silent, dark world. Sultan looks within, telling Helen’s story in the first person. We are taken into the isolation and limitations that Keller lived with her entire life. . . . Helen Keller in Love is touching and fun to read. . . . Sultan has given the adult Helen Keller a new voice and reminds us of both her brilliance and her humanity.”—The Washington Post
“Captivating . . . a riveting story.”—Good Housekeeping
“Ambitious. Sultan’s sensibility is consistently contemporary, a wise choice given Keller’s distinctly modern views. An advocate for women’s rights, an unapologetic socialist and fierce opponent to World War I, Keller exposed and challenged oppression and prejudice in all its myriad forms. Her voice in this novel is evocative of any current celebrity’s. She feels imprisoned by her reputation and her fans’ expectations of her, weary of being the meal ticket for her family, and harassed by the press. As much as she loves and needs Annie, she also chafes at their interdependence. And above all, she is unashamed of her own sexuality, eager to express it, and resentful of her mother and sister’s determination to keep her pure and caged within the confines of propriety. . . . Sultan does a fine job of demonstrating how Keller navigates the world with just three senses.”—Boston Globe
“Going well beyond Keller’s Miracle Worker days . . . Sultan convincingly imagines that this much-admired if oversimplified icon wanted nothing more than to be treated like a woman.—Patty Wetli, Booklist
“With empathy, imagination, and vivid sensory detail, Rosie Sultan’s Helen Keller in Love gives voice—and scent and touch—to an iconic American heroine during a little known chapter in her life.”
—Jane Mendelsohn, author of I Was Amelia Earhart
“In this richly imagined and moving novel, Rosie Sultan brings alive the history of Helen Keller—the brilliant miraculous creature who stole the heart and sympathy of the world—while also exploring how she must have felt as a woman: the loneliness, longing,and great vulnerability. The result is a vivid, sensuous portrait full of sound and vision.”
—Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes
“Helen Keller in Love is involving, passionate, and deeply felt. It tells this little-known, remarkable story with a loving heart, beautiful language, and great commitment to its heroine. Helen Keller was a woman with blood in her veins—this book makes you feel it.”
—Martha Southgate, author of The Taste of Salt
“Eye-opening and thoroughly involving . . . This well-written novel will appeal to those who enjoy women’s fiction as well as readers of historical and biographical fiction. A thoroughly enjoyable read that should entice many to seek out one of the biographies Sultan recommends in an afterword.”—Library Journal
“Debut novelist Rosie Sultan’s Helen Keller in Love spins a tale of forbidden love, invoking scents, textures and tastes on every page to show how Helen ‘saw’ the world. She grounds the story in well-known incidents from Helen’s childhood, but draws on later biographies, speeches and letters to show Helen as a woman, intelligent and determined but forced by her handicaps to be dependent on her family and employees. . . . Sultan skillfully expresses Helen's main frustrations: at the public for refusing to take her seriously when she speaks on political issues unrelated to blindness, and at her family and friends for refusing to see her as a grown woman, with a woman’s desires. Helen Keller in Love holds readers’ attention with a fresh depiction of a woman famous for overcoming her physical handicaps, forced to fight for her right to love.”—Katie Noah Gibson, Shelf Awareness
About the Author
Rosie Sultan earned her MFA at Goddard College and won a PEN Discovery Award for fiction. A former fellow at the Virginia Center for the Arts, she has taught writing at Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, and Suffolk University. She lives with her husband and son in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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We're so accustomed to thinking in terms of our familiar sense experience that it almost comes as a surprise that we could imagine Hellen Keller's world in the first person. Yet that is precisely what Rosie Sultan guides us to do in Helen Keller in Love.
And that is just the half of it. Like a great pianist, she has another hand moving as well--the hand that makes us feel the inner life of a figure who until now many of us have only seen as a stoic heroine of her era--a kind of statue to courage and learning. Yet, as Rosie Sultan points it out, we see immediately that Helen Keller would have wanted to love, would have fallen in love, and would have faced extraordinary difficulties and disapproval... all of which makes for a heart racing drama!
As satisfying as it is to adventure in a strange land, the real payoff of this novel for me came when I noticed that it also provides a mirror. How uncanny to feel Helen Keller's inner conflicts and social dilemmas writ small in one's own life today. For don't we all have public images that we come to rely on for safety and approval? Don't we all feel the pull of private longings and undisclosed truths? Don't we all do our best to stay true to ourselves as we navigate through these conflicting currents?
Read this novel and revel in a beautiful love story that is also an exploration of our senses, our history, and ultimately ourselves.
First the good things - the book does a good job of painting a picture of Helen as a constructed public being, dependent on her caretakers' generosity/obligation for her continued well-being and, indeed, her life. It demonstrates her need to please, to say the right thing, to appear "normal" (even so far as to replace her blinded eyes with attractive blue glass eyes). It paints her life as it probably was - a bird in a gilded cage. She was given money by some famous people, but she was also generous with her own money and, as a result, was living in a poor financial situation. The book also handles dialogue nicely by simply putting the dialogue out there without "she said," "she signed," or the like.
The book falls short on several fronts.
First, there's not much going on. The plot is all about the love affair, but that single-minded focus ultimately takes away from the book - after all, the author does not KNOW Helen's thoughts about the affair (that's the part that the author attempts to recreate in the novel), and yet there are few outside events (historically accurate or not) that could illuminate her feelings or actions towards Peter Fagan.
Second, I found the book to be confusingly inconsistent. We are meant to understand that Helen must say and do what she believes people expect of her or (she fears) she'll be left alone. But there are times when she acts in a manner that DOES anger Annie Sullivan or Kate Keller, and in ways where you would think Helen would avoid in order to not be left on her own. There are numerous parts of the book where Helen professes to feel one way but acts in another. I found it to be a little jarring.
Third, the sex is icky - the stuff of bodice-ripping romance novels. And it happens the same way every time - with Helen's hands held above her head. I found that off-putting as well - it seems to symbolically shut her up since she can only "talk" with her hands.
Fourth, everyone seems one-dimensional. I felt this book could have been longer and would have improved from further character development.
The only bright spot is that the author listed her sources at the conclusion of the novel, so I can check those out to see if they are better.
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This book was originally published by Viking in April 2012 under the title Helen Keller in Love.Read more