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Helen Keller in Love: A Novel Hardcover – April 26, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023493
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,881,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Holly Weiss VINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What happened to Helen Keller after The Miracle Worker? History records her graduating from college in 1904 and helping to found the ACLU in 1920. A devoted humanitarian, Helen constantly worked on behalf of those with disabilities. She learned several means of communication: lip touching, finger spelling, Braille, speech, typing. The historical record reveals her public life and impact on society. What happened in her personal life?

In Helen Keller in Love we learn that when Helen was ten, her father died, leaving no provision to support her or pay Annie Sullivan's salary. **spoiler**Annie and Helen did speaking tours in countless cities to stay afloat after Helen's Radcliffe graduation. Surprising opinions of Socialism and anti-war sentiment began to pervade her speeches.

After a consultation with hearing expert Alexander Graham Bell, Annie spurned Helen's use of his raised-letter-glove to communicate with others. Annie, it seemed, wanted to be Helen's sole translator. Helen's whole world revolved around books, Annie, and speaking tours. She was sequestered from men. **end spoiler**

While on a speaking tour with Helen, Annie is stricken with tuberculosis. Peter, hired to be Helen's secretary, soon finds himself translating conversations, letters and newspapers for. Much to his delight, she becomes brazen and forward.

Written in Helen's impassioned, stubborn first person voice, the book describes her love affair with this man with many reasons to exploit her. The premise is both provocative and human. Why wouldn't a woman deprived of so much have emotional and sexual yearnings? "At age thirty-seven she says, "I was tired of being perfect Helen Keller...I wanted to break free."

The book will surely prompt controversy.
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Format: Hardcover
Rosie Sultan's debut novel is a fictional imagining of Helen Keller's doomed love affair with Peter Fagan. The love affair itself was real, but Helen Keller never discussed her relationship with Fagan, other than to express regret that she never married, so there was a lot left to the imagination. Still, it's a daunting task to try to write a novel about someone so famous, not to mention someone who died less than 50 years ago. Many of us feel like we know Helen Keller, yet there is so much that we don't know. Rosie Sultan is not only attempting to honour Helen Keller the woman in this novel, she's also up against our collective impression of Helen Keller. On both counts, she does her subject matter proud.

Helen Keller in Love is personal enough to feel real, but ambiguous enough not to feel insulting to Ms. Keller's memory. For instance, she doesn't give Helen the voice of a bosom-heaving school girl. It's not that kind of love story. Instead, the first person narrative reveals a Helen who is smart, practical and direct. She is also someone who is in love and finds herself at odds with her family and those close to her.

Rosie Sultan's writing is compelling enough that this novel could easily stand on its own as a fictional love story about a blind and deaf woman named, say, Jane or Susan. It is not just historical fiction, it's literary fiction. But it also affords a glimpse into the inner life (or an imagined glimpse, a "what if") of an iconic woman.

For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this title from the publisher, Penguin Canada, for promotional purposes. I was asked to write and share an honest review, though it was not required to be positive or favourable. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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Format: Hardcover
Besides the obvious, I really know very little about Helen Keller. What little else I know comes solely from a book report I did on The Miracle Worker in third grade. So yeah, I'm not exactly a font of knowledge on Helen Keller. The book appealed to me largely because of the historical fiction aspects. Historical fiction, when well done, is a beautiful thing, and one of my favorite genres.

Thankfully, Helen Keller in Love has been quite well done, or so I feel. I did some very limited research on Helen Keller (aka Google search) just to verify some of the basic facts, although I also could have read the Afterword first. I wanted to know, most of all, whether Peter Fagan was a real person, and whether this actually happened (unlike Becoming Jane). The answer is yes. Of course, the conversations and some of the finer details are a fiction. I just always like to have a decent idea of what is fiction and what is history, so that I don't walk around spouting 'facts' that are untrue.

What I liked most about Helen Keller in Love was most certainly the writing. Rosie Sultan's prose is beautiful. Her sentences aren't generally especially complex, but I love her diction and syntax. Her descriptions of what it might have been like to be Helen Keller, to hear through touch rather than sound, to imagine colors when you've never seen them, were breathtaking.

Most of all, the book, told from Helen's perspective, made me really truly try to imagine what her life was like in a way that just learning about her did not. She has such strength to have been able to live such a life. It's utterly sad how limited her life still remained though, a fact generally lost in the midst of the miracle.

I highly recommend Helen Keller in Love for lovers of well-written historical fiction or for those who like to think about the world from a different perspective.
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