Helen Keller in Love

Helen Keller in LoveI was always intrigued by Helen Keller’s life and so I was definitely curious when I found out from this novel that she actually did have a love interest.  Unfortunately for her, it really did not last long and she ended up alone with no children.  To be fair, the book is fictionalized but if there is any truth as to why she never got together with her temporary secretary (Peter Fagen), this story certainly may have an answer.
Helen tells us about her brief affair with Peter at a time when her teacher and mentor (Annie) has taken sick and is wrongly diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Since Helen depends on Annie’s services to help her get dressed and communicate to the outside world, Peter is hired to replace this position.  As is expected, the couple have feelings for each other and their passion is ignited when they are alone together.
There are some alarm bells that do go off when Helen recalls moments with Peter which prompt her to question whether he really loves her or not.  Of course, once he tells her that they should get married, she is beyond overjoyed and hopes that she can finally break free from the shackles that has tied her to her mother and Annie all her life.
It is clear in the novel that Helen is expected to continue fighting for people’s rights and speaking out against war but she is discouraged by her family and Annie from having a husband and children.  As readers, our hearts already feel sympathy for Helen’s physical disabilities but it is even more heart wrenching to discover that she was never allowed to have intimate relationships with the opposite sex.  This biographical fiction of Helen is the first work from Sultan and I really enjoyed reading it.  The conclusion comes as no surprise, since we all know that historically, Helen remained single till her death.  Still, we secretly wish that true love had conquered any obstacles the couple faced and that there would be a happy ending.
Even though the tale is woven with bitter realities and moments of frustration, I was very much enlightened and entertained.  I was also very happy and proud for Helen during many parts of the novel.  What did you think?

If you are a member of the library we have this title currently in Hard copy (F S9542h) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on Helen Keller in Love, please click on the links below.
From The Boston Globe:
http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2012/05/11/helen-keller-love-imagines-affair-between-famous-disabled-writer-and-journalist/8xMCCz24mGRjHJwXWuW1ZK/story.html

From The Washington Post:
http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-06-12/entertainment/35461069_1_helen-keller-love-affair-annie-sullivan

For information on Rosie Sultan, click below:
http://www.penguin.ca/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000082020,00.html

and also:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosie-sultan/helen-keller_b_1477393.html

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to think about after reading the novel:

-What did you know about Helen Keller before you read this novel? Did the character in the novel match your expectations? Explain.
-On page 43, Helen says, “Annie needed me to stay childlike.” What does she mean by this? Is it true?

To see the rest of the questions, please click here and you will be directed to the Reader’s Guide for this book from the Penguin website.

Interesting Tidbit:
It would seem obvious that Helen Keller knew Alexander Graham Bell and met with him a few times but I never knew this until I read the novel.  However, what surprised me more was that Bell’s wife (Mabel Hubbard) was also deaf, which was why he was so involved with experiments for hearing devices and such.  Before Helen, Mabel was one of the first children in the nation to lip-read.  To learn a bit about Bell and Mabel’s marriage, click below:
http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/14/an-ng-kind-of-love/

This book reminded me of …
While reading this novel I thought of three different titles that called to mind similar themes.  When Helen talks to us about her blindness, it brought back scenes from Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  In that story, blindness is a huge part of the book and the character who has lost his sight talks about blindness in much the same way that Helen does.  Another novel I thought about was Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  The close relationship between Helen and Annie can be compared to the friendship of Mary and Elizabeth.  Finally, I had to mention it—there are some short but quite steamy scenes between Helen and Peter that brought back a vague recollection of moments in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Favorite quote from book:
“But no one, from the time I was a young woman, would accept my having a lover.  It was unseemly, somehow, a blind girl in a love affair.  Torrid, almost.  So I didn’t speak my desire, I hid it.  While I marched for birth control, stood up for Margaret Sanger when she gave out leaflets in Brooklyn saying women could limit the number of children they would have, I wasn’t allowed to even marry, or consider having children of my own.” (p. 34)

Most triumphant moment in the story:
When Helen is faced by Mr. O’Rourke and told to back down on issues dealing with politics and war because she cannot see or hear what goes on around her.  She retaliates by asking the reporter if he could read news in other languages and that she is able to understand at least five—since she can read all night in the dark because of her blindness.  Mr. O’Rourke is stumped.  (p. 165)

Next month’s title:
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh

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