Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan
One of the first important American women I can remember learning about in elementary school was Helen Keller. We spent a day learning about her difficulties as a blind and deaf person, and how her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was able to break through and communicate with her. We watched The Miracle Worker, (the Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert version) and I remember being very touched by her story. However, I quickly moved on to the next history lesson and never gave much more than a cursory thought to Helen Keller, until I picked up Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan. I was hoping for a love story, and ended up getting that plus an education on the true Helen Keller.
My knowledge of Helen Keller’s life pretty much ended with where The Miracle Worker ended, and I didn’t know anything about her life as an adult. In Helen Keller in Love, she is 36 and traveling the country with Anne Sullivan doing speaking tours. At first I was taken aback by the version of Helen Keller Sultan was depicting—a political activist who spoke against President Woodrow Wilson and was a hardcore socialist. I did what any girl of the 20th century would do when faced with this kind of discrepancy in what I expected—I Googled. Turns out, Sultan painted a very accurate picture of Helen Keller. Once I discovered that, along with the fact that Keller actually did have a secret love she never wrote about, I was able to sit back and relax into the story.
Peter Fagan takes over as Helen’s secretary when Anne is diagnosed with tuberculosis. From the first moment they meet, Helen is overcome with new emotions—lust, passion, love—and they soon begin having an affair. However, their relationship is not met with positive feelings by her family and Anne, and Helen is to end the relationship. Instead, she and Peter decide to elope. Helen has to decide what’s most important—the expectations of those around her or living a life she’s secretly dreamed of for years.
In addition to painting an accurate portrait of Helen Keller the person, Sultan paints a beautiful love story between her and Peter. I think one of the main reasons the passion between the two is so richly written on the page is because Helen is experiencing it through heightened senses like touch and smell. She can’t see Peter, but she can certainly feel him touching her and kissing her.
Fictional adaptations of actual people and their stories are still popular, and Helen Keller in Love is one of the better ones I’ve read. It’s the perfect tome to add to your shelves for fans of romance novels, well-written literature, and historically-based fiction.
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