Helen Keller has long been a towering figure in the pantheon of world heroines. Yet the enduring portrait of her in the popular imagination is The Miracle Worker, which ends when Helen is seven years old.
Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines a part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke of or wrote about: the man she once loved. When Helen is in her thirties and Annie Sullivan is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a young man steps in as a private secretary. Peter Fagan opens a new world to Helen, and their sensual interactions—signing and lip-reading with hands and fingers—quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair. It’s not long before Helen’s secret is discovered and met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. As pressure mounts, the lovers plot to elope, and Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.
Richly textured and deeply sympathetic, Sultan’s highly inventive telling of a story Keller herself would not tell is both a captivating romance and a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of an inspirational figure.
About Rosie Sultan
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.
“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.” – The Boston Globe
“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
Rosie Sultan’s ‘Helen Keller in Love’: Touching, complex, romantic story
The Washington Post Book Review – June 12, 2012 (Excerpt)
Only a brave novelist would imagine a complex romantic narrative for someone as chronicled as Helen Keller. Her tragic and inspiring life was re-created for millions in the movie “The Miracle Worker,” and her memoir, “The Story of My Life,” has been continually reprinted and reissued since its publication in 1903.
In her first novel, 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. Her laborious communication method was to have attendants spell out words into the palm of her hand, and then she would reply in the same way. However adept her helpers, this process was painfully slow: “One thing no one tells you about being blind and deaf is this: You say what people need to hear. You leave out the rest.” [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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