I 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.
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.
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? I hope you thought this an interesting read as much as I did. If anything, I learned how Helen Keller was just as human and normal as any one of us! Follow me next month, as I discuss The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic.