A captivating novel that explores the little-known romance of a beloved American icon
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.
"I've been fascinated by Helen Keller my whole life, reading bio after bio after bio about her. While this book is a work of historical fiction, there is a historical base to it--Helen Keller did indeed have a short love affair in the fall of 1916 with Peter Fagan, a failed reporter who was hired to be Keller's assistant when Anne Sullivan became too ill with what was suspected to be tuberculosis. Keller was still relentlessly touring, a proud Socialist and against the war, donating money to blinded soldiers in any war even though she was broke and on the verge of losing her own home. At 37, Keller dared to dream of love and a family of her own, and Sultan images that, for a brief while, that dream nearly came true. This is a page turning story of family and political dynamics, a postcard of a time when women had fewer choices (especially if they were deaf and blind and extremely feisty) and the need of love that we all feel. I found this to be a fascinating and impressive first novel from a writer I will now be keeping an eye out for."