This is a book I looked forward to reading. However, when I started it, I struggled to finish it. Since I rarely like to stop reading a book midway (I look for the redemption somewhere each time), I pushed on.
Most of us are aware that Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing when she was a toddler due to scarlet fever. She was cared for by “Teacher” Annie Sullivan for many years of her life from the age of seven. Together they toured the world sharing her miracle story of learning how to communicate in spite of these challenges.
Author Rosie Sultan discovered in some literature that Keller had a short-lived love affair with Peter Fagan and subsequently explored their relationship in this historical novel.
Well, in the opening, Helen has set us up with the outcome of all she’s about to tell us and I soon found myself feeling pity for her. As a longtime admirer of Helen Keller, feeling such emotion while reading this book was not what I expected to experience about her. From some literature and articles I’d read about her over the years, she wasn’t one to pity.
Now mind you, this was about a sensitive and clandestine time in her life and I highly commend Sultan for tackling it from Keller’s point of view via touch and smell. However, it was an uncomfortable read.
Her relationship with Peter Fagan actually nauseated me. He was a selfish, perhaps opportunistic, and insensitive cad. Not once did I find him to care about her. My goodness, when he reached in her blouse so often, I was sickened, not taken away by any sense of love and romance. He was just so smarmy and I did not like him. He made the story very difficult for me to read.
There were other episodes of her life she mentioned that did tug at me, such as the time that Annie lay unresponsive in her bed due to illness while they were away and Helen couldn’t get help. In spite of moments like this, Helen knew she had inner strength, but she wanted romantic love; she wanted to have a family. I did not sense that Peter had any such love for her and I didn’t really gather that he would be there for the long haul for her in regards to assisting her as Annie and her mother had. Her family caught on, but she couldn’t.
He never seemed sincere at all enough in this story to convince me that he loved her, regardless of the little tidbit in the final paragraph about a photograph. I just never saw it.
Sultan’s afterword was interesting enough, however, to lead me to the further works that inspired her to write this story.
To learn even more about Helen Keller, click here.