December 21, 2013

Author Interview + Review: Helen in Love by Rosie Sultan

Hey everyone! Today I have a great interview with Rosie Sultan, author of Helen in Love, to share with you along with my review of the book! Read on for more information on the novel and don't forget to enter my giveaway for a copy HERE!

Helen in Love: A Novel
Author: Rosie Sultan

Release Date: November 26, 2013 (paperback edition)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Source: Paperback copy from publisher


The astonishing and imaginative debut novel about Helen Keller and the man she loved

What comes to mind when you think of Helen Keller? Is it the deaf-mute wild child at the water pump outside her Tuscumbia, Alabama, home portrayed in The Miracle Worker or the adult activist for the rights of the disabled and women, the socialist who vehemently opposed war? Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines an intimate part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke or wrote about: her one and only love affair.

Peter Fagan, a reporter from Boston, steps in as her secretary when her companion Annie Sullivan falls ill. The world this opens up for her is not the stuff of grade school biographies. Their affair meets with stern disapproval from Annie and from Helen’s mother, and when the lovers plot to elope, Helen is trapped between their expectations and her innermost desires. Sultan’s courageous novel insists on Helen’s right to desire, to human frailty—to be fully and completely alive.

1.  What  was  your  inspiration  for  writing  Helen  in  Love?    

RS: I  got  my  first  book  about  Helen  Keller  when  I  was  seven  years  old;  I  became fascinated  by  her  then,  and  have  read  just  about  everything  about  her  since.      
A  few  years  back  I  picked  up  a  new  biography  called  Helen  Keller:  A  Life  by Dorothy Herrmann. One  slim  chapter  in  the  book  tells  the  story  of  how,  at  age  37,  Helen  had a  secret  love  affair  with  Peter  Fagan. I  dropped  that  book  into  my  lap,  looked  up  and said  to  myself,  “There’s  a  big  story  here.” Within  days  I  was  on  my  way  to  writing Helen  In  Love.  

I  wrote  about  this  love  affair  because  once  I  knew  of  it  I  saw  Helen Keller  as  more than  an  icon:  I  saw  her  as  a  woman  with  conflicting  loyalties. I  wanted  to  bring  to life the  vulnerabilities  and  complexities  of  her  very  human  heart.  

2.  What  kind  of  research  did  you  have  to  do  for  the  book?    

RS: I  loved  doing  the  research.  Over  a  period  of  three  years  immersed  myself  in Keller’s  life  and  words. I  scoured  the  Helen  Keller  Archives  at  The  American Foundation  for  the  Blind:  there  I  found  that  Helen  was  a  socialist, an  advocate  for birth  control,  and  a  voice  against  war. I  read  her  personal  letters—they  amazed  me. I heard  the  funny,  humane,  smart  voice  of  an  educated  woman.    

I  very  carefully  read  her  books  and  heard,  underneath  the  voice  of  triumph,  the moment  of  loneliness,  and  the  desire  for  love.    
Photos  and  newspaper  articles  about  Keller  papered  the  walls  of  my  study.  I  even drove  to  her  former  house  in  Massachusetts  where  I  paused  outside  her  home, imagining  her  life  there—during  her  affair  with  Peter Fagan—and  beyond.  
The  letters  between  Keller  and  Peter  Fagan  were  burned  in  a  house  fire,  but  the rich documentation  of  Keller’s  life  allowed  me  to  bring  her  life  alive  in  Helen  In  Love.  
3.  What  made  you  choose  Helen  Keller's  only  love  affair  to  write  about?    

RS: The  answer  to  that  question  is  complicated,  but  one  reason  can  be  found  in Helen’s  own  writings. In  her  mid-­‐life  memoir  Midstream,  she  writes  very  briefly about  her  love  affair  with  Peter  Fagan.  To  the  love  affair  she  devotes  a  few paragraphs:  her  words,  in  those  paragraphs,  are  almost  apologetic  in  tone.  She  shows her  mixed  emotions  at  having  kept  the  affair  a  secret  from  her  mother,  her  teacher, and  the  world  that  so  admired  her  when  she  writes, “I  am  a  human  being,  with  a human  being’s  frailties  and  inconsistencies.” That  quote  is  such  a  heartbreaking  plea to be  seen  and  accepted  as,  after  all,  merely  human.  

4.  How  did  you  become  a  writer?  Was  there  a  person  or  situation  that  prompted  you  to  start  writing?    

RS: I  became  a  writer  because  I  believe  in  the  power  of  the  written  word. Stories and  novels  tell  complex  truths  that  bring  us  out  of  ourselves  and  show  us  the  world. I wanted  to  have  the  process  of  writing  at  the  center  of  my  life,  so  I  have  made choices  all  along  the  way  to  keep  writing,  no  matter  what.  

5.  What  tips  do  you  have  for  aspiring  writers?      

RS: First,  it  is  an  honor  and  a  gift  to  be  able  to  write. So  make  time—and  space—for that  gift  every  day. Even  if  it’s  for  an  hour,  set  a  timer,  sit  down,  and  write.  Then do that  again  the  next  day,  and  the  next.      

Second,  find  some  fellow  writers  with  whom  you  can  share  your  work. In  Boston, where  I  live, we  are  blessed  to  have  Grub  Street,  Inc,  a  fabulous  center  for  writers. But  even  if  there  isn’t  a  center  like  that  in  your  town,  meet  some  fellow  writers  for coffee  once  a  week. Share  your  drafts. Dare  to  share  your  dreams. Dare,  and  dare again,  to  make  that  book  you  dream  of  a  reality.    

Now  start. And  keep  going. There’s  nothing  like  it  in  the  world.    
6.  What's  next  for  you?    

RS: When  I  cook  I  always  save  the  leftovers  to  make  another  dish. In  writing,  it  is the  same  thing.  I  did  so  much  research  for  Helen  In  Love  that  I  am  now  compiling the  parts  I  couldn’t  use  for  a  children’s  book.      

Helen  Keller  Speaks  Up  shares  with  young  readers  Helen’s  life  as  an  activist. Children will  see  Helen  standing  up  for  the  rights  of  African  Americans,  speaking  up  to  keep the  United  States  out  of  war,  and  fighting  for  the  rights  of  women  in  the  United States  and  around  the  world.    

Perfect  for  schools,  libraries,  and  families,  the  picture  book  encourages  children,  families,  and  schools  to  think  of  and  do  one  thing  to  make  the  world  around  them  a better  place.   

Thanks so much for dropping by today and answering some questions for me Rosie!
Helen in Love is a fascinating and enlightening novel that speaks of a side of Helen Keller that the majority of the world has never seen or heard about. We read of Helen's one and only love affair with a man named Peter Fagan - how they met, how their relationship developed, and how it eventually came to an end. Helen had to keep her relationship with Peter a secret because her mother and her teacher, Annie, forbid her to marry. Through Helen's own point of view, we get to see a side of her that is original, fragile, and completely human - not just the woman we learn about in school and in books.

This was a really beautiful novel that brought the actual person of Helen Keller alive for me. Like most others, what I know of Ms. Keller was learned from school, books, and documentaries. We don't really hear much of her personal life or about some of the amazing things she did - like advocate against war. With this novel, the author brings Helen Keller alive before our eyes and we get to know her on a very personal level. Since the book is told from Helen's point of view, the reader gets the added benefit of reading Helen's private thoughts and emotions. We experience her turmoil, her love, her pain and grief. The novel is wonderfully written with vivid details and creative descriptions throughout. I was swept away into the story early on and was easily immersed into Helen's life for the duration of the book. This is one of those novels that will have you thinking about things - or in this case history and people - very differently than you did before reading. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction as well as those who love general and literary fiction.

*A huge thanks to the people at Penguin books for sending me a copy for review!*



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