Thursday, April 02, 2015

Review: Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller

Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller
Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller by Georgina Kleege

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is now one of my favorite books. I got it from the library out of curiosity. I've heard the criticisms that Keller was nothing without Anne Sullivan. She was simply trained to parrot some phrases, and cued by fingerspelling to act out specific behaviors. Sure, some of her accomplishments were remarkable, especially in the time and place where she lived. I suppose I can understand how some people might believe all that.

What I hadn't realized was the level of resentment of Keller that's present in the disabled community. Because of her status as a paragon, virginal, selfless, uncomplaining, ever cheerful, she became nearly impossible for most people - regardless of ability - to live up to. It never occurred to me that disabled people were being told "why can't you be more like Helen Keller?" Of course they would resent that. Especially in this modern world where people are freer to speak their minds, where the disabled have more autonomy than before, why shouldn't they complain when things are hard for them? People complain when their latte is too hot; why shouldn't a person complain when they can't access basic necessities?

Anyway, Blind Rage is written by one of the Keller-haters. Georgina Kleege is a writer and college professor, and is also blind. She grew up hearing the comparisons, never feeling that she measured up. She unleashed some of her hostility in a one sided correspondence with Helen. As she did, she researched Keller's life. It wasn't an easy one.

The more she read and the more she wrote, the more Kleege came to understand Helen. To empathize. She doesn't and won't let Keller off the hook for her contribution to the Helen Keller Mythos, but she develops an understanding of where it came from and why.

There are wild leaps of conjecture, including the idea that Helen was most probably molested as a child. Kleege seems pretty convinced. I'm less so. Even with the disagreements, the writing is compelling. I read the book in a day - couldn't go to sleep until I was done. There's an urgency that just wouldn't let me go.

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  1. What a fascinating premise! And you bring it to life quite nicely here, too, so thanks. I'll have to look into this one. I remember reading about how, in real time, the rumors about Helen and John Macy (Annie's younger husband) did the rounds. How odd that people were so fixated on Helen's sexuality!

    1. Thanks Gal! Kleege does address that rumor, and lots of others. I actually ended up buying the book after borrowing it from the library.