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The Story of My Life
By Helen Keller
Read By Mary Woods

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The Story of My Life
By Helen Keller
Read by Mary Woods
Ordinally published in 1902
Blackstone Audiobooks, (2001)
An unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs
ISBN: 0-7861-9846-X
Genre: Autobiography

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 1, 2001

Helen Keller was a phenomenal woman. Born in 1880, she lost both her sight and her hearing when she was only 19 months old. Deprived of her ability to hear, she was also deprived of her ability to naturally learn how to speak. Thanks to her inquisitive mind and indomitable spirit, and the help of several fine teachers, Helen adapted to her situation. She went on to attend college and from there to pursue a career as a speaker, writer, and humanitarian. She was a tireless worker, and was active up until her death in 1968.

Helen wrote The Story of My Life while she was attending Radcliffe college. This autobiography was first published, in 1902, in the Ladies Home Journal magazine. In this narrative, she describes her life from her earliest recollections and how she learned to cope with the challenges that life presented to her. She explains to the reader how it was that she was able to learn the things that she did, and how this process differed from the learning process that a sighted and hearing child would go through. Helen takes the reader right up to the point, time wise, that the narrative was written. One of the most amazing, and uplifting aspects of this book is that it is apparent that Helen not only felt, but lived up to her motto: "There are no handicaps, only challenges."

This narrative provides a biographical sketch of Helen's life, her family's history, and that of her primary teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Just before Helen turned seven-years-old, Annie Sullivan moved into Helen's home to try to teach her how to communicate. The deep bond of friendship that developed between teacher and student was only severed when Annie died in 1935. She taught Helen how to finger spell, and eventually, one miraculous day, Helen made the connection between the 'game' of finger spellings and what the finger movements actually meant. Annie held Helen's hand under the flowing water of a well pump, all the while spelling water. In an instance Helen made the connection that the movements that Annie was making meant the 'water'. Once that connection was made, and the "...mystery of language was revealed to Helen," she blossomed into an instant, dedicated, lifelong scholar.

Over the years, Helen learned to read and write braille, and learned to write cursive, using grids to guide her lettering. With the aid of a speech teacher, she learned to speak. And with the aid of a series of tutors, she received a well-rounded education, one that prepared her for the rigors of college. Along the way, she also made frequent trips to the Perkins School for the Blind. There she received some special training and where, most importantly, she was able to interact with other children facing the same challenges that Helen did. In this narrative, Helen also mentions the role that Laura Bridgman played in the development of new educational techniques for teaching the deaf and blind individuals how to communicate. Laura Bridgman, who died in 1889, was the first deaf and blind individual that is known to have learned language.

Helen never saw herself as being, in the slightest, handicapped. She actually seemed to take great pleasure in overcoming all the 'little' challenges that faced her. This is in part one of the reasons that she elected to attend Radcliffe college. By the time she had decided to attend college, she was already well known, and many colleges vied for her to attend - that is except for Radcliffe. The administration at Radcliffe felt that Helen would never be able to compete with sighted students. Taking up the challenge, Helen not only passed her entrance exams, which included tests in Algebra, Geometry, Advance Latin, and Advance Greek, but she also went on to graduate cum laude in 1904, thereby becoming the first deaf and blind individual to graduate from college!

Helen was a copious letter writer, and her autobiography is supplemented with extracts from her letters. This supplement includes extracts from letters she wrote and those she received, and reports on her progress written by Annie. They cover the period between 1887 and 1901. The addition of these letters greatly enhances an already awesome narrative. They help to give the reader a greater understanding of Helen, and just how intelligent she was.

This audiobook is read by Mary Woods who brings a lyrical quality to the reading of Helen's riveting narrative. I highly recommend this book to everyone! If you ever think that life's challenges are too hard to overcome, this story will not only inspire, but will also fill you with the wonders of life. Helen was a deeply religious woman, and in this narrative she talks about her religious beliefs and training, and discusses her unwavering faith in God and her own spirit. This is an undeniably uplifting book.

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The Story of My Life is also available in a paperback, standard print, edition.

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