Scout and Atticus we meet again in this timely story that surprisingly was written in 1957 before the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird was even an idea. Harper Lee’s publisher liked the manuscript but asked her to write a story from Scout’s perspective as a young child. She did just that in To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman was buried away only to be discovered and then published almost 60 years later in July 2015.
As a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird picking up Go Set a Watchman was a no brainer.
I was delighted to visit Macomb, Alabama again through the eyes of grown up Scout, referred to most often now as Jean Louise. The book drew me in and at first I was not sure why a dear friend had warned me about some unsettling things I would come to discover in reading this “new” book of Harper Lee’s. In the story Scout is coming home to Macomb, Alabama from New York City for a visit with her aging father Atticus, her eccentric Uncle, her Aunt and Henry (Hank). Calpernia (Cal), the housekeeper who helped raise Scout, also makes a brief appearance.
At this point I will say *spoiler alert* in case you want to stop here, read the book in its entirety and then (hopefully) return for my thoughts and to give me yours. If you don't mind spoilers...read more.
My friend’s warnings were mostly about Atticus. My curiosity led me to seek out a few book reviews which confirmed what she was warning me about. In spite of this I forged ahead...
In To Kill a Mocking Bird Atticus emerges as an advocate for racial fairness as he defended and won an acquittal for a young black man who was falsely accused of raping a white girl. Go Set a Watchman paints a very different picture of Atticus and Henry (Hank), Jean Louise and Jem’s (Scout’s brother) good friend and now Jean Louise’s on again off again love interest. These men are shown in the throes of meetings that are frankly despicable. Scout’s uncle tries to explain Atticus’s behavior and at one point I had hope that what I had discovered along with Scout about her father was somehow a big misunderstanding.
In the end – you will have to draw your own conclusions. Although I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, I warn you as my friend warned me, you will be uncomfortable, even angry at times especially with Atticus, who was previously a hero to me. You may feel sad that today, in 2017, in 21st century America, the issues addressed in Go Set a Watchman can be so timely as we face escalating racial tensions unlike any I have ever seen in my 46 years of living.
Different points of view are seen and heard throughout the book, internal struggles as well as realizing it is possible to live with and even love people who hold a different point of view than you.
Not always an easy read but I believe an important companion to the beloved classic it follows. Clearly showing differences, vulnerabilities and hope for people and government. After all people are our government in America. We need to be able to live with and love those with whom we have differences. Books are a way to experience and discuss some of these differences. Important works of literature, even fiction works such as this, can play a big role in bridging different sides of an issue by opening real discussions about race, religion, government and relationships.
It was a sobering, thoughtful read with both the familiarity of visiting home while at the same time realizing…I don’t belong here anymore.
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