Go Set a Watchman: A Review | News Entertainment

Go Set a Watchman: A Review

21 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Harper Lee’s new ‘Watchman’ novel sells more than 1M in first week.

The highly anticipated, controversial release of “Go Set a Watchman” has trained a spotlight on Nelle Harper Lee and the Alabama hometown that was — she once told me wryly — “100 miles from anywhere.” It still is, but the distance that strikes me most is the one between her life 10 years ago when I lived next door to her and her existence now, in a wheelchair in an assisted living center, nearly deaf and blind, with a uniformed guard posted at the door.NEW YORK – Harper Lee’s unexpected new novel “Go Set A Watchman” has become the fastest selling book in the history of publisher HarperCollins, with more than 1.1 million copies sold in North America in the first week, the company said on Monday. For decades, Nelle, as her friends call her, divided her time between her apartment in Manhattan and the modest, book-filled house she shared with her older sister, Alice Finch Lee, in their south Alabama hometown of Monroeville.

The novel was released on July 14, 55 years after the author’s only other published work, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a classic story of racial injustice in the American South. “Watchman,” written in the 1950s, was a first draft of “Mockingbird” with many of the same characters. She chauffeured Alice, whom she fondly called “Atticus in a skirt,” to and from the law firm where Alice had practiced for nearly 70 years. “Driving Miss Alice,” Nelle would say with a smile.

It made headlines with its depiction of noble lawyer Atticus Finch as a racist and bigot, a stark contrast to the idealistic, younger Finch of “Mockingbird” who put his principles on the line to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Assuming that at least 2 million copies of the book are sold and it drives sales of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” that will “be noticeable,” he said. It features a surprising plot twist – Atticus, a white lawyer who battled racial inequality in “Mockingbird,” is now an aging bigot who attends a Ku Klux Klan meeting. “Upon release, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ immediately jumped to No. 1 on every major book retailer’s bestseller list,” HarperCollins said.

The book’s popularity is also helping the publisher sell “Mockingbird,” the second-most bought book on Amazon.com Inc.’s list on Monday, one spot behind “Watchman.” They liked the long profile I published, “A Life Apart: Harper Lee, the Complex Woman Behind a Delicious Mystery,” and invited me to continue visiting. Over time, the idea of my writing a book about the Lee sisters and their world in Monroeville, with their guidance, had taken root in our conversations. And she had said what she had to say in “Mockingbird.” It was clear that the overwhelming affection people had for the novel and its characters was both a privilege and a burden.

As the group walked away, I thought to myself how pleased they looked, how many times this encounter would be told and retold, surely a favorite story. Even though I was decades younger than the Lees and the friends with whom we socialized, the autoimmune condition forced me to live at a slower speed.

You could see the girl in them at these moments, still proud daughters all those years later. “I adored my father and wanted to be just like him,” Alice said. I think the combination of those events encouraged her to open up to me even more. “I know what you can call your book,” she told me one day over coffee at Burger King. She leaned in and stabbed her finger in the air, as she often did when making a point: “’Having Their Say.’ I know they used it with the Delany sisters, but titles aren’t copyrightable.” Nelle beamed. “Having Our Say” was a bestselling book about two African American sisters, one sweet and one salty, looking back on their lives.

Then she looked at me again. “Sometimes,” she said. “But then it passes.” Now, she has another book generating record-breaking sales. (HarperCollins reports that the book is the fastest-selling in its history.) She has the intensity of the media spotlight she avoided for many years. In 2011, she wrote to me, “Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” Alice Lee died in November, at 103.

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