‘Go Set a Watchman’ has important insights into contemporary racism

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Celebrities and Writers React to Go Set a Watchman on Twitter.

ALISO VIEJO — The truest fans arrived just after the sun, some as early as 6:30 a.m. for the release of the new Harper Lee novel “Go Set a Watchman.” Barnes & Noble stores opened at 7 a.m., two hours earlier than normal for the release. FOR more than half a century “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been revered as a literary classic, the story of Scout and Jem Finch, a young sister and brother (and their naughty friend, Dill Harris, based on Truman Capote) who are all trying to make sense of the bewildering, bigoted American South in the 1930s.Outside the Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe in downtown Monroeville, shopkeeper Spencer Madrie signals to a crowd mingling with Gregory Peck lookalikes in the sweltering heat, waiting for the sequel to Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wrappe said she turned up at the stroke of midnight at the Book Culture store on the Upper West Side, which stayed open overnight to start peddling the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee. “Atticus is just one of these treasured American father figures,’’ said Wrappe, referring to the main character in “Mockingbird,’’ which is set in the segregationist South. “I just could not wait, I had to get it,’’ said Mekdad Muthana, a 25-year-old literature student who was the first in line for a copy of the book, getting to the store at 6:30 a.m. The novel sold 40m copies, won a Pulitzer prize and was made into a much-loved film, starring Gregory Peck as the siblings’ father, Atticus Finch, a heroic white lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. For the 400-odd people gathered and for the small, Southern US town Lee modelled Depression-era Maycomb on in her world-famous novel, this moment has been a long time coming. Lippincott declined to publish her first novel, “Go Set a Watchman.” Tay Hohoff saw a spark of something in it, but only a spark, and requested a major rewrite. There’s a small possibility the elusive author – Miss Nelle to her friends – now 89 and who resides in a nearby nursing home, might make a rare appearance, said her long-time friend Professor Wayne Flynt of Auburn University, who plans to celebrate with the town in south Alabama this week.

It’s a must-read, a book I’ve always wanted every kid to read.” She is mostly deaf and blind, and there were concerns before “Watchman’’ was published that she was in no state to give her consent to its release after the work was discovered among her belongings. A large freight truck is greeted with a cheer from the amassed crowd waiting outside the bookshop as it unloads the first of 7,000 copies of , Lee’s first published novel in 55 years, which was released in Britain on Tuesday. On the other side are those who worry that Harper Lee may have been somehow coerced into releasing the book, which was reportedly originally written as a draft of Mockingbird.

I have to read it.” Bob Cassman, 65, of Aliso Viejo, said only his love for Mockingbird, which he was required to read in elementary school, could bring him out this early. The book has already had an initial print run of two million copies and is released in 70 countries simultaneously, with seven translations already available. Cassman is a writer, and he’s been working on a movie script called “The Dark Side,” although it’s not about the Mockingbird characters. “She’s one of the great writers,” Westerband said. “’To Kill a Mockingbird’ was iconic for my generation.

The manuscript was “lost” among Lee’s papers for 60 years and found by the lawyer, who now restricts access to the 89-year-old, partially blind and deaf Lee and does all of her public talking for her. The novel, which hit bookstores Tuesday, has shocked early readers with its heretical portrayal of Atticus Finch, the beloved father, sage and moral heart of “Mockingbird,” who is now revealed to be a KKK-joining segregationist and NAACP-hating racist who takes his counsel from a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague.” Lost in the thick smoke arising from that revelation is a far more depressing one: The writing is downright clunky, with a few exceptions in the flashbacks to childhood that caught the interest of Lee’s original editor.

Among those waiting was Robert Champion, who said he wanted to take each of the novels on their own merit. “I don’t compare the two,” he said. “It’s not the same book. Instead of a child, Scout is a 26-year-old woman who works in New York and has gone home on holiday, much as Ms Lee herself might have done at the time.

Tay Hohoff, her legendary editor, read the draft in 1957 and wisely advised the fledgling author to rewrite the book, fleshing out the scenes of Scout’s childhood. The father-daughter conflict that drives the novel devolves, in the final chapters, into obscure literary references and long, preachy monologues about states’ rights. Early reactions to the new release have focused on the shocking disclosure that Atticus Finch, far from being a hero, is an uneasy segregationist who once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting. In short, “Watchman” and “Mockingbird” together provide a fine example of “(unprintable word) first drafts,” the memorable term Anne Lamott coined in “Bird by Bird,” her terrific guide for writers. “Watchman” takes place in the mid-1950s, 20 years after the events of “Mockingbird.” Scout Finch, now 26 and known as Jean Louise, has moved to New York City to escape Maycomb and pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

As one fan tweeted, “It’s like hearing that Santa Claus beat his deer.” The book’s evolution from “Watchman” into “Mockingbird” in less than three years is remarkable. The book opens as her train heads into Maycomb, the fictional stand-in for Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, for Jean Louise’s annual two-week summer visit with her father. Her now aged father – gentle, idealist lawyer Atticus Finch – is depicted as a racist and a bigot in a turn of character that has dismayed readers who have regarded him for decades as a paragon for doing right against all the odds.

Major characters from “Mockingbird” are nowhere to be found, including Scout’s brother Jem; their childhood friend Dill (a doppleganger of Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote); and the mysterious and damaged Boo Radley. There were public readings at almost every corner, lawn parties with lemonade and mint juleps, and “Finch fries” and “Boo burgers” on offer at a local cafe. Hank wants her to move home to Maycomb and marry him, and though she knows she doesn’t love him like that, Jean Louise gives the idea some serious thought. The book comes at a time when the nation is again in the grips of confronting the American South’s underbelly of racism after the slaying of nine parishioners at Charleston church at the hands of a white supremacist. “The timing is accidental, but this is a conversation that America needs to have,” said Professor Flynt. “When her first book came out in 1960, we were finally energised on race.

The scene throws her – and the novel – into a crisis of such force that she stumbles outside, blinded by tears, and throws up. “Watchman” is not so bad that a reader will be inspired to do the same. In fact, the characters are more complicated and flawed, and thus more interesting, than they became in “Mockingbird,” and the world Lee shows us has an uncanny connection and relevance to the world we inhabit today. And a recent Supreme Court ruling has renewed angry complaints about judicial activism and calls for recognition of states’ rights. “Watchman” also has several moments of grace and profound emotion beyond the childhood flashbacks. The most devastating and beautifully evoked of these moments comes when Jean Louise goes to the Negro Quarter (as it’s called in the book) to visit her old housekeeper and surrogate mother, Calpurnia. “Calpurnia lifted her hands and brought them down softly on the arms of the rocker.

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