Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus.
Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her.
Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.
~ Synopsis from goodreads
I read this book last year during our family holiday to Malaysia and Singapore. It’s an odd choice for a travel book, and I really wanted to pick up a thriller or some such read, but in the last minute packing hubbub, I had nothing else left to hand, and so just tossed this in my travel bag.
As everyone knows, this is that infamous sequel (first draft) of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. When this book was first released, it caused a huge stir because of all the various controversies surrounding it:
- The very questionable fact of it even being published (see this NY Times article for more info on that)
- The fact that the lovable character of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird is transformed into a bigot in this book
Because of all this hullabaloo, for the longest time I had decided I didn’t want to read this book. I changed my mind only after reading Dolce Belezza’s post explaining the significance of the title, and I was moved enough by her post that I ended up putting this book on my TBR list at last.
Basically the title comes from the Old Testament:
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
~ Isaiah 21:6
I wish I could say this book lived up to its title or To Kill a Mockingbird. But alas, no!
It reads exactly like what it is supposed to be, that is, a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. And really it should have remained in draft form, and if I may commit the heresy of saying so, better books than this get overlooked by publishers. The only reason this came out is because the publishers knew the furor it would cause, and the sales it would generate.
That said, as a first draft it’s decent. Harper Lee has the amazing knack of creating vivid characters in a wonderful small town setting. She really captures the rural or semi-urban South so well.
However, if read as a standalone book, there is little to no value in it. The charm of the book is in revisiting old and well-beloved characters. Especially Scout, reading this book felt like watching her grow up. And I loved the adult Scout too. She carries a sense of righteous indignation with her and I thought that quality and the way it clashes with her hero-worship of her father was rather touchingly dealt with.
Because of course, as the world now knows, our beloved Atticus Finch is a racist in this book, which was sad to read. I am not very familiar with the struggle for equality in the United States in the 60s and 70s, and some of the laws that Atticus and Scout debated so heatedly went far above my head. But I got the general gist of things.
Overall, I think that what Lee was trying to convey through her book, and didn’t quite get it right, was that life is not black and white, however much you would like it to be. There are no heroes and no villains. And growing up means understanding these complexities in people and learning to live with them.
I also came out of this book with a renewed appreciation for editing. Seriously, a good editor can do such wonders. I mean, this book is so radically different from To Kill a Mockingbird, it required a genius editor with a really critical eye and guts of steel to ask an author to turn the story on its head, and essentially rewrite it from another angle.
Amazing. Just to understand the craft of writing, this book in conjunction with To Kill a Mockingbird is a must read.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon