Book Review – Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go set a watchman coverGo Set a Watchman
Harper Lee
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062409859
ISBN-13: 978-0062409850

BOOK BLURB: 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 painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

REVIEW: First I must say it has been ages since I read, To Kill a Mockingbird, so I can’t compare the writing in this book to that one like so many reviewers have, but I did find a bit of the same wit and wisdom that I remember from To Kill a Mockingbird. And Jean Louise, Scout, while grown up, has much of that same spirit we loved in her when she was a child.

Like so many southern writers of that era – the 1950s and 60s –  Harper Lee has a wonderful way with language, and the reader is immediately transported to one of those country homes where people talk in a soft easy drawl and tell stories on the veranda. The people in the story are typical deep-south folks with genteel manners and clearly defined expectations of the way people should comport themselves. And they have such a colorful way of telling a story.

However, what is really good about the writing is in sharp contrast to what isn’t so good. When I started reading, I was looking forward to following Scout as she comes to terms with her father, who is not the God she once thought him to be. That idolization of a father is common, and for some of us, when the idol falls off the pedestal it can be devastating. Some of that devastation came through in the story, but her coming to terms with it fell flat.

At one point she is referred to as color blind and when she confronts Atticus about his racism she says, “Why didn’t you tell me the difference between justice and justice and right and right? Why didn’t you?”

To which Atticus replies, “I didn’t think it necessary nor do I think it now.”

“Well it was necessary and you know it. God! And speaking of God why didn’t you make it very plain to me that God made the races and put the black folks in Africa with the intention of keeping them there so the missionaries could go tell them that Jesus loved them and meant for them to stay in Africa? That us bringing them over here was all a bad mistake, so they’re to blame. That Jesus loved all mankind but there are different kinds of men with separate fences around them. That Jesus meant that any man can go as far as he wants within that fence.”

What follows is Atticus calmly accepting her ranting, but saying little in response. That was a disappointment, as was Scout’s eventual acceptance of the status quo. While the book does a good job of raising one’s consciousness about issues of bigotry, it doesn’t challenge enough.

There were people of that era, even in the South, who were not Separatists and did not think that people of color were second-class citizens. Scout appeared to be one of those people at first, bringing a wider world view back to her small hometown, but she ended up not being as strong as she needed to be to have a compete character arc in the story.

Still, I wouldn’t dismiss the book as not worth a read. I believe it is for a glimpse of life after To Kill a Mockingbird and a visit with some of the characters we met back then.

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