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Go Set a Watchman: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 14, 2015
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“Go Set a Watchman is such an important book, perhaps the most important novel on race to come out of the white South in decades… (New York Times Opinion Pages: Taking Note)
“Watchman is compelling in its timeliness.” (Washington Post)
“Go Set a Watchman provides valuable insight into the generous, complex mind of one of America’s most important authors.” (USA Today)
“Harper Lee’s second novel sheds more light on our world than its predecessor did.” (Time)
“[Go Set a Watchman] contains the familiar pleasures of Ms. Lee’s writing- the easy, drawling rhythms, the flashes of insouciant humor, the love of anecdote.” (Wall Street Journal)
“…the voice we came to know so well in To Kill a Mockingbird - funny, ornery, rulebreaking - is right here in Go Set a Watchman, too, as exasperating and captivating as ever.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Don’t let ‘Go Set a Watchman’ change the way you think about Atticus Finch…the hard truth is that a man such as Atticus, born barely a decade after Reconstruction to a family of Southern gentry, would have had a complicated and tortuous history with race.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A significant aspect of this novel is that it asks us to see Atticus now not merely as a hero, a god, but as a flesh-and-blood man with shortcomings and moral failing, enabling us to see ourselves for all our complexities and contradictions.” (Washington Post)
“The success of Go Set a Watchman... lies both in its depiction of Jean Louise reckoning with her father’s beliefs, and in the manner by which it integrates those beliefs into the Atticus we know.” (Time)
“Go Set a Watchman’s greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
From the Back Cover
“Go Set a Watchman is such an important book, perhaps the most important novel on race to come out of the white South in decades.”—Clay Risen, New York Times
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.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.
“Harper Lee’s second novel sheds more light on our world than its predecessor did.”—Time“Provides valuable insight into the generous, complex mind of one of America’s most important authors.”—USA Today
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That's why "Watchman" works; that's why I have to give it four stars. "Watchman" is about fallen idols and disillusionment. Jean Louise tries to reconcile how moral paragon Atticus Finch could be racist, and that's what the readers have been trying to reconcile, as well. The press release for "Watchman" said, "[Jean Louise Finch] is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father's attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood," which gave us a hint that the Atticus we knew--the infallible anti-racist crusader--would not be that way in "Watchman." The talk about "Watchman" tarnishing Lee's legacy contributed to that idea. Still, I dismissed this possibility until it was confirmed, and even then, I was in denial. When Scout finds out Atticus is attending segregationist citizens' council meetings, she thinks "[He was] pulling something, [he was] there merely to keep an eye on things," a thought that I hopefully and childishly had, as well.
But the most painful thing is that this Atticus is still recognizably, unquestionably Atticus Finch. Some speculated that this first draft Atticus would be different enough as a character (beyond the obvious) that we could easily dismiss him as Not Atticus and the book as Not Canon. He is still a loving father, a good neighbor, endlessly reasonable, thoughtful, articulate, patient, wry, giving. Still, his portrayal in "Watchman" makes me uneasy. JK Rowling could, conceivably, write a Harry Potter sequel set twenty, thirty years in the future, where Harry, an Auror, gleefully casts the Cruciatus Curse against suspected magical wrong-doers on a regular basis. Could she explain how he became this way as he grew older while making it consistent with his character from the first seven books? I think so, but I wouldn't want to read that.
On the bright side, Jean Louise Finch serves as a moral compass. Atticus taught her well. She challenges beliefs that she knows are wrong. Of course, by today's standards, some of the things she says are cringeworthy, but the point is, she is now the progressive heroine. She is not perfect, but she has potential to be better than her father and her hometown. We have hope that she will pick up where Atticus failed. She is also recognizably Scout Finch, the outspoken, precocious tomboy, but now she is twenty-six and still out of place in Maycomb. Jean Louise has been living in New York City, which contributes to the jarringness of her visit. She can't relate to the women of her town, their interests, or their views on race. And, of course, Aunt Alexandra is still on her case about her behavior and appearance.
Other familiar faces include Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack (who takes a much more prominent role), and Calpurnia. Scout mentions that she still keeps in touch with Dill, who is exploring Italy, last she checked. Next to Atticus, the most disappointing news is that Jem died before "Watchman" begins.
Henry Clinton is an important new character. He has been close to the Finches since, well, after the events of "Mockingbird." He became Atticus's protege after Jem died. Jean Louise has a serious relationship with him at the beginning of the novel, but, like Atticus, he attends those awful citizens' council meetings, and her view of him is shaken.
I wanted to hate this book, and I wanted to be angry at it. The controversy surrounding its release would be enough: the story behind its publication is shady, almost certainly achieved through underhanded means, and even buying the novel was a moral quandary. Unfortunately, the book is good, and its message--however painfully it hits--is important: heroes can fall and they should. Not only that, but it forces us to look at our own values and behaviors. Atticus Finch was a huge relief: a person, albeit fictional, that we could look up to. He embodied everything an ethical person should aspire to (at least, the memetic version of him did). Atticus became a literary saint.
However, even "Mockingbird" shows cracks in the statue we've erected of Atticus Finch. He has always taken a paternalist stance towards black people, but the focus of "Mockingbird" was his fight for justice. His moving courtroom scene, his progressive parenting, and his countless other noble deeds overshadow small things like making Calpurnia enter through the back door. But this indicates that his conception of justice and equality is limited--not as limited as the rest of Maycomb, of course, but still limited--and that becomes the focal point of "Watchman." The hardest truth of "Watchman" is not that Atticus changed. It is that he was always like this. The question that Jean Louise/Scout and the readers have to answer is, What are we going to do to be better?
Okay, now that we understand each other, how is 'Watchman'? It's...okay. There are critical differences that I won't go into in order not to spoil the plot. Here's what I can tell you (and I am assuming you are familiar with 'Mockingbird'): The time period is mid-50's. Scout is 26, lives in New York City, and returns to Maycomb for a two week visit. The book is told in a series of anecdotes in the present day and in flashbacks to Scout's childhood. Scout is called by her proper name, Jean Louise, for the majority of the book. Dill is overseas and is only seen in a few flashbacks. Jem is also not on the present scene, although he figures more significantly in flashbacks. Miss Maudie is mentioned but doesn't play a major role. There is no mention whatsoever of any of the Radleys. A principal "new" figure is Hank Clinton, an orphan of Jem's age that was taken under Atticus' wing, became a lawyer and Atticus' partner, and is determined to marry Jean Louise and have her return to Maycomb.
What's happening in Maycomb is that the NAACP is becoming prominent, and 'the Negroes' are demanding civil rights following the US Supreme Court's decision to integrate public schools. Jean Louise is disgusted to learn of Maycomb's opposition to these developments and is horrified by a town council meeting attended by Hank and Atticus where blatant racism, intolerance, stereotypes and segregation are advanced. She dismisses Hank as a would-be fiancé. Her image of Atticus, the hero of 'Mockingbird' and a universal symbol of justice, tolerance and equality, is shattered. Having based her own value system on Atticus, Jean Louise is infuriated and feels she is identity-less as a result of this surprising betrayal.
These developments would be startling and extremely disappointing if 'Watchman' was in fact a sequel to 'Mockingbird'. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief because Lee ultimately chose to portray Atticus in the manner that she did. Reading the earlier version is interesting to see how she came around to the end result. In this respect, 'Watchman' is important as a resource to show countervailing concerns at play when Lee was writing, and is good enough cause to read it. (As a side note, there are striking comparisons to some of the more moderate Maycomb council theories and those of modern-day Confederate flag supporters. Take note, English Lit teachers!)
Does the book stand on its own? In a word, no. It's boring. 'Mockingbird' is charming and funny, the characters are endearing, there's a fair amount of action, the dialogue is brilliant. Not the case in the earlier draft. There is relatively little action. For the most part, the "action" takes place in the flashbacks, none of which are even close to the stories in the eventual classic. The book is not funny. Jean Louise is appealing but she's by no means the adorable, irreverent Scout. Hank Clinton is a caricature that was wisely deleted. Atticus is an old, decrepit shadow of himself whose opinions will upset most readers. Dill is AWOL, the Radley angle is sorely missed. Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack are overly present but are supremely tedious. A major difference between this draft and the later one is that pages and pages are given over to speeches. Practically all the dialogue is delivered from a pulpit or a soap box. Lee had a lot to say, and eventually got it right, but in this version the overlong speeches get boring, quickly. There is some great writing, and many passages from the draft made it into the final cut. Lee obviously benefitted from some intelligent and caring editors as she finished the novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time classic that everyone should read. Go Set A Watchman is an interesting tool that helps show how Lee developed the characters, setting, storyline and message of the novel. It is valuable in that respect, and is worth reading, but does not hold its own as an independent novel, because that's not what it is.
If To Kill A Mockingbird is one of your most beloved childhood novels, this book will break your heart in every way imaginable…
It’s rather a short story, but its meandering makes it seem longer. It goes off on tangents, like how Scout, Jem, and Dill played revival as kids, or how Henry took her to her first school dance, but their relevance to the overall story is never made clear. And the lecture Jean Louise receives from her uncle regarding racism and segregation in Maycomb County is just plain baffling. I kept hoping that the book would redeem itself—it was written by Harper Lee, for crying out loud, so it just had to—which is why I continued to read this book rather than giving up. I finished it, but ultimately, it was just a heartbreaking disappointment, and to explain all the reasons why would just spoil it for anyone still considering reading this.
Most recent customer reviews
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I read this none sitting when I was a teen.