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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee
By Milt Gross
Dec 27, 2015 - 5:12:28 AM

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One of the best books I've read for a long time was Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. The fiction tale set some 20 or more years after To Kill a Mockingbird, finds Atticus, the heroic attorney in the first book as a somewhat cynical older man. In Go Set a Watchman, Lee portrays a South still waging an unspoken battle to deprive blacks over equality with whites. Milt Gross photo.
"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," according to Amazon.

In the story, Scout, a daughter of lawyer Atticus, returns to Georgie from New York some 20 years after she left home and is somewhat shocked that behavior negative to blacks is still ongoing. This 278-page novel is basically a treatise against this still-negative practice. I found interesting that Atticus turns out not be so much protecting negroes as he is practical, the reason he was able to have a court find his negro client not guilty all those years ago.

At the end, Scout remains in Georgia.

The story is well written and moves right along, but, looking back at it, I found a central part of the manuscript a work to expose bigotry. Blacks were still treated as not quite as "well" as whites, whatever that means. This central part of the manuscript appears to me to be a criticism of that white mindset.

Amasa Colman Lee. Her first name, Nelle, was her grandmother's name spelled backwards, and the name she uses. Harper Lee is her pen name.

Lee "(born April 28, 1926) is ... widely known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on her observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event (Not described in this article.) that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The novel deals with the irrationality of white adult attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of two children. The novel was inspired by the racist attitudes she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, AL."

"In February 2015, Lee's lawyer released a statement confirming the publication of a second novel, Go Set a Watchman. Written in the mid 1950s, the book was controversially published in July 2015 as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, though it has since been confirmed to be the first draft of the latter," Wikipedia.

Lee's "...mother was a homemaker; her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, practiced law and served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. Before A.C. Lee became a title lawyer, he once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Both clients, a father and son, were hanged," Wikipedia.

"In 1949, Lee moved to New York City and took a job as an airline reservation agent, writing fiction in her spare time. Having written several long stories, Lee found an agent in November 1956. The following month, at Michael Brown's East 50th Street townhouse, she received a gift of a year's wages from friends with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas," Wikipedia.

"In the spring of 1957, a 31-year-old Lee delivered the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman to her agent to send out to publishers, including the now-defunct J.B. Lippincott Company," which eventually bought it," Wikipedia.

I grew up in a Pennsylvania town, where blacks where somehow living in an area across a major road along with white railroad workers. As I was in junior high or high school, a few blacks came to our door one Halloween night, from which I somehow detected embarrassed my parents.

But it was in the Air Force in Biloxi, MI, where I recall the most blatant insult to blacks. A couple of white women had taken me to a Baptist church, about which I remember nothing, and on the way home as we approached the air base, one said, "They've got damn blacks guarding the base." That became my memory of Southern Baptists.

I felt this book was written a bit ahead of its time, but it was written and well written.

"In 1966, Lee wrote a letter to the editor in response to the attempts of a Richmond, VA area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as "immoral literature," Wikipedia.

This 2015 copy was copyrighted this year by Harper Collins, NY. The book cover lists the price at $27.99 (why not $28?), and at it sells for $15 hardcover, $12.99 for the Kindle Edition, and $7.30 for used editions. (I'm not sure how many used editions are out there for a 2015 book.)

From the book jacket, "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."

I think this is one of the most important novels I've ever read, and, while you can't borrow the copy I read, it should be available at your local library.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2015

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