Four stars (of five)
After the discovering of this manuscript, written over 55 years earlier, the literary world was abuzz about what else Lee might have to say about Jem, Scout, and Atticus. Penned years before the famous To Kill a Mockingbird but set two decades after that fateful summer, Lee offers the written an interesting glimpse into Maycomb in the heart of the 1950s. Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is back for her annual trip to Alabama, travelling from New York City for a two-week sojourn from the lights and noise. While she seeks only to rest, she encounters many Maycombians from her past, including Henry Clinton, who holds her heart and played a key role in her life in the years after the reader left Maycomb last. Allowing the story more freedom by removing Jean Louise from narration responsibilities, it flips between flashback moments from Jean Louise’s youth to the present summer life in Alabama’s south. Jean Louise plays watchman of sorts, taking in all she sees of her hometown and sermonising to her family on all its deficiencies. With a new round of civil rights on the horizon, Jean Louise is appalled to see the townsfolk, including affable Atticus Finch take a stand around minimalising black rights, and downplaying the importance of the NAACP. With Jem gone to a heart attack and Henry firmly ensconced in the local mantra, Jean Louise is on her own, fighting for equal rights in a town where colour remains synonymous with class. When the Finches cross swords over the issue, both Atticus and Jean Louise present their case, leaving the reader to act as jury. Lee shows the struggle between the races that, one hundred years after the divisive war, remains firmly rooted, with geography still dictating sides.
Lee’s unearthed novel did not bode well when first she sought to publish it and has received mixed reviews in his release. With a number of the same characters, many readers seek it to be a sequel to the famous Lee novel that tore a country apart for decades. It is not that, per se, and should not be treated in that manner. It stands alone as a decent social commentary on the early years of civil rights, with Brown v. Board of Education freshly decided and the South still firm in its opposition. Lee shows how the North, personified in Jean Louise, cannot abide by the backward way of thinking and seeks to inject its own form of justice, while Alabama chooses its own path and road to acceptance with Atticus offering his own flavour to the discussion. The novel also seeks to fill the cracks in Scout Finch’s story between the end of her eighth year and the present, with her as a refined 26 year old. Its title, pulled from a line of Scripture, allows her to become a surveyor of all she knew and push it through the filter of her current set of beliefs. Contrasting the two proves highly entertaining for the reader and disproves the adage that you can remove someone from a place, but their heart remains therein.Those who seek a sequel or a novel with as much vigour and deep meaning will surely be disappointed, though the novel stands nicely on its own. Lee cannot be criticised for her efforts, though, with the publication of TO KILL, it cannot measure up to its published predecessor, should this novel not be seen as a standalone.
Kudos, Madam Lee, for this great piece of writing. It opens eyes and minds, in a way Lee did on her first go-round.