Thursday, July 30, 2015

Go Set A Watchman- blog tour

Three decades back, I chanced upon Harper Lee's classic at a bookstore, and picked it up on a whim. At that time, I didn't even know it was considered one of the defining books of its generation, but it left a profound impression on me. Racism did not exist in India, but as a nation, we were grappling with a host of other 'isms- castism, classism, communalism, regionalism, parochialism, intellectualism. Every individual had a unique reason to look down upon almost every other (or be looked down upon by them), and as an individual born into reasonably privileged conditions, I could have taken my place in the well established social order.

Instead, Atticus Finch taught me to look at individuals as individuals. To look beyond labels and actions, and to try and understand the motive behind why people behaved they way they did in a particular situation. Though I smile at Scout's naiveity in greeting Cunningham the way she did, some of her blindness rubbed off on me, and to the chagrin of my peers, I treat people below me in the social ladder exactly the same way as I would someone above me. That is who I am, and I owed it to Harper Lee. 

Naturally, I was curious when I first heard about the "forgotten" first draft of 'To Kill A Mockingbird', which was developed into 'Go Set A Watchman'. How could I not want to know what happened to the people who were almost closer than 'family' to me? Close to release date, we came to know Atticus was portrayed as a racist. A lot of people declared they would not read the book, because they wanted to hold onto their version of St. Atticus. I was not one of them. If anything the reports made me even more curious- if Atticus indeed became a racist, I wanted to understand why. He had taught me to try and understand the other person's motives before judging them- I could do no less. 

In that, I was disappointed. The book offers no reasons why he developed the views he did. When he explains to a fuming Jean Louise that the blacks are not yet ready to take up positions of responsibility, I don't entirely disagree with him, because in my country I have seen the damage that can be caused by people who do not yet have the maturity to take policy decisions. But why should blacks remain segregated- if they are not allowed into the so called white schools which have better teachers and infrastructure, how will they ever advance enough to become intellectual leaders? There were no answers, merely vague assurances that when the time was right, he would come out in support of what was right, and that till such time, he was maintaining peace. 

What I did come away with, and which redeems the book for me, is the message that you are responsible to your own conscience. Even though the world may be polarised into two opposite camps,  you need to remain true to who you are, and speak up for what you think is right. If that alienates you from everybody, so be it. Remaining silent, or running away is not an option if your conviction is strong. In the county that I now find myself in, that gives me the courage to continue to speak up. 

About the book itself, while the quality of writing shows that it was indeed an earlier version than 'To Kill A Mockingbird', it works equally well as a sequel. The characters have evolved in the intervening decades, yet largely remain true to who they were. I would have liked Calpurnia to show some recognitition to the girl she brought up, but I can understand how the years have been too cruel for even a spark of the old affection to remain. 

And there are echoes. Many echoes. In To Kill A Mockingbird, when Aunt Alexandra forces Scout to put on a frilly frock and entertain her guests, Scout declares that she is a lady. To me, then, it was the ultimate sell out- Scout should have refused to be untrue to herself, I thought. In Go Set A Watchman too, after verbally assaulting her aunt, Jean Louise declares that her aunt is a lady. This time, I agree with her. In thirty years, I've grown up!

The blog tour started at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… on Thursday, 23 July.

Friday, 24 July – It’s all aboard for Canada, as the tour stops at Bill’s blog,Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

Saturday, 25 July – The tour hits the UK, with a stop at Moira' blog Clothes in Books.

Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India, here at Coffee Rings Everywhere.

Friday, 31 July – It’s back to the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog.

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks so much for your excellent review, Natasha! I couldn't agree more about the book's message of thinking things through for yourself and developing your own conscience. I think that's clear. The writing style of Go Set a Watchman isn't what it is in ...Mockingbird, but in it, I think we get a glimpse of what it's like to have to come to terms with some ugly realities. And that is something we need to do. We can't change things if we don't acknowledge that they exist. Thank you for being a part of the blog tour!

Clothes In Books said...

That was such an interesting and thoughtful take on the new book - thanks for sharing that with us. I like the way you have seen it through the prism of your own experiences. I am still thinking about the book a lot, and I'm sure will continue to do so.

Bill Selnes said...

Thanks for participating in the tour and providing a thought provoking review. I doubt Scout would have broken free from the '....isms" of Maycomb County if not for the example of her father. She turns on him 20 years later but she is the woman she is because of Atticus.

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