Harper Lee (1916? — 2016)

Harper Lee, one of America’s greatest writers of one book, died today. She had been living out her days in a retirement home in one of the southern states.

A descendant of Robert ‘General’ Lee, she started her career as a mild-mannered PA to Truman Capote who wrote a book about murders and also the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s and was later famous for his sexuality and partying. Having tired of his distinctive voice, Ms Lee was moved to write about the racism of the Ol’ South and did so in Mockingbird. This was in the 1960s. And it was also to be such a successful book that Ms Lee never bothered to write again until she was really old. It was also made into a film with the actor who plays Mengele in The Boys from Brazil.

To Kill a Mockingbird has a white man (Atticus Finch) defend a black man in a trial. The novel is narrated by Finch’s daughter. She has a strange name, like many of the characters in Ms Lee’s novel, and is called Scout.

The book was extremely successful because of what it said about racism — namely, that it was a bad thing. It struck a chord in an America that was at that time slowly coming to realise that racism really was bad. Although, some racists continue to exist.

Mockingbird was recently given a sales boost when Suzanne Collins named her first instalment of ‘The Hunger Games’ series ‘Mockingjay’. Consequently, many confused fathers bought their daughters Ms Lee’s novel by mistake.

As mentioned, this novel was to be the last thing that Ms Lee wrote until, under strange circumstances, she released a sequel or prequel to the novel with the word ‘watchmen’ in the title. This was very successful too, even though the critics said it was pretty ordinary and nobody I knew bothered to finish it. It had a nice front cover and many book shops created attractive window displays to promote it.

What Ms Lee did in the many decades between her only two novels is anyone’s guess. It is recorded that she went to a high school and gave a speech. It is speculated that she enjoyed drinking iced tea on the veranda while listening to classical music from an old gramophone. She had a sister and she spoke to her sister about the weather and that kind of thing.

Anyone who’s ever had a teacher tell them how important Mockingbird is because of how it addresses the serious issue of racism will mourn Ms Lee’s death. A fitting mark of respect might be to reread the novel or, at least, reread the Wikipedia plot synopsis, so you don’t get embarrassed when someone next asks if you’ve read the book.

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