It has been a long time since I wrote about a book. Main reason was that I was reading in Tamil much more than English. The English novels I read were not worth writing about. So I tried reading the classics and failed badly there too. Finished half of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostyovesky and the first 100 pages of Anna Karenina. Slowly I was losing my interest in English novels. It was at this juncture I picked up To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.
What can I say about a book that I started to read at the end of a tiring day at 10.30 PM and kept reading through the night till I finished it at 03.00 AM. No adjectives can do justice to the book. The storyline is simple - An upright white lawyer, Atticus Finch in small town Alabama fighting for a black man, Tom Robinson accused of raping a white woman. The story is said through the viewpoint of the lawyer's 9 year old daughter, Scout. Lee sets it up nicely, taking you through the idyllic pranks of Scout and her elder brother Jem Finch. Through their school days she paints the picture of a self sustained small town in Alabama. The case starts interfering into the children's lives and how Atticus Finch deals with the issues forms the crux of the story.
Lee has succeeded in seeing the world through the eyes of a child. You feel the trauma of Jem when he hears the jury says Guilty to an obivously false case; the anger of Scout when she hears her father being branded nigger lover; her confusion on hearing the townspeople say "The court appointed Finch as the defendant's lawyer, but we never thought that he would actually try to defend a nigger". I can go on and on about this.
And what to say about Atticus Finch, he is upthere with my heroes Howard Roark and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Nothing more to say.
Lee has written mastefully about the court sequence but the best sequence for me was the confrontation between Finch and others who want to kill Robinson in the prison. The way an 8 year old girl is able to make people see sense is heartening.
An intriguing thought, if the novel had ended with the death of Tom Robinson while trying to escape, it might have been an angry novel. But the real action takes place after that, the conscience of the town is disturbed, knowing well that they hung a man on false charges just because he was black. The sheriff declaring that Bob Ewell, who accused Robinson, died by falling on his own knife and was not murdered is an act of the town trying to pay for its misdeeds.