HARPER Lee, the 88-year-old author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is to publish a newly discovered second novel this summer, more than half a century after her seminal debut.
The new book, entitled Go Set A Watchman, was in fact written before the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird, which was published in 1960. Ms Lee set her earlier effort aside after the latter became a bestseller. The text was believed lost until last autumn, when her lawyer, Tonja Carter, discovered a copy among the author's effects, attached to an original manuscript of To Kill A Mockingbird.
The events of To Kill A Mockingbird took place in the Jim Crow South of the author's childhood. Go Set a Watchman is a sequel set 20 years later, in the 1950s; it features many of the same characters, in the same fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Ms Lee's original UK publishers, William Heinemann (an imprint of Penguin Random House), announced on Tuesday that the 304-page tome would be released as written, with no revisions, on 14 July 2015. US publisher Harper is planning an initial print run of two million copies.
Ms Lee said in a statement, "In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman. It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.
"I hadn't realised it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."
At least 40 million copies of To Kill A Mockingbird have been sold since its publication on 11 July, 1960. Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance as its hero, noble small-town lawyer Atticus Finch, in a film version released two years later. At the time, Ms Lee had written more than 100 pages of another novel, reportedly entitled The Long Goodbye, only to abandon it as her fame grew. Until this week, her fans had long given up hope of any further works.
In Go Set a Watchman Lee's narrator, Scout Finch, now a young woman, returns to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. According to the publisher's description, "She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father's attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood."
Ms Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama - the model for Maycomb - and returned there permanently from New York in 2007. She wrote Go Set a Watchman and To Kill A Mockingbird - a classic tale of racial injustice - in the midst of the civil rights movement, which centred on her home state in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956.
Tom Weldon, the CEO of Penguin Random House, described the new book as both a "sequel" and a "parent" to To Kill A Mockingbird. "The publication of Go Set a Watchman will be a major event and millions of fans around the world will have the chance to reacquaint themselves with Scout, her father Atticus and the prejudices and claustrophobia of that small town in Alabama Harper Lee conjures so brilliantly," he said.
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