Go Set a Watchman
Harper Lee’s first novel about racism in America’s southern states, To Kill a Mockingbird, was released in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize. Since then it’s been a perennial on most major lists of the best works of fiction from the 20th century. Her two main characters, Scout and Atticus, are universally admired and beloved. For adolescent girls who wanted liberation from the frilly shackles of 1950 expectations of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’, Scout provided a hero and role model.
Before Harper Lee wrote what was regarded as her ‘one and only’, she apparently worked on drafts of two other manuscripts. One was Go Set a Watchman, which will be released as a sequel to Mockingbird. Set 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, it narrates Scout’s return to the town of Maycomb to visit her father, Atticus. Other familiar characters also reappear — hopefully the mockingbird, Boo Radley, being among them.
Should Harper Lee allow the release of her other manuscript, titled Atticus, then public reaction will be in the giddy stratosphere.
The Festival of Insignificance
Many in the legion of Milan Kundera fans cut their Kundera appreciation teeth on the sixth of his fourteen novels, The Unbearable Lightnesss of Being, published in 1984. Now, after a decade, his latest book will be released and many hope that it will result in him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature — given for a body of work over a lifetime.
The French version of the new book has already topped charts in Italy, Spain and France — where the Czech-born author has lived for 40 years.
The book’s publisher describes it as “wryly comic and quite surreal and [providing] a deeply serious glance at the ultimate insignificance of life and politics. It’s told through the daily lives of four friends in modern-day Paris and feels incredibly relevant to the world we live in now.”
Reviewers say that it is one of Kundera’s most significant works.
Those who want to re-immerse themselves in The Unbearable Lightness will reacquaint themselves with the womanising surgeon Tomas, his anguished wife Tereza, Sabina, a free-spirited artist who is the lover of both Tomas and Swiss professor Franz, Tomas’ estranged son Simon and Karenin the female dog — ultimately responsible for reuniting the family when they are relocated to a collective farm. Readers will find themselves in 1960s Prague, from the heady days of the Prague Spring to the aftermath of the ensuing, spirit-crushing Soviet invasion.
An Oldie for the Neo-Libs
One of the literary icons of neo-liberalism, Ayn Rand, is very popular with lots of business studies-inclined Vietnamese readers, and it won’t surprise us if a new edition of her 1935 novella Anthem tops the Bookworm bestseller list.
Anthem is a dystopian opus less than 100 large-print pages long. It takes place in an unnamed place in the future and fulfills all our deepest dreads about having our individuality and freedom of choice usurped by a dominant power. In fact, the use of ‘I’ or ‘ego’ is punishable by death, and people have numbers rather than names.
As in all her fictional works, Rand’s heroes expound the central principles of her philosophy of objectivism, in which she proposes that the proper moral purpose of life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness, and that the only proper moral social system is the one embedded in laissez-faire capitalism.
A Severed Head for Younger Readers
A recently released book, Noggin, will really go down well with teenage readers. Travis is 16 and dying of leukemia when he decides to have his head cryogenically frozen after he dies, so that, at a later date, it can be sewn onto a donor body.
That later date happens within five years, and Travis becomes conscious in hospital not too long behind the times.
It’s a funny, enormously entertaining read, and because things like head transplants are a possibility, because the medical terms used sound believable, because cryogenics is already a thing and because the future portrayed is not too far off, young readers will be engrossed.
It encapsulates enough youthful romance to make the present enjoyable, and a hint of an optimistic future where medical research may make youthful cancer deaths a thing of the dim, dark past.
And it has a worthwhile message — that you should try and live in the present, while also realising that the future isn’t too far away.
For more information on Bookworm go to bookwormhanoi.com