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NEW YORK — We know this much so far about Harper Lee's new book: Atticus Finch is 72 and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis; Scout is a grown woman who has a suitor most anxious to marry her.
And Scout's older brother, Jem, apparently has died.
"Go Set a Watchman" begins with Scout, otherwise known as Jean Louise Finch, returning by train to Lee's legendary Maycomb, Alabama, on one of several annual visits she makes from New York, where she is greeted by young Henry Clinton. The first chapter ran in Friday's editions of The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.
"Go Set a Watchman," the most unexpected second novel in memory, is coming out July 14. It takes place in the 1950s, 20 years after the setting for "To Kill a Mockingbird," Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book. U.S. publisher HarperCollins has said that pre-orders for "Go Set a Watchman" are the highest in company history, and bookstores worldwide are planning events to celebrate the book's release.
Anticipation and apprehension have surrounded news of "Watchman" since it was announced in February. The surprise and ecstasy of a new work from Lee have been shadowed by suspicions the book doesn't measure up to "Mockingbird" and was approved without the 89-year-old author's full awareness.
Lee has poor hearing and vision and resides in an assisted living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. But her lawyer Tonja Carter; literary agent Andrew Nurnberg; and publisher have insisted she is delighted the book is coming out. State officials, responding to at least one complaint of possible elder abuse, determined she was alert and capable of deciding on the release of "Watchman."
According to HarperCollins, Carter came upon the "Watchman" manuscript at a "secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'" The new book, which Harper has said did not undergo any new revisions, is set in Maycomb during a time when the civil rights movement was taking hold in Lee's home state.
"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called 'Go Set a Watchman,'" Lee said in a statement issued by Harper in February. "It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort," she said. "My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became 'To Kill a Mockingbird') from the point of view of the young Scout. ... I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years," said Lee.