Book Reviews: Go Set A Chick, Or Hell Bent On Virginity

May 12, 2019

[vc_row][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]


Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

This is The Chick by Wendy Hartmann and Joan Rankin

Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson

Hell Bent by Gregg Hurwitz


Harper Lee, thanks to To Kill A Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other awards, and the book was a literary game-changer in the civil rights hotbed of the American South (in which it was set) during the Sixties (it was first published at the beginning of the decade). A school setwork around the world for half a century after it was released, it’s part of the understanding of race relations of at least two generations of not only Americans, but South Africans and many others besides. That’s an impossible act to follow, and by all accounts Lee herself agreed with that sentiment, and was less than enthusiastic about publishing Go Set A Watchman, which sees Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, returning to her home town of of Maycomb, Alabama, and the family home where Atticus Finch, her father and the upstanding lawyer at the centre of the original story, still lives. Scout is now in her mid-twenties, a strong-minded young woman who’s lived in New York and been exposed to a number of perspectives not included in her small-town upbringing. She finds herself, while trying to give her old community the benefit of the doubt regarding their attitudes towards the ways America and its race relations have changed since she was a child, discovering that she is now something of an alien in her original habitat. And later, that sense of vague discomfort develops into stomach-churning anguish when Scout discovers that the values she’s built all her most precious relationships on have been betrayed. Parts of this narrative read like contemporary South African newspapers or social media feeds, and that’s problematic. If you’ve spent any amount of time on Facebook recently, you’ll know that feeling of tedium and exasperation as you see matters like “white privilege” discussed ad nauseum, with nobody ever getting closer to solving any of the multi-faceted issues that branch out from that discussion – or even really define what it is they’re arguing about. At the end of those threads, you are left unsatisfied and worried, and the same is true for the denouement of this, Lee’s last book (Go Set A Watchman was published in 2015; the author passed away at the beginning of 2016). What has come before is well-written and evocative, but none of the fast, obfuscatory talking of Lee’s protagonists at the end can hide the fact that they’re happy to embrace those aspects of racism that allow them to live their own lives and relegate those they feel are less capable of living at the same level of civilisation (to broadly paraphrase) to an on-the-breadline existence they’ll never escape without assistance. It’s depressing because these are challenges readers are still facing 60 years after this book was originally written and are no closer to working their way through and because a set of characters whose stance against such prejudice inspired millions are now reduced to just normal, feeble everymen. Perhaps Lee was at once a realist and an activist, hoping for the best to emerge from her creations but aware that such desires were always more fiction than fact. Whatever the case, this book muddies the water when most readers will probably be hoping for focus and insight, and as such, will certainly affect Lee’s legacy in the eyes of many. – BD


Something akin to an African The Gruffalo, This Is The Chick is a wonderfully simple, lyrical broken-telephone story in which a simple sound, the chirping of a chick, is misheard or misunderstood by every creature on the savanna, brought to beautiful life by Joan Rankin’s illustrations. Several facets of the story are shared with old fables and European folklore, including the wise old owl being the voice of reason some way into the story. As such, this is a wonderful gift for a child who has yet to be introduced to those traditions. – BD


Finding My Virginity, the new autobiography by Branson, begins at the beginning of 1999, picking up where Losing My Virginity ended. New developments are put in historical perspective, because however much innovation he manages now, there are ties to the past. But remember that this is the man who tries “to do things for the first time every day.” The chapter headings are an immediate highlight: Building a Business from the Back of a Beermatis a great story; an accountant with vision! Branson identifies a man who has done projections for a start-up airline literally on the back of a beer mat (appropriately an airline in Australia). Climate Change is more than you’d expect. It begins with Al Gore, moves onto the international stage of research, deliberations and negotiations, and outlines Branson’s personal commitment to finding high-energy fuels with lower impact. It also encompasses global drug (narcotics) policies, with a view to decriminalising many substances. Change indeed. Donald Trump emerges as a challenge to all that is sensible, reasonable and evidence-based. Having read the exhaustive history of the XPRIZE, the competition to build a spaceship, I read Branson’s account critically. Peter Diamandos, the leading figure in the establishing of the competition, does not even get a mention. Branson comes out better in his own account than in the longer and fuller version. We all have our own viewpoints and they do tend to be less than objective. There are personal stories, such as Branson’s response to an appeal by Madiba, his personal engagement when one of his trains was derailed and an elderly woman died, his swift and good-humoured intervention when he received a letter from a customer who had had a bad meal on a Virgin flight. He’s a shrewd and demanding businessman, but with a reputation for caring for his staff at every level and wanting above all to give his customers their money’s worth. Branson’s family and friends play a huge role in his life. He is a man of boundless energy and huge enthusiasm. This is not a modest book: how on earth could he downplay all that he has achieved? What is amazing is the breadth of his vision; his sparkling mind. What other enterpreneur could bring Mandela and the Dalai Lama together? It’s a very interesting read, in an easy style. The co-author, Greg Rose, should be given a great deal of the credit. – RH


In Hell Bent, a secret, strategic swat team recruits children from orphanages to be trained as operators for special missions. They are trained to use highly sophisticated communication software including satellite phones, internet surveillance cameras and iPad wizardry. Combat skills and the use of all kinds of weaponry make them a formidable licensed-to-kill unit to eliminate enemies of the state.  But there is trouble at leadership  level, with the top dog wanting to eliminate some of his own subordinates.  This proves a major challenge as the unwanted are highly trained to defend themselves. The book is full of MacGyver-style trickery, intrigue, killings conducted in various ways and plenty of action, which makes for great reading. – DB[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]