Monday, June 23, 2014
Review of "The Mockingbird Next Door" - A Rare Glimpse Into The Life of Harper Lee
Journalist Marja Mills has pulled off an extraordinary coup on several levels. At one level, she managed, through patience, perseverance and integrity, to overcome the decades-long animosity that Harper Lee has nursed against journalists. Her almost reclusive life in sleepy Monroeville, Alabama has been constrained largely by her desire to stay out of the public eye. The whirlwind of publicity that came her way after the success of her novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird" left her painfully gun shy.
At a second level, having gained the trust of Ms. Lee and her older sister, Alice Lee, Ms. Mills manages in this book, "The Mockingbird Next Door," to reveal fascinating aspects of the Lee family history, the history of Monroeville and environs and the lives of Alice and Nelle (Harper Lee's given first name) without over breaking trust or confidentiality. This is a remarkable achievement in journalism and in inter-personal relationships.
The book was years in the making, and was well worth the wait. I have loved "To Kill A Mockingbird" since my high school days of feasting on the book and the film with the iconic depiction of Atticus Finch by Gregory Peck. In this book, author Mills shares wonderful snippets about Harper Lee's life-long friendship with Gregory Peck and his wife, as well as the stormy relationship with Truman Capote, who was the inspiration for the character of Dill in the novel. In this telling of the Lee family story, elder sister Alice comes across as a fascinating one-of-a-kind woman - still practicing law at age 90. Harper describes her sister as "Atticus Finch in a skirt."
This beautifully written book has driven me to re-read "To Kill A Mockingbird" and to watch one more time the fine film adaptation that was a highlight of my youth..Any fan of Harper Lee's novel will enjoy Ms. Mills' behind-the-scenes look at life in a part of the world that is unique.