As it turns out, this book, which I actually found delightful, is full of controversy. Browse the comments and reviews on Amazon or other book sites and you will find both raves and pans. The book, as stated by author Marja Mills, was never intended to be a biography of the uber-private recluse Nelle Harper Lee, author of the acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Rather she wrote it as a memoir after meeting Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice while working on an article for the Chicago Tribune.
Ms. Mills later moved next door to the Lees’ home in Monroeville, Alabama in 2004 and, according to the book, seems to have become well acquainted with the pair as well as their friends. Whether or not the author’s stated premise is true or not, I still found it delightful and full of Alabama and Deep Southern history. It is obvious that the Lee sisters are proud Southerners, even though over the years Nelle Harper Lee spent a great deal of time commuting between Alabama and New York City.
The reviews I read seemed to express dismay that the Lee sisters never authorized the book and it was a blatant intrusion of their privacy. Mills refers to a letter from Alice (an attorney) in which she receives the blessing of both sisters to write the memoir. In July of 2014, however, Nelle Harper Lee issued a statement: “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.”
Nelle Harper Lee is now eighty-eight years old and lives in an assisted living facility following a stroke in 2007. The letter which Mills relies on for authorization was written by Alice at around age one hundred years.
Some reviewers go so far as to call Ms. Mills a liar. If that’s true then I guess the book might be called a work of fiction rather than a factual memoir. There are several places in the book where she pauses in her approach to the sisters, concerned that she may be invading their privacy. It seems apparent that scores of people still revere Harper Lee – she is a national treasure. Whether entirely true or not, I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it – just be aware that in the summer of 2014 it has become a controversial publication.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.