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J. D. Salinger

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J. D. Salinger

A Life
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NATIONAL BESTSELLEROne of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, the author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his...
NATIONAL BESTSELLEROne of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, the author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his...
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  • NATIONAL BESTSELLER

    One of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, the author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life. Now he is the subject of this definitive biography, which is filled with new information and revelations garnered from countless interviews, letters, and public records. Kenneth Slawenski explores Salinger's privileged youth, long obscured by misrepresentation and rumor, revealing the brilliant, sarcastic, vulnerable son of a disapproving father and doting mother. Here too are accounts of Salinger's first broken heart--after Eugene O'Neill's daughter, Oona, left him--and the devastating World War II service that haunted him forever. J. D. Salinger features all the dazzle of this author's early writing successes, his dramatic encounters with luminaries from Ernest Hemingway to Elia Kazan, his office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers, and the stunning triumph of The Catcher in the Rye, which would both make him world-famous and hasten his retreat into the hills of New Hampshire. J. D. Salinger is this unique author's unforgettable story in full--one that no lover of literature can afford to miss.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The Great War had changed everything. As 1919 dawned, people awoke to a fresh new world, one filled with promise but uncertainty. Old ways of life, beliefs and assumptions unchallenged for decades, were now called into question or swept away. The guns had fallen silent only weeks before. The Old World now lay in ruins. In its place stood a new nation poised to assume the mantle of leadership. No place in that land was more anxious or more ready than the city of New York.

    It was the first day of the first year of peace when Miriam Jillich Salinger gave birth to a son. His sister, Doris, had been born six years before. In the years since Doris's birth, Miriam had suffered a series of miscarriages.

    This child too was almost lost. So it was with a mixture of joy and relief that Miriam and Solomon Salinger welcomed their son into the world. They named him Jerome David, but from the very first day, they called him Sonny.

    Sonny was born into a middle-class Jewish family that was both unconventional and ambitious. The Salinger line reached back to the ?village of Sudargas, a tiny Jewish settlement (shtetl) situated on the Polish-Lithuanian border of the Russian Empire, a village where, rec?ords show, the family had lived at least since 1831. But the Salingers were not given to tradition or nostalgia. By the time Sonny was born, their link to that world had nearly evaporated. Sonny's father was robust and motivated, determined to go his own way in life. Typical of the sons of immigrants, he had resolved to free himself of any connection with the world of his parents' birth, a place he considered backward. Unknown to Solomon at the time, his rebellion was actually a family tradition. The Salingers had gone their own way for generations, seldom looking back and growing increasingly prosperous with each step. As Sonny would one day reflect, his ancestors had an amazing penchant "for diving from immense heights into small containers of water"--and hitting their mark every time.1

    Hyman Joseph Salinger, Sonny's great-grandfather, had moved from Sudargas to the more prosperous town of Taurage in order to marry into a prominent family. Through his writings, J. D. Salinger later immortalized his great-grandfather as the clown Zozo, honor- ing him as the family patriarch and confiding that he felt his great-?grandfather's spirit always watched over him. Hyman Joseph remained in Russia all his life and died nine years before the birth of his great-grandson. Salinger knew of him only through a photograph, an image that offered a glimpse into another world. It depicted an elderly peasant brimming with nobility, erect in his long black gown and flowing white beard, and sporting a tremendous nose--a feature that Salinger confessed made him shudder with apprehension.2

    Sonny's grandfather Simon F. Salinger was also ambitious. In 1881, a year of famine (though not in Taurage itself), he left home and family and immigrated to the United States. Soon after arriving in America, Simon married Fannie Copland, also a Lithuanian immigrant, at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The couple then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where they found an apartment in one of the city's many immigrant neighborhoods and where, on March 16, 1887, Fannie gave birth to Sonny's father, Solomon, the second of five surviving children.3

    By 1893, the Salingers were living in Louisville, Kentucky, where Simon attended medical school. His religious training in Russia served him well, enabling him to practice as a rabbi in order to finance his education.4 Upon obtaining his medical degree, Simon left the pulpit and, after a brief return to Pennsylvania, moved the family to its final destination in the...

About the Author-
  • Kenneth Slawenski is the creator of DeadCaulfields.com, a website founded in 2004 and recommended by The New York Times. He has been working on this biography for eight years. Slawenski was born in New Jersey, and has lived there all his life.

Reviews-
  • The Sunday Times

    Praise from the U.K. for Salinger: A Life "A first-rate book which is especially good on the links between Salinger's fictions and their thematic developments . . . The passages on Salinger's own war show that Slawenski can be an excellent storyteller himself, as he follows his subject through the thick of the horrors from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge."--The Daily Telegraph "A welcome trove of information. Partly through exhaustive biographical research (especially into the early years) and partly through porings over almost unknown, uncollected stories, Slawenski enthrallingly illuminates what turned Salinger into an extraordinary literary phenomenon."

  • The Mail on Sunday "Slawenski sets about his task with such unblushing love and zest that his book is as irresistible to me as Salinger himself. . . . Slawenski has a priceless humility and a sympathy with his subject which is unstinting though not unqualified. As a result, I think you get from him a rather better idea of what Salinger was really like and why he lived his life as he did than you might from a biography which is licensed to describe itself as 'scholarly' or 'authorised.' . . . If you can imagine Salinger having a soft spot for any book about him . . . then Slawenski's might be the one."--The Spectator "Diligent, respectful, resolute in its refusal to include gossip, always ready to acknowledge the point at which evidence ends and speculation begins."
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