In memory of Jerome D. Salinger: a long-lived vegetarian with a troubled mental organization

At the very end of January, the world lost a famous writer, Jerome David Salinger. He died at his home in New Hampshire at the age of 92. The writer owes his longevity to taking care of his own health – for almost his entire adult life he was a vegetarian, first to spite his butcher father, and then according to his own convictions. 

Official reference 

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York to a businessman’s family. Graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. He entered New York University in 1937 and served in the US Army during World War II. In 1948, he published his first story in the New York Times newspaper – “It’s good to catch a banana fish.” Three years later, The Catcher in the Rye was published, making Salinger an instant fashion writer. 

Written in slang, the story of the unstable 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, who matures over the course of the book, shocked readers. Holden has to deal with the typical problems of adolescence while coping with the death of his younger brother, who died of leukemia. 

Critics were amazed: the book was very fresh, imbued with a rebellious spirit, teenage anger, disappointment and bitter humor. Until now, about 250 thousand copies of the novel leave the shelves every year. 

Holden Caulfield is one of the most famous literary characters in American literature of the XNUMXth century. 

Salinger had a very bad relationship with his father, a Jewish butcher shop owner who wanted his son to inherit his shop. The son not only did not follow his advice, but did not attend his father’s funeral at all and later became a vegetarian. 

By 1963, Salinger had published a number of novels and short stories, after which he announced his unwillingness to continue his writing career and settled in the Cornish, having retired “from worldly temptations.” Salinger leads the life of a recluse, saying that whoever wants to know about him should read his books. More recently, several of Salinger’s letters were sold at auction and bought by none other than Peter Norton, ex-CEO of Symantec; according to Norton, he bought these letters in order to return them to Salinger, whose desire for seclusion and “keeping anyone out of his private life” is worthy of every respect. 

One must think that over the past fifty years, Salinger has read a lot about himself. All these stories, Salinger this, Salinger that. It can be argued that obituaries were prepared in all major newspapers about ten years ago. Romanized biographies, encyclopedic biographies, with elements of investigation and psychoanalysis. It is important? 

The man wrote a novel, three stories, nine short stories and chose not to tell the world anything else. It is logical to assume that to understand his philosophy, attitude towards vegetarianism and opinions on the war in Iraq, you need to read his texts. Instead, Salinger was constantly tried to be interviewed. His daughter wrote a lifetime memoir about her father. To top it off, Jerome Salinger died, leaving (they say) a mountain of manuscripts in the house, some of which (they write) are quite suitable for publication. 

Unofficial life 

So how much do we know about Jerome Salinger? Probably yes, but only particulars. Interesting details are contained in the book by Margaret Salinger, who decided to “give dad in full for her happy childhood.” The wall of rye parted somewhat, but the main thing remained hidden, including for the writer’s relatives. 

As a boy, he dreamed of being deaf and dumb, living in a hut on the edge of the forest and communicating with his deaf and dumb wife through notes. The old man, one might say, fulfilled his dream: he is old, deaf, lives in a wooded area, but does not feel much need for notes, since he still communicates little with his wife. The hut has become his fortress, and only a rare lucky person manages to get inside its walls. 

The boy’s name is Holden Caulfield, and he lives in a story that is still idolized by millions of “misunderstood” teenagers – “The Catcher in the Rye.” The old man is the author of this book, Jerome David, or, in the American style, abbreviated by the initials, JD, Salinger. In the early 2000s, he is in his 80s and lives in Cornish, New Hampshire. He hasn’t published anything new since 1965, gives interviews to almost no one, and yet remains an author who enjoys gigantic popularity and unflagging attention, and not only in the United States. 

Occasionally, but it happens that the writer begins to live the fate of his character, obeying his logic, repeating and continuing his path, coming to a natural outcome. Isn’t this the highest measure of the truthfulness of a literary work? Probably, many would like to know for sure what the rebel Holden became in his declining years. But the author, living on the fate of an aged boy, does not let anyone close, hiding in a house around which not a single living soul lives for several kilometers. 

True, for hermits our time is far from the best. Human curiosity also penetrates through tightly closed shutters. Especially when the relatives and friends of the old recluse become an ally of the inquisitive. Another cry-revelation about the fate of JD Salinger, difficult and controversial, was the memoirs of his daughter Margaret (Peg) Salinger, published in 2000 under the title “Chasing the Dream”. 

For those who are keenly interested in Salinger’s work and biography, there is no better storyteller. Peg grew up with her father in the Cornish wilderness, and, as she claims, her childhood was like a scary fairy tale. The existence of Jerome Salinger was far from always a voluntary imprisonment, however, according to his daughter, some ominous reflection lay on his life. There has always been a tragic duality in this man. 

Why? The answer, at least a partial one, can be found already in the first section of Margaret Salinger’s memoirs, dedicated to her father’s childhood. The world famous writer grew up in the center of New York, in Manhattan. His father, a Jew, prospered as a food merchant. The overprotective mother was Irish, Catholic. However, obeying the circumstances, she pretended to be a Jewess, hiding the truth even from her son. Salinger, who was especially keenly aware of himself as a “half-Jew”, learned from his own experience what anti-Semitism is. That is why this theme repeatedly and quite clearly appears in his work. 

His youth fell on a turbulent time. After graduating from military school, JD disappeared into the mass of American “GI” (graduates). As part of the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division, he participated in World War II, opened a second front, landing on the coast of Normandy. It was not easy at the front, and in 1945 the future classic of American literature was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. 

Be that as it may, Jerome Salinger did not become a “front-line writer”, although, according to his daughter, in his early works “a soldier is visible.” His attitude to the war and the post-war world was also … ambivalent – alas, it is difficult to find another definition. As an American counterintelligence officer, JD participated in the German denazification program. Being a man who wholeheartedly hates Nazism, he once arrested a girl – a young functionary of the Nazi party. And married her. According to Margaret Salinger, the German name of her father’s first wife was Sylvia. Together with her, he returned to America, and for some time she lived in his parents’ house. 

But the marriage was short-lived. The author of the memoirs explains the reason for the gap with the utmost simplicity: “She hated the Jews with the same passion with which he hated the Nazis.” Later, for Sylvia, Salinger came up with the contemptuous nickname “Saliva” (in English, “spit”). 

His second wife was Claire Douglas. They met in 1950. He was 31 years old, she was 16. A girl from a respectable British family was sent across the Atlantic away from the horrors of war. Jerome Salinger and Claire Douglas got married, although she still had a few months left to graduate from high school. Daughter, born in 1955, Salinger wanted to name Phoebe – after the name of Holden Caulfield’s sister from his story. But here the wife showed firmness. “Her name will be Peggy,” she said. The couple later had a son, Matthew. Salinger turned out to be a good father. He willingly played with the kids, enchanted them with his stories, where “the line between fantasy and reality was erased.” 

At the same time, the writer always tried to improve himself: throughout his life he studied Hinduism. He also tried various methods of leading a healthy lifestyle. At various times he was a raw foodist, a macrobiota, but then he settled on vegetarianism. Relatives of the writer did not understand this, constantly fearing for his health. However, time put everything in its place: Salinger lived a long life. 

They say about such people that they never leave for good. The Catcher in the Rye still sells 250 copies.

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