J.D. Salinger, a grandson of a rabbi and an author whose fiction has held the deep affection of generations of readers, died January 27 at age 91. So extreme was the reclusion of the author, who wrote such books as “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey,” that there will be no funeral service, at the writer’s request. Salinger had not published a word since 1965.
The New York Times has an engaging obituary, which includes details about his Jewish roots and their parallel with his most famous fictional creation, the Glass family:
Like the Glasses, the Salinger children were the product of a mixed marriage. Their father, Sol, was a Jew, the son of a rabbi, but sufficiently assimilated that he made his living importing both cheese and ham. Their mother, Marie Jillisch, was of Irish descent, born in Scotland. The family was living in Harlem when Mr. Salinger was born, but then, as Sol Salinger’s business prospered, moved to West 82nd Street and then to Park Avenue.”
Salinger grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which is heavily Jewish.
His death frees him from the invasions of privacy that seem to have been the true bane of his existence. As recently as last year he had to take a Swedish author to court for trying to publish a sequel to “Catcher in the Rye.” But his passing also poses an obvious question: Are there dozens of novels sitting locked up at his 90-acre New Hampshire estate? A whole world of Glass family stories waiting to be published, perhaps?
It’s impossible at this point to know. But there is something tantalizing about this quote, from a 1974 interview with Salinger: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”
Gal Beckerman was a staff writer and then the Forward’s opinion editor until 2014. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Follow Gal on Twitter at @galbeckerman
J.D. Salinger, Reclusive Author, Rabbi's Grandson, Is Dead at 91