J D Salinger dies

By Jessica Elgot, January 29, 2010

JD Salinger, the Catcher in the Rye novelist who has died aged 91, grew up an observant Jew until after his barmitzvah when he discovered his mother was not Jewish.

Born in Manhattan, his father, Sol Salinger, was a Polish Jew who sold kosher cheeses. His mother Marie, who changed her name to Miriam, was of mixed Scottish-Irish descent but posed as Jewish after her marriage.

After his discovery shortly after his barmitzvah that his mother was not Jewish, Salinger embarked on a quest for religious fulfilment.

He experimented with Hinduism and Kriya yoga, met L Ron Hubbard to discuss Scientology, and practised Christian Science.

But he rediscovered Judaism in some form during his nine-month affair with Jewish author Joyce Maynard. In an interview with the JC in 1998, Maynard said he told her he had been drawn to her as a landsman, because they were both ‘half-Jewish’.

Maynard later asserted she was in fact halachically Jewish but add: “J D Salinger was the closest I ever had to a religion.”

Salinger’s seminal novel The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951 was once the most banned book, and the most taught in America.

It captured the imagination of the nation’s youth for its bold language and exploration of the teenage condition, but was regularly banned from schools and libraries for its use of innuendo and offensive language.

Philip Roth wrote of him in 1974: “The response of college students to the work of J. D. Salinger indicates that he more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture.”

Salinger lived most of his life as a recluse in the town of Cornish, New Hampshire.

Last updated: 1:10pm, January 29 2010