Sergeant Salinger

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Pub Date 21 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 21 Oct 2021
Oldcastle Books, No Exit Press

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J.D. Salinger, mysterious author of The Catcher in the Rye, is remembered today as a reclusive misanthrope. Jerome Charyn’s Salinger is a young American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, a band of secret soldiers who trained with the British. A rifleman and an interrogator, he witnessed all the horrors of the war - from the landing on D-Day to the relentless hand-to-hand combat in the hedgerows of Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, and finally to the first Allied entry into a Bavarian death camp, where corpses were piled like cordwood. After the war, interned in a Nuremberg psychiatric clinic, Salinger became enchanted with a suspected Nazi informant. They married, but not long after he brought her home to New York, the marriage collapsed. Maladjusted to civilian life, he lived like a 'spook,' with invisible stripes on his shoulder, the ghosts of the murdered inside his head, and stories to tell.

Grounded in biographical fact and reimagined as only Charyn could, Sergeant Salinger is an astonishing portrait of a devastated young man on his way to becoming the mythical figure behind a novel that has marked generations.

J.D. Salinger, mysterious author of The Catcher in the Rye, is remembered today as a reclusive misanthrope. Jerome Charyn’s Salinger is a young American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter...

Advance Praise

'Supremely engaging... A smoothly told, unexpectedly affecting foray into a lesser-known chapter of the literary giant's life' - Kirkus (starred review) 

'In this literary tour de force... Charyn vividly portrays Sonny's journey from slick short story writer to suffering artist. The winning result humanizes a legend' - Publishers Weekly 

'Nuanced and acutely perceptive... Charyn offers an astute psychological portrait of an elusive yet vastly compelling subject' - Booklist

'Charyn peers into the traumas that formed the lifelong recluse and his enigmatic stories... An engaging and informative rendering of an important American author' - Historical Novel Society 

'Charyn, who at 83 has had a remarkably prolific career, has an affinity for literary sphinxes... Sergeant Salinger is true to history... but in this novel, as with much of Salinger’s life, we have to accept a certain amount of mystery' - Washington Post

'Masterful... Grounded in biological fact and topped with a generous helping of imagination, Charyn's novel wonderfully recreates the war years of J. D. Salinger' - Michigan Daily 

'A tour de force... Charyn is a master of the written word' - Jewish Journal 

'Charyn deftly leaves the reader wondering whether Holden Caulfield's teenage angst was really Salinger's personification of post-traumatic stress disorder... Engrossing' - Library Journal

'An in depth look at one of our most celebrated of writers... Complex and full of intrigue' - Comics Grinder

'Supremely engaging... A smoothly told, unexpectedly affecting foray into a lesser-known chapter of the literary giant's life' - Kirkus (starred review) 

'In this literary tour de force... Charyn...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9780857304711
PRICE £9.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

A notoriously camera-shy figure in his later years, Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger developed something of a hermit-like reputation in his final years and could occasionally be glimpsed glaring angrily at photographers as an old man. This enjoyable novel takes us back to the great American author's early years as a rising literary star in the 1940s, in particular, his traumatic experiences during some of American soldiers' bitterest fighting during the Second World War.

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A compelling and often poignant fictional portrait of a young Salinger and the psychological impact of his war experience on his life upon his return to civilian life. A masterful and very often quite emotional "portrait of a young man as a war veteran" as we follow his struggles to overcome the horrors he witnessed in Europe at the end of the war & as he painstakingly tries to get his daily life back on tracks and move on. The engrossing portrait of one of America's most beloved authors offered to us by one of America's greatest wordsmiths at work today. A marvellous and unforgettable fictional journey to be enjoyed without any moderation👍 Many thanks to Netgalley and Oldcastle for this terrific ARC

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When I first read The Catcher in the Rye at the age of 17, I wanted to marry Holden Caulfield, not knowing yet that Holden had been to war liberating my country, and that his creator did in fact at some point marry a German woman. But my fascination with J.D. Salinger started right there. I learned a great deal about what actually went down between D-Day and the May 8th 1945 from the big Salinger biography by Shields and Salerno, so I knew what to expect in Sergeant Salinger in terms of his war experience - but the way Jerome Charyn retells the biographical events in this remarkable unputdownable novel hit you on a different level. The scope is smaller, more personal, and that is what makes it so blatantly clear that no one person could ever contain the magnitude of the horror the soldiers back then went through. As a German, I’m deeply grateful to the allied forces for liberating our country from our self-inflicted regime. I am glad that this novel contributes to their memory. The way Charyn describes Salinger’s war trauma bleeding into his attempts at civilian life are a perfect depiction of the way a traumatized mind can work. The hints at his post war writings are clever and woven into the plot with beautiful sensitivity. And meeting his sister Doris was a particular pleasure - she rocks! Sergeant Salinger is a must-read. Phenomenal.

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This book centres on a fictionalised account of J.D Salinger’s time during the war and it was totally gripping. Although Salinger never references the War or his time during the War directly in any of his literature, all of his novels contain characters that are often depressed, troubled and suffering some form of psychological damage/trauma. I particularly liked the allusion towards ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ that occurred throughout the novel as considering this is about a man who goes into a hotel room and kills himself – it could go to explain Salinger’s state of mind and the PTSD he was struggling with. The story was so well written, with good flow/pacing and well-developed characters.

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I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a well needed lift to my day. The insight and humour spoke volumes about the experiences and challenges that we were guided through as the audience. I am very glad I read this book and would highly recommend..

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The Catcher is the Rye has always been one of my favourite novels – definitely one of the books that hooked me to literature in my teens. For this reason I was overjoyed to see a novel on J.D. Salinger’s younger years, an account of his WWII experience and the aftermath. We meet Sonny and his Jewish family: he is a “lanky boy with big ears… and olive skin” (someone teases him as Dumbo). He has published a few short stories in the New Yorker, lives on Park Avenue and accompanies his sweetheart Oona, Eugene O’Neill’s daughter to fashionable venues such as the exclusive Stork Club, where we also meet Hemingway. But in the streets Posters of Uncle Sam keep calling him, and soon life takes him to war, protagonist of important (and horrible) events such as D-Day landing on Utah beach, which resulted in mayhem, and the liberation of concentration camps. Charyn’s fresh, immediate style does not spare details of the atrocities and brutality young Salinger witnesses, his nervous breakdown, his difficult experience as a Nazi hunter and interrogator, and the relationship with the German doctor met in a hospital and later in an interrogation room who became his wife, something I found quite weird. The novel, which takes biographical facts as a starting point, paints a haunting picture of a wounded man, a hellish picture of war and Salinger’s tasks as a painful business, and thus posits that his pessimistic world view has been shaped by what he witnessed and PTSD. This is a very interesting interpretation that Charyn espouses and that no doubt can help readers contextualise and better appreciate Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye, a novel gestated in this period. As well as understand where we come from. Sergeant Salinger is no Catch-22 but the theme resonates and it is more immediate and approachable. Well done, engaging and thought-provoking. My thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest revie.w.

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