A mention of the late author JD Salinger evokes myriad reactions from people, given that there are ardent fans of his oeuvre. And over the years, his books, be it The Catcher in the Rye (1951) or Franny and Zooey (1961), still manage to retain cult status.
My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff, Bloomsbury, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores.
However, in the 1990s, when 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff moves to New York and gets a job as an assistant at a literary agency, she has no clue who Salinger is. When her boss initially refers to ‘Jerry’, she wonders if they are referring to the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It presents a slight problem as the agency happens to represent the author.
Author JD Salinger
In her nostalgic, humorous memoir, My Salinger Year, Rakoff recounts her experiences working at the agency, a place frozen in time where typewriters and dictaphones are still in use. And JD Salinger or Jerry always figures in conversations. Along with the chatter, the young assistant is also trying to make sense of her life. She has just left graduate school and her earlier boyfriend behind, and moved to New York, to this job, aiming to someday become a poet herself.
After a calamitous start, (a blizzard strikes the first day she heads to work), things do settle down at her plush office. And while she navigates the publishing world, she also learns more about the dichotomies of New York while living in a modest apartment in Brooklyn with her socialist boyfriend Don.
Part of Rakoff’s job at the agency is to reply to letters addressed to Salinger (the reclusive author didn’t want access to them) with an impersonal standard response. Things take a slightly different turn when Rakoff starts empathising with the people writing the letters (war veterans, youngsters, mothers — all touched by Salinger’s works) and ends up writing back
She also eventually finds herself interacting with the famed author over the phone and as luck would have it, he encourages her to pursue her passion for poetry.
With Salinger in the air, Rakoff eventually reads the works by the author and makes a pleasant discovery that she can also relate to the characters crafted by the famed author. In a way, My Salinger Year is a coming-of-age story and by the end of it Rakoff finds herself wiser, in terms of realising what she wants from life and the people she doesn’t.
Rakoff’s story is heartwarming and an effortless read. And, in the process of reading this book, just like Rakoff, you may find yourself poring anew over Salinger’s works as well. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.