Saturday, April 21, 2018

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis by Eberhard Alsen


While researching for the 2013 film Salinger and the accompanying oral biography, Eberhard Alsen became interested in why, unlike other Jewish American writers of his generation, Salinger avoided Jewish themes and writing about the Holocaust, even though he had personally seen the horrors of a concentration camp shortly after the end of World War II. This aspect of Salinger was not addressed in the movie.

Eberhard Alsen's book J. D. Salinger and the Nazis is drawn from detailed and exhaustive research and challenges myths about Salinger's experience in the service and the German woman he married.

Through an analysis of sixteen of Salinger's short stories about soldiers, The Catcher in the Rye, and unpublished wartime letters and documents, Alsen offers a correct history of Salinger's wartime experience, showing how major catastrophic events and flawed leadership shaped Salinger's attitude toward the American army.

Interestingly, Salinger was part of the Counter Intelligence Corps who job was to track down and arrest Nazis and Alsen's own father was a Nazi arrested by Salinger's Twelfth Infantry Regiment at the end of the war.


Getting Personal

I first read Salinger at age fourteen in a Ninth Grade English class; we needed parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye which was banned until a classmate's librarian mother challenged it.

I had been reading the classics--Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Eyre, even Lord Jim. Holden's voice was something new for me and I was obsessed. That summer, I read all of Salinger in print and anything I could about the author. In 1967, there was no Internet or Wikipedia or Google so what I found was limited.

Years later I bought the bootlegged short stories when they came out. And although it has been some years since I read Salinger's stories, they were vivid enough in my mind to recall them as Alsen discussed them. What surprises me now is how little I thought about Salinger as being a war writer when I first read him! My favorite Salinger short story has always been To Esme, With Love and Squalor.

Because I was so familiar with Salinger's work, Alsen's book was 'easy' reading. Also, he has a good writing style that is not academic and dry.

Salinger's short stories were very autobiographical. Alsen believes Salinger's nervous breakdown, understood today as PTSD, fell somewhere between that of Sergeant X in "For Esme" and Seymour Glass in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

One aspect of Alsen's understanding of Salinger could be the basis for another study all together: his relationship to women. Alsen suggests Salinger suffered from borderline personality disorder, "a pattern of unstable and intense personal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation." This, along with avoidant personality disorder, and PTSD, had to impact his personal relationships in a negative way.

I found this study to be fascinating.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis
by Eberhard Alsen
April 17, 2018
ISBN 9780299315702, 0299315703
Hardcover |  168 pages
$24.95 USD,

Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader's Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.