Shrouded in secrecy, The Private War of JD Salinger promises new details about the reclusive author's wartime life
Arriving three years after Salinger's death at the age of 91, The Private War of JD Salinger promises new insights based on accounts from his "World War II brothers-in-arms, family members, close friends, lovers, classmates, neighbours, editors, publishers, New Yorker colleagues and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family", according to a description on Amazon. The author's literary estate has remained resolutely silent.
Salinger won immediate success with his 1951 debut novel, Catcher in the Rye, and was critically acclaimed for fiction such as Franny and Zooey and For Esmé – with Love and Squalor. After publishing his last book in 1965, he retreated from New York to live in a remote house in New Hampshire, shunning journalists and publicity. Following his death, the authors Shane Salerno (who is also directing the documentary) and David Shields interviewed people who previously refused to go on the record about their relationship with Salinger.
The war journals of Salinger's friends in the counterintelligence unit in which he served during the second world war, along with subsequent letters by four men who remained friends after the war, offer new details about his writing. "They'd have to pull over on the side of the road so Salinger could write down an idea for a story," Salerno told USA Today.
An army officer, Salinger participated in the invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge, and during his military tour met war correspondent Ernest Hemingway. "He [Salinger] thought the war was going to be a romantic experience that all writers needed, but it had a profound effect and changed the way he wrote," Salerno said.
The publisher, Simon & Schuster, put the book under a strict embargo until September. Its New York office paid seven figures for the US and UK rights to the 704-page biography, which will be released simultaneously in both territories. The Weinstein Company snapped up the film earlier this year, as did the US television network PBS. Shrouded in secrecy, the film's crew and other collaborators were told only the barest information about the project on a need-to-know basis.