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Arts & Culture
Arts & Culture
UPDATED: February 27, 2010 NO. 9 MARCH 4, 2010
Youth's Guardian Angel
Chinese readers mourn the death of American writer J.D. Salinger who captured the angst of growing up nearly perfectly


ONLY YOU: J.D. Salinger is regarded as a guardian angel by young readers worldwide (CFP) 

 The death of author Jerome David Salinger has heralded nostalgia not only for his works but also for the moments those works represent in their readers' lives.

The reclusive author, best known for his book, The Catcher in the Rye, will live on in the memories of his loyal fans worldwide as long as there are misunderstood adolescents like Holden Caulfield, the anti-hero teenage protagonist he created in the novel.

The Catcher in the Rye appeared in 1951, a time of Cold War social conformity and conservatism and the dawn of modern adolescence.

Contemporary critics rated the book as the best of contemporary youth novels, because teenagers all over the world identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy; and identified themselves with its antagonistic protagonist, the twisted and rebellious Holden Caulfield, although Salinger was primarily writing for adults.

More than 60 million copies of this book have been sold worldwide, and its impact was incalculable. Decades after publication, the novel remains the defining expression of rebellious teenagers' dreams: to never grow up.

The book has numerous fans in China as well. The Nanjing-based Yilin Press, one of the few professional publishers of translations in China, officially published the Chinese version of the book in 1983—along with a new translated edition in 2007.

"We sell around 100,000 copies of the book every year. It's undoubtedly a bestseller and has a great influence on young readers," said Ge Lin, Director of the press' Marketing Department.

But Salinger shunned fame. He moved to Cornish in New Hampshire in 1952 and lived there for decades in self-imposed isolation in a small, remote house where he died at 91 on January 27.

Salinger's other books didn't have quite the same impact, influence or sales as The Catcher in the Rye. They were the collection Nine Stories published in 1953, the fiction work Franny and Zooey in 1961, the 1963 book of two novellas Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour-An Introduction and his last story Hapworth 16, 1928, published in 1965.

Echoes of oneself


A MUST READ: The Catcher in the Rye is viewed as a must-read book for teenagers to smoothen their spiritual growth (XINHUA) 

The official publication of The Catcher in the Rye was regarded as one of the most unforgettable additions to Chinese readers' bookshelves in the 1980s by many critics.

Sun Zhongxu, translator of the most recent Chinese edition, said he would never forget how he was touched when he read the English version 16 years ago as a sophomore. "I was lucky that I could read the book at 19," he said. "I felt so closely connected to Holden: his rage was my rage, his perplexity my perplexity and his joy my joy."

In retrospect, Sun said the book's biggest contribution was to help rebellious teenagers to understand themselves—as well as the complexity of the adult world around them. "Holden made me feel lonely no longer. I came to realize it's no big deal to have all these doubts, queries and perplexities about the adult world during adolescence."

Salinger's fans shared their grief on Douban.com, a Chinese online community providing users' reviews and recommendations of movies, books, and music. They will forever respect Salinger because he created a companion for their lonely or troublesome adolescence.

"We have only one Salinger," Sun said. "He represented the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the relative innocence of young people and the corruption of elders, and at the same time created a mentor, Mr. Antolini, as a symbol of catching children as they fall over the cliff."

Lu Chuan, young Chinese director of the movie Nanking! Nanking! (2009), said Salinger was one of his favoriate writers. Only one English version was circulated among boys during his military school years. Lu and his roommates finished reading it with the help of electric torches when the electricity of their dormitory was shut off during night.

"The words Mr. Antolini quoted as his advice to Holden—'The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one,'—still encourage me to pursue my goals today," Lu said.

"Salinger is an author the world will remember forever," said literary critic Lei Da. "The Catcher in the Rye cares about the spiritual growth of adolescents and will influence future generations, the young people aged between 16 and 20 in particular. "

The introduction of the book to China, Lei said, helped to nourish a group of satirical writers such as Wang Shuo,Wang Xiaobo and Han Han. The former, the most popular and famous writer in the 1990s in China, wrote about rebellious and the ganglike behavior of youth and was regarded as a Chinese counterpart of Salinger. His novel Wild Beast, about a group of teenagers running wild one summer, was adapted into the 1994 movie In the Heat of the Sun.

Chinese writer and painter A. Cheng, who had been in the United States for eight years, once said the Chinese translation of The Catcher in the Rye could have been closer to the original text if the translator imitated Wang Shuo's style of writing.

Zhang Yiwu, professor of Chinese at Peking University, explained Salinger's influence on Chinese readers and writers by pointing out similarities between Chinese society in the 1980s and the American society in the 1950s.

"The book didn't reach a wider audience or find a louder echo in China until the 1980s, though the first Chinese version was published two decades earlier," Zhang said.

This happened because Chinese society in the 1980s, after the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy, resembled post-war America in the 1950s, in terms of a developing economy and the contradictions between material abundance and spiritual deficiencies that sometimes led youth into depression and anxiety, he said.

"Holden found an echo among young readers and reading the book helped release them from their negative feelings," he said.

Zhang said the book probably enjoyed a smaller influence on today's teenagers, largely because the social situation changes.

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