Write side of history

Written by Anirudh Vohra | Updated: Aug 24 2014, 07:47am hrs
My Salinger Year

Joanna Rakoff

Bloomsbury

R399

Pp 272

THE BLURB at the back of Joanna Rakoffs book, My Salinger Year, says its a memoir. But even while the book is autobiographical, it reads like a novel.

My Salinger Year is Rakoffs account of her first jobin a New York publishing agency as an assistant of the literary agent of writer JD Salinger. Its 1996 and the agency, with its old-fashioned office, drunken lunches and a single computerwhich the entire staff sharesis stuck in the past, in a world that is rapidly moving towards the future.

Rakoff, however, is caught up in the romance of it all. In a year that sees Salinger employ the publishing house to print a new edition of one of his lesser-known stories, Rakoff is tasked with the responsibility of answering his voluminous fan mail. In the process of writing back to the fans, she abandons the agencys standard reply format and instead starts writing the replies herself.

This act of Rakoff proves to be a kind of catalyst for an examination of her life, friendships, career and her relationship with a rather distant lover.

However, there are times when the book seems less about the authors self-discovery and more about her cribbing against her boyfriendhow she frequently realises that he is fragile, unsupportive and inconsistent in ideology. But that being said, My Salinger Year is a fun read and one that sees the reader cheer for Rakoff when she accomplishes her hearts desire at the end of the booksomething that doesnt involve her boyfriend, Salinger, or even her job.

One half-expects Rakoff writing letters to Salingers fans to be a cute epistolary story during the course of which she would find herself or even fall in love with one of Salingers fans. However, the letters dont figure in the book as much as the blurb would have you believe, and neither does Salinger. My Salinger Year is more like a snapshot of a year in the authors life. The book also occasionally lacks the drama a fiction-accustomed reader might crave.

My Salinger Year interestingly portrays the transition period for the publishing trade during the 1990sRakoff starts her career in an era when the industry is on the brink of being radically changed by the advent of the Internet and various other technological advancements.

While reading the book, one wonders why Rakoffs boss and former boyfriend are always referred to as my boss and my college boyfriend, respectively, especially when all other characters have been named (names of a few have been changed, though, as mentioned at the beginning of the book). Pithy and funny, My Salinger Year will appeal to most book lovers.