J.D. Salinger's Letter To Ernest Hemingway

The following is an excerpt from "Hello Goodbye Hello" [Simon & Schuster,26.95]:

J.D. Salinger seeks out Ernest Hemingway
The Ritz Hotel, 15 place Vendôme, Paris
Late August 1944

The twenty-five-year-old Jerry Salinger is experiencing a terrible war. Of the 3,080 men of the 12th US Infantry who disembarked with him at Normandy on D-Day, only a third are still alive.

His regiment is the first to enter Paris. They are mobbed by happy crowds. Salinger’s job as an officer in the Counter-Intelligence Corps entails weeding out and interrogating Nazi collaborators. As they go through Paris, he and a fellow officer arrest a collaborator, but a crowd wrests their prisoner away and beats him to death.

Salinger has heard that Ernest Hemingway is in town. A writer himself, with a growing reputation for his short stories, he is determined to seek out America’s most famous living novelist. He feels sure he will find him at the Ritz, so he drives the jeep there. Sure enough, Hemingway is installed in the small bar, already bragging that he alone liberated Paris in general and the Ritz in particular.

To this latter claim, there is a slight smidgin of truth. "It was all he could talk about," remembers a fellow member of the press corps. "It was more than just being the first American in Paris. He said, "I will be the first American at the Ritz. And I will liberate the Ritz.’" In fact, by the time he arrives, the Germans have already abandoned the hotel, and the manager has come out to welcome him, boasting, "We saved the Cheval Blanc!"

"Well, go get it," snaps Hemingway, who then begins slugging it down. Hemingway proceeds to make the Ritz his home. From then on, he can’t be bothered to cover the liberation of Paris, though he lends his typewriter to someone who can. Instead, he spends most of his time drinking Perrier-Jouet in the bar.

Over brandy after lunch on liberation day, a female guest says she wants to go and watch the victory parade.

"What for?" says Hemingway. "Daughter, sit still and drink this good brandy. You can always see a parade, but you’ll never again lunch at the Ritz the day after Paris was liberated."

As the days go by, he continues to hold court in the Ritz, boasting how many Germans he has killed, though no one with him can remember him killing a single one.

Upon Salinger’s arrival, Hemingway greets him like an old friend, saying that he recognises him from his photograph in Esquire and has read all his short stories. Does he have any new work with him? Salinger produces a recent copy of the Saturday Evening Post containing one of his stories. Hemingway reads it and congratulates him. The two writers sit and talk for hours. Salinger (who secretly prefers Fitzgerald’s writing) is pleasantly surprised by the difference between Hemingway’s public and private personas; he finds him "a really good guy."

A few days later, Hemingway tells a friend about meeting "a kid in the 4th Division named Jerry Salinger." He notes his disdain for the war, and his urge to write. He is also impressed by the way Salinger’s family continues to post him the New Yorker. The two men never meet again, but they correspond. Hemingway is a generous mentor. "First you have a marvelous ear and you write tenderly and lovingly without getting wet... how happy it makes me to read the stories and what a god damned fine writer I think you are."

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