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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/30/10

The School: Reading JD Salinger in Russia

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Message Mark Sashine
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You loved your Mozart in vain

Ossip Mandelshtam

I remember very well that it was winter and I was in the post-office. Not the Central Telegraph Building with its marble floors and columns but one of those small ones with rotating tables and inkpots. Yes, inkpots, we had them still although there was no ink in them anymore and calligraphy pens were replaced by the makeshift fountain pens. It was my first thought when I read about Holden Caulfield, 'What pens did they use at school?' In the end of 1950s we certainly still had ink. I was 15 when I read the book. It was 1971 in Russia and it was winter. The winter of my discontent.

I read the book in English. In Russia the it was translated though and in Russian the heading sounded "Nad Propastiu Vo Rshi', that is "In The Rye Over The Ravine' The baseball association with the word "catcher' was not familiar to the Russian reader and the translator just explicitly stated Holden's purpose in life to catch the children before they fall into the ravine. It was not supposed to be a book for teenagers in Russia. It was a book for the adults. Not many teenagers knew the verse by Robert Burns.

I remember I loved the idea of the perky red hat. We had dreary uniforms; colors were not our strong suite although it was plenty of red, the color of the revolution. I wondered what Holden would have said about banners, red ties and red flowers, plenty of them during the demonstrations. Maybe he would consider those cool, groovy. We had a river, a big one and the ponds which froze and when I read about those ducks at the pond I understood. It worried me too.

One of the great miracles of the book is the connection. In that dreary hall filled with smoke, in the corner, I felt connected to the boy in the red hat wondering on his own in the cold New York. How many times did I do that? How many times after school I wondered alone or with one of my friends for hours with no desire to go back home until the night trolley would carry us right along the edge of the ravine back to warm places? How many times when I played chess and traveled with the team through the provincial towns of Russia did I lie down at night looking at the shadows in some dingy hotels and repeat, 'Nobody cares'? I would love Holden to be at my side at those places. He sounded like a good man.

A good person is a gift from God, says the Russian saying. There was another boy, a hundred years before Holden who learned that lesson well, Huckleberry Finn. His travel was much more dangerous and tragic than Holden's. We here cannot even imagine a feeling when being a child you witness your friend shot by adults and you yourself become responsible for the life and well-being of another adult, a runaway slave. Huck Finn became a man very quickly on that trip and a man he was who would have cared for Holden if he was there. He would have cared for me too.

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The writer is 66 years old, semi- retired engineer, PhD, PE, CEM. I write fiction on a regular basis and I am also 10 years on OEN.

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