Review: The Painted Bird
On a recommendation from a stranger, I read Jerzy Kosinski ‘s The Painted Bird. The book is basically about a five year old Gypsy child abandoned by his parents in 1939 in a remote part of Eastern Europe.
According to superstition, if you encounter a gypsy, ill luck will follow, muck like if you broke a mirror, or had a black cat cross your path.
In the book, however, the main character would see all kinds of violence, including deviant sexual behaviours. Strangers would even abuse him and then blame him for their troubles. This happened repeatedly until the child was reunited with his parents at the end of the book.
The Painted Bird would never get recommended by Oprah Winfrey, or by any other person in the establishment. Why?
Its author, Jerzy Kosinski , was accused of plagiarizing his books. In fact, Kosinski was a polish immigrant, who came to America with two dollars in his pocket. To escape his homeland he had to use a scholarship route which in the end proved to be a lie. In the US, he had to work odd jobs, before marrying Mary Weir, wealthy widowed heiress to a fortune. His first two books were published under a pseudonym but in 1966, he wrote and published The Painted Bird and was an overnight sensation. In his lifetime, he was credited with writing Being There, which was made into a movie, starring Peter Sellers.
His life unravelled in 1982 when the Village Voice published an article, accusing Kosinski of overly relying on editors and translators to write his books. These rumors went into overdrive, dogging Kosinski, all the way to his death on May 3rd, 1991.
Yes, he was a Polish immigrant. He wrote and thought in Polish and Russian and needed translators. I never studied The Painted Bird in high school, or in university. I only discovered this book when I overheard a private conversation downtown somewhere by chance. So how do I get Oprah to recommend The Painted Bird?
Paul, thank you for the heads-up for anyone not familiar with this fascinating and controversial author, some of whose works are now standard reading in many colleges.