After much delay for reasons never clear and now unimportant, I allowed myself the opportunity to read some of the books written by Jerzy Kosinski (which I think I’ve mentioned here within the past few weeks) Other than Harlan Ellison I don’t think I’ve taken to another writer and their work as quickly as I have with Kosinski. Five novels is less than a month (Steps, The Devil Tree, Blind Date, Being There and The Painted Bird) each left me wanting to read more of his work. Having seen the movie version of ‘Being There’ made me wonder if I could see the book as something new by blotting out the faces of Peter Sellers and the rest of the cast while reading. Not completely successful in this attempt I none the less enjoyed the novel as it contained items different than the movie.
As I am inclined to do my reading led me to perform additional research which has caused me to understand Kosinski may not have been the person his books (supposedly mostly auto-biographical) make him out to be. Not that I consider this a problem with the pleasure I found reading Kosinski but charges of plagiarism were made against him and apparently his reputation has continued to diminish since his death. These accusations may have led directly to Kosinski taking his own life, but after reading his work who knows what demons possessed him?
His books are mainly collections of fascinating vignettes assembled as novels showing stages and phases of various characters lives. (all different versions of Kosinski himself?) Included are expressions of passion/despair, beauty/ugliness, joy/sorrow, elation/grief, kindness/savagery and loving-sensual/violently sexual often switching between extremes at short intervals.
With the assumption that his stories were autobiographical, the question of how much he “borrowed” is intriguing. The most recent book of the five I’ve read was actually the first novel he wrote, ‘The Painted Bird’. Born in Poland as Hitler came to power Kosinski lived thru the worst times in recent European history. These years are the basis for ‘The Painted Bird’ and graphically describe the lives of(mainly) rural civilians surviving under German occupation. The scenarios are troubling mainly due to the level of ignorance, superstition and brutality in everyday life. The war is almost a distant backdrop to the true desperation these people experienced in their daily lives. Compared to the images of American life from 1939 to 1944 the contrast is startling and it is hard to accept the disparity. Does the possible fact that Kosinski “borrowed” some of it (or used ghost writers on other works) detract from any message he was trying to convey?
I’m curious to learn more.