The book title was drawn from an incident in the story. The boy, while in the company of a professional bird catcher, observes how the man took one of his captured birds and painted it several colors. Then he released the bird to fly in search of a flock of its kin, but when the painted bird came upon the flock, they saw it as an intruder and viciously attacked the bird until it fell from the sky. When the woman dies, he is left to care for himself. From here, he journeys to another village where local townspeople turn him over to the Germans. He escapes and travels to another village, where he sees Jews and Gypsies headed to concentration camps.
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What kind of a shitstorm do we have here? For some reason I thought this was the story of a kid caught up in the Holocaust, i. Fat chance of that. The parents appear to have been a little over-optimistic. For the next five years he hops from one ghastly peasant village to another, being taken in by a series of grotesque caricatures - psychopaths, sadists, rapists the lot of them.
Did I say Polish peasant? Yes, very specifically : this book is a hymn of hate to the Polish peasant. They really did. They sat around and gleefully told each other that at last the Jews were getting their comeuppance. Historical note : of the 5. ALL of the six extermination camps as opposed to concentration camps were in Poland.
Back to the book. Actually, there are about ten big problems, but the biggest is credibility. Is all this stuff to be believed? I mean, come on, Jerzy! This phantasmagoria of bestiality, rape, murder, torture, more rape, incest, beating, this unceasing onslaught directed against this small boy? You get the idea that this must have been one aggravating revolting brat of a kid.
No one even smiles at him until page In this way The painted Bird resembles something like Justine by de Sade — no plot, no characters, just lots of gruesome vignettes strung together. The reader is stultified. Such a sensational novel brought Kosinski a lot of attention, and when you take a look at this guy, he turns out to be very interesting. No brutality, no ghettos for JK. So the best guess might be that JK took most of the stuff in his novel from unidentified Polish-language accounts of survival during the war, then paid translators to help him render the material into English.
But you can see their point — this is an anti-Polish novel — no, an anti-Polish-peasant novel — no, an anti-Polish-peasant-during-WW2 novel — well, definitely one of those. In the end, this novel is a failure. Cinematic PS : I was watching Reds the other week and was mightily impressed by the actor playing Zinoviev. He had a hell of a face, hell of a haircut and a delivery that made his few scenes the most memorable of the 3 hour movie.
And yes, that actor was Jerzy Kosinski. What a geezer!
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The Painted Bird