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The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński
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The Painted Bird (1965)

by Jerzy Kosiński

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,261522,835 (3.84)60
  1. 42
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Kosinski & McCarthy were born 5 weeks apart in 1933 and were ages 6-12 during WWII. Both books are dark violent fables told from a child's view.
  2. 10
    Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov (meggyweg)
  3. 00
    The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry by Ilja Ehrenburg (meggyweg)
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» See also 60 mentions

English (46)  Dutch (3)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All (51)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
This was brutal. It is about a child surviving WWII after being sent to the country to be "safe." But his caretaker died and he was left to fend for himself. There is abuse and exploitation in all its varieties. I don't think any trigger is missed. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
The cover of the Mass Market Paperback edition from the 1970s of The Painted Bird features a small section of Heironomous Bosch hell-landscape -- dressed in sickly green and wearing a white hood, a creature with a man's body and head of a long-beaked bird walks on crutches carrying a large wicker basket on its back, and in the basket a small black devil with spiky fingers touches the shoulder of a wary young boy as he whispers into the boy's ear. This is an apt cover for Jerzy Kosinski's fictionalized autobiographical novel set in Poland during the reign of Nazi terror in World War 11.

I first read this harrowing tale 35 years ago. I have read many dark, disturbing novels filled with brutality of every stripe, including such works as Malamud's The Fixer, Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead, and Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, but, in my view, perhaps because the narrator is a 10 year old boy, no novel has its main character live through a more painful hell than in The Painted Bird.

Several months after reading this novel, the author himself made a visit to a large bookstore in Philadelphia for a book-signing, so I had an opportunity to actually meet him -- a small man with a thin, high pitched voice and sharp, chiseled fine features, a man who struck me as being both sensitive and friendly. He appreciated my words of thanks and told me, when asked, that he was heading to New Orleans and expected to have some exciting times.

Anyway, that was then. Several days ago I saw my local library had a copy of The Painted Bird audiobook and immediately checked it out. I started also rereading the printed book as I listened to the CDs. The reader, Fred Berman, did his homework -- his accent and inflection and manner of speaking is spot-on Jerzy Kosinski.

If you are unfamiliar, this story is of an orphan boy with black eyes and sharp nose, labeled gypsy-Jew, forced to wander from village to village, subjected physically to beatings, rape, tortures, as well as murder attempts, while subjected psychologically to being treated as a messenger of the devil and an evil spirit who casts spells with a glance from his black eyes.

The boy is so traumatized from unrelenting abuse, he completely losses his capacity to speak for many months. The abuse reaches such a pitch, at one point he reflects on the nature of evil: "I tried to visualize the manner in which the evil spirits operated. The minds and souls of people were as open to these forces as a plowed field, and it was on this field that the Evil Ones incessantly scattered their malignant seed. If their seed sprouted to life, if they felt welcomed, they offered all the help which might be needed, on the condition that it would be used for selfish purposes and only to the detriment of others. From the moment of signing a pact with the Devil, the more harm, misery, injury, and bitterness a man could inflict on those around him, the more help he could expect." Quite the musings from a 10 year old! Just goes to show how extreme was his direct experience of the forces of evil.

If you are up for an unforgettable experience of terror expressed in the clear, vivid literary language of a fine writer, then you are ready for The Painted Bird. ( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
It feels weird to like this book. It's the type of book I generally enjoy, but taken a bit further.... Too far, even.

My favorite books are dark, strange, and unpredictable. This book was all of that, but instead of the happy ending to create some cathartic conclusion to the madness, it just sort of... Ended. You realize that this lad is completely, irrevocably, altered from the person he was before the war. There's no going back. Considering the rape, mutilation, murder, torcher, abuse, and unhappiness the central character experiences throughout the story, the end doesn't really balance much of that out.

It's kind of hard to describe this book, but for the most part, each chapter finds the character in a new hell. He's an orphaned boy whose parents tried to shield him from the horrors of the war by handing him off to someone at the beginning of it. He is separated from the guardian,and goes to guardian to guardian for almost every new chapter. But I really do think this is a book many people should read, despite the horrors. It's important to read about what could have happened. I'm not sure if every single one of the things he experiences is a viable thing during that period, but considering the madness and cruelty of man, I wouldn't be surprised if many of these events did occur in some shape or form to someone during the war.

It's a pretty ambitious work, full of so much darkness and sadness. If you're charmed by the title of the story, you should be warned that even that basis is not happy. It refers to a story the character sees in the book, about one of his "guardians" who "watches" after birds in a small village. It's sad, it's bleak, and it's depressing, essentially from start to finish, but I believe that it is still an important book to read to recognize what many people were capable of doing back then, and how some people in today could be capable of doing similar things.

This book is not for the faint of heart, nor for the kind of person looking for a quick, beachside novel while they bask in the sun. It takes the life force out of you, in a way. ( )
1 vote Lauraborealis | Dec 22, 2016 |
I am widely read and no stranger to brutality and debasement. Violence is part of life, and thus part of literature. But when the author shoves it in your face, to no other apparent purpose, then it's time to say goodbye. His knowledge of Polish fables could have been put to much better use if his "message" was at all modulated. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Mar 7, 2016 |
Harrowing novel of a young boy's journey though war-torn Europe. full of horrors. It was the book that established him as a major writer, and it'll still curl your hair today. ( )
1 vote unclebob53703 | Feb 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jerzy Kosińskiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Timmers, OscarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
and only God, omnipotent indeed, knew they were mammals of a different breed.
(Mayakovsky)
Dedication
To the memory of my wife Mary Hayward Weir without whom even the past would lose its meaning.
First words
In the first weeks of World War II, in the fall of 1939, a six-year-old boy from a large city in Eastern Europe was sent by his parents, like thousands of other children to the shelter of a distant village.
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Per Author's note on the reverse of the half-title, the "Modern Library edition of The Painted Bird [1970] incorporates some changes which did not appear in any previous edition."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080213422X, Paperback)

Many writers have portrayed the cruelty people inflict upon each other in the name of war or ideology or garden-variety hate, but few books will surpass Kosinski's first novel, The Painted Bird, for the sheer creepiness in its savagery. The story follows an abandoned young boy who wanders alone through the frozen bogs and broken towns of Eastern Europe during and after World War II, trying to survive. His experiences and actions occur at and beyond the limits of what might be called humanity, but Kosinski never averts his eyes, nor allows us to.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:29 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A young boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, wonders alone from one village to another in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

» see all 4 descriptions

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HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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HighBridge

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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