So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Painted Bird

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
This novel tells the story of a young boy who wanders through the eastern regions of an unnamed Central European country during World War II. As Nazi Germany invades the country he is sent east by his Jewish parents for safety. The boy ends up, with no friends or resources, wandering from village to village seeking refuge. As a dark-eyed, black-haired youth he is referred to as a Gypsy orphan by the blond, blue-eyed Slavs of the area. Mistreated as an outsider, he is like a painted bird who seeks to join the flock but is rejected because of its different appearance. In each village he is bullied and abused and only finds refuge in the most unsavory of situations, always under the threat of being turned over to the Nazi invaders as a Gypsy. Through all of this, the youth tries to understand the cruel and violent world with which he is faced, developing theories and philosophies of life and discarding them as they fail to help him cope with the primitive lives of the peasant farmers and their harsh treatment.
Describing all of the cruelty and horror of war in the voice of a young child, this book is not easy to read and may be too upsetting for some readers. For those readers who manage to endure, the story reveals the war in a personal way that can only be possible through the eyes of a child.
The author was born in 1933 in Łódź Poland. So he was the same age as the boy in the story during the war. He and his Jewish parents survived the war in eastern Poland by assuming false identities and living as Catholics with the help of local Polish families.
First published in 1965, this 1976 Second Edition has an Introduction by the author that tells the amazing story of the book and its reception both in the West and in Poland where it was banned. He responds to criticism that the book dwells too much on the horrors faced by people in Poland during the war. Although the book stands on its own, this is a really useful addition to understanding the author and the initial reaction to the work.