Jerzy Kosinski

From Academic Kids

Template:Titlelacksdiacritics Jerzy Kosiński (June 18, 1933May 3, 1991) was a novelist of Jewish origin, born in Łódź, Poland. As a child during World War II, he survived under a false identity in a Catholic Polish family in eastern Poland. A Catholic priest had issued him a forged baptismal certificate, a practice common in the Polish Catholic Church during the war. After World War II, Kosiński was reunited with his parents and earned degrees in history and political science in Poland before emigrating in 1957 to the United States. In 1962 he married American steel heiress Mary Hayward Weir, who in 1968 died of cancer.

Kosiński is perhaps best known for his novels The Painted Bird (1965) and Being There (1971). (Being There was made into a 1979 movie directed by Hal Ashby, starring Peter Sellers.) Steps (1968), a novel comprising scores of loosely connected vignettes, won the National Book Award in 1969.

Though The Painted Bird was ostensibly based on the author's experiences during World War II, the events depicted are now widely considered to be fictional. Describing the experiences of a boy (of unknown religious and ethnic background) wandering about a surreal Polish countryside and hiding among cruel peasants, the novel is a metaphor for the human condition: alienation in a dehumanized, hostile and thoroughly evil world. Some readers accuse Kosiński of anti-Polonism; others argue that this is a misinterpretation of the metaphoric nature of the novel. In newer editions of The Painted Bird, Kosiński explained that the characters' nationality had intentionally been left ambiguous in order to prevent that very sort of interpretation.

Many people believe Kosiński was simply a professional confabulator. In 1982, the Village Voice accused Kosiński of plagiarism, with much of his work being derivative of Polish sources unfamiliar to English readers. (Being There bears a strong resemblance to Kariera Nikodema DyzmyThe Career of Nicodemus Dyzma — a 1932 Polish bestseller by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz). The Voice also asserted that Kosiński's books had actually been ghost-written by his "assistant editors." Critics point to striking stylistic differences among Kosiński's novels, while his defenders reply that this argument neglects the stylistic differences apparent in the work of almost any artist over a period of more than a few years. Kosiński himself responded by writing The Hermit of 69th Street (1988), an attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of investigating prior work by inserting footnotes for practically every term in the book.

In the same Village Voice article, the public was shown a different picture of Kosiński's life during the Holocaust — a picture which was later confirmed by a Polish biographer, Joanna Siedlecka, and an American biographer, James Sloan. The Painted Bird, ostensibly semi-autobiographical, was demonstrated to be a work of fiction: rather than wandering the Polish countryside, Kosiński had spent the war years in hiding with a Polish Catholic family and had never been appreciably mistreated. Kosiński defended himself by arguing that he had never maintained that the book was based on true events. Since then, The Painted Bird has been widely considered to be a parable rather than a realistic account of personal experiences.

Kosiński committed suicide on May 3, 1991. Tabloids reported that he had died from autoerotic asphyxiation, but this was dismissed in the coroner's report, which observed that his parting note read: "I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call the time Eternity." (Newsweek, May 13, 1991.)

Further reading

he:יז'י קושינסקי


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