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The Painted Bird

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  21,895 ratings  ·  1,686 reviews
Originally published in 1965, The Painted Bird established Jerzy Kosinski as a major literary figure. Called by the Los Angeles Times "one of the most imposing novels of the decade," it was eventually translated into more than thirty languages.

A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark nov
Paperback, 234 pages
Published August 9th 1995 by Grove Press (first published 1965)
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Nathaniel Winston The Epicurean conclusion; the world is just chaos and you can't trust God or superstition to save you.

The comet is just a symbol of violence.…more
The Epicurean conclusion; the world is just chaos and you can't trust God or superstition to save you.

The comet is just a symbol of violence.(less)

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Average rating 3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,895 ratings  ·  1,686 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Mar 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Reading this one is like opening an oven door and the WHITE HOT BLAST OF HATRED from every page sears your flesh, scars your brain, and when you finish it you cram it shut with relief and throw it quickly into a box marked “Charity” although giving this to anyone would not be any kind of charitable act unless they need something to keep the fire going. 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.e. a ghetto and co
Glenn Russell
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The cover of the Mass Market Paperback edition from the 1970s of The Painted Bird features a small section of Hieronymus 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 fictiona
Emily May
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical, classics, 2012
Warning: I talk about a really gross and disturbing scene from the book in this review, please do not read if you're going to be upset and/or offended by talk of graphic sexual violence.

This book is one of my dad's favourite books of all time, I don't know how many years he's been telling me to read it now and we've always had similar opinions on books before. But The Painted Bird did not live up to my expectations and the whole idea of it just left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Pretty much anyon
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: slavic
The Real Spoils of War

In his Being There, Kosinski meditated on the consequences of being socialised entirely through television. The Painted Bird considers how a child might be socialised (if that doesn’t stretch the meaning of the word beyond its limits) to the chaos of war and the morally-deprived society in which it takes place. It’s not pretty.

(view spoiler)
Recently, I said to a teacher of mine (as almost a point of pride) that I admire books that are void of sentimentality. He responded with, "Have you read Jerzy Kosinski?"

No, I hadn't. So I immediately sourced a copy of The Painted Bird thinking, sweet, giddy-up! I've read plenty of ruthless books. I'm no wilting daisy, no stranger to pages penned by an extra sharp quill.

But this book... this book is hardcore.

Based at least in part on the childhood experiences of the author, this 1965 novel foll
Ahmad Sharabiani
Malowany Ptak = The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosiński

The Painted Bird is a 1965 novel, by Jerzy Kosiński, which describes: World War II, as seen by a boy, considered a "Gypsy or Jewish stray," wandering about small villages scattered around an unspecified country in Eastern Europe.

The story begins by introducing the war and linking it with the boy. The young boy's parents are hiding from the Germans, and he lives in a village, with an elderly woman. When the woman dies, he is left to care for himsel
Violet wells
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I read in the introduction that Kosinski was attacked on several occasions by Polish nationals after publishing this novel. This because it's a merciless mockery and indictment of Polish Catholics and in particular the peasantry. In the 19th century literature tended to romanticise rural communities. A stance that rarely quite rings true nowadays. This novel perhaps exaggerates to the other extreme. However, one of the most memorable images in The Shoah documentary is the Polish farmer showing h ...more
Amalia Gkavea
''We are here in the company of death.''
Jewish concentration camp inmate

A young boy finds himself lost, wandering in the countryside of an unnamed Eastern European country during the Second World War. The boy, mute and nameless, faces a world torn apart, a society that doesn't need any kind of war to change. It is a world stripped off all traces of kindness, compassion, and humanity, a world that preys upon a child in its most vulnerable moment.

''As these brightly coloured creatures soug
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story we find told by Kosinski, is nothing more than the reality of the evil experienced by hundreds of children and people during the Second World War. Violence and extreme brutality, but unfortunately they happened and lived in that period. The wickedness recounted in this story I never met in any other book read so far, where in a historical epoch the destiny of your life was dictated by belonging and physiognomy...
The extreme cruelty of the ancient popular beliefs in the rural world desc
Bookcase Jim
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
After reading some of the reviews on here, I'm hoping that this will bring some sanity to the steaming heaps of hyperbole. Comparisons to the Saw films, torture porn, and complaints that the violence was simply all too gratuitous are the backbone of reviews that completely miss the point and should be dismissed out of hand.

"The purpose of a picaresque narrative is to present to the reader a picture of society and societal involvement that one would otherwise rather ignore, not all truths being
Oct 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
Human depravity in the extreme - this book in a nutshell.

Before you pick up this book, think twice. The author originally said it was autobiographical. It is now classified as fiction. IF it were autobiographical it would be easier to swallow; you'd think that is just plain what happened. The book is incredibly difficult to read. It is surreal in tone, filled with graphic sexuality and violence. What is delivered is man at his worst told in such a way as to make the reader cringe. To what purpos
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The officer surveyed me sharply. I felt like a squashed caterpillar oozing in the dust, a creature that could not harm anyone yet aroused loathing and disgust. In the presence of such a resplendent being, armed in all the symbols of might and majesty, I was genuinely ashamed of my appearance. I had nothing against his killing me.

Much as Nietzsche detonated a shaped charge and blew away all hope of a totalizing meta-narrative, it was books like The Painted Bird which left me ashamed, almost perma
Yuri Kruman
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Let fools argue about Kosiński's biography and "authenticity" of experience. His supreme ability to tell a child's horrific coming-of-age story in rural Nazi-controlled Poland, where the peasants are just as gruesomely sadistic, with adult credibility and moral authority without overreaching or sentimentality, is a dark and bittersweet triumph of humanity and then also of literature.

IMHO, the book was not written as an invective against Polish peasants or Nazis alone, any more than it is solely
Nate D
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
The undiminished, unending nightmarish brutality of this novel might become an exercise in repetition and gratuity, were it not for undiminished horror contained in its subjects, taken both narrowly (the holocaust) and more broadly (the bottomless capacity of humans to inflict atrocities upon other humans). Early phantasmagoric and folkloric aspects and presentation as a series of episodic 'fables' creates an expectation of the hope/fear rhythms of a fairytale, but the first side of that equatio ...more
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
Jul 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all interested in holocaust literature, anyone who doesn't need to avoid disturbing books
I read an earlier edition than this. I’ve read many, many holocaust era books and I’d already read quite a few when I read this one. And this says a lot, but this one might be the most horrifying one of them all. This was one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read and yet I loved the book. I read it thinking it was non-fiction; years after I read it, I read that it was fiction, but that doesn’t diminish at all the impact I feel from reading it. It’s truly amazing what people can do to each ...more
Apr 12, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: warfare, cultured, mmix
This review is serving as a spiritual tug of war. The Battle of the Conscious. I really don’t know what to think. I hesitate between 2 and 3 stars and Yeah, I know… I’m a heartless bitch. The guilt tells me to rate it higher because of all the persecution and just plain ol’ Horrors that this kid dealt with. As if I’ve lost some humanity if I don’t appreciate this more. But… another part of me is just not feeling it.

It sort of feels like rubbernecking.

Like, it starts off right away with explodi
Frank Eldritch
On deciding for the title of this novel, writer Jerzy Kosinki was inspired by the symbolic use of birds in literature which "allowed certain people to deal with actual events and characters without the restrictions which the writing of history imposes". He states that there was a certain peasant custom he witnessed as a child before in which he describes it as follows:

"One of the villagers' favorite entertainment was trapping birds, painting their feathers, and then releasing them in the air
Timothy Urges
From God’s point of view it seemed to make more sense if everyone lost the war, since everyone was committing murder.
Feb 22, 2011 rated it liked it
The night before last, I fell asleep holding my laptop, while on the couch. I could have sworn I had saved my work, which just so happened to be a review for this book, but upon logging onto Goodreads today I noticed that I did not have a review for The Painted Bird. Every time I am certain I have everything planned out in terms of writing and posting reviews, I do something stupid, such as falling asleep with my computer. Sadly, falling asleep while contemplating and discussing a book does not ...more
MJ Nicholls
Senryu Review:

A wartime childhood
of persecution and pain
in fable-like prose.
The Crimson Fucker
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
The first rock thrown again
Welcome to hell, little Saint
Mother Gaia in slaughter
Welcome to paradise, Soldier

Is all BS! All of it! We a failure as a society, as a species, as individuals! We suck! There’s no way in hell anybody can convince me other wise! You know why? Cuz like millions of years ago some sort of ameba divided itself in 2... You know what the first thing it did when It separated itself? It attacked the other weaker part… and that’s what we been doing for fucking millions of years
Vit Babenco
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war
The Painted Bird is pitilessly graphic and graphically merciless…
“One day, when the pigeon was trying as usual to consort with the hens and chicks, a small black shape broke away from the clouds. The hens ran screaming toward the barn and the chicken coop. The black ball fell like a stone on the flock. Only the pigeon had no place to hide. Before he even had time to spread his wings, a powerful bird with a sharp hooked beak pinned him to the ground and struc
Jack Tripper

Here's the cover of the 1970 Pocket mass-market I just picked up (213 pages). Though I'll have to wait til I'm in the mood for something soul-shatteringly depressing. Or so I hear.
James Morcan
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Painted Bird had a profound effect on me as a teen (and I don't care about all the controversy surrounding the life of the author Jerzy Kosiński). It was intense and shocking to read about an orphaned Jewish boy (not much younger than myself at the time of reading) on the run and trying to avoid being captured or killed in WW2 Europe.

Savage. Bleak helplessness. But also the feeling that sometimes, unfortunately, "this is real life"...

I think somehow humanity needs to understand the nature o
BAM Endlessly Booked
I’m pretty sure Kaz is reading this....
Feb 02, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was clear from the beginning this story was not going to be on the light side, and being a reader who typically tends toward darker material, that did not deter me in any way from launching into this book. Not even sure from whence it came, but it has been languishing in one of our bookcases for years. I almost wish I had left it there, unread. At my age, I am well aware of the inequities of life.

The atrocities seen by and committed to the little boy in the book are almost continual, before
Greta G
Feb 01, 2016 marked it as not-to-read
From some reviews:
A white hot blast of hatred
A shitstorm
A macabre fairy-tale
Too heavy to bear
A catalog of horrors
A sadean pornography

Thanks but no thanks
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history
The darkness of this book is tangible and unmitigated. The narrative voice is that of a six year old boy living in Poland at the onset of World War II. By the conclusion of the war, Kosinski has stripped every vestige of innocence from this boy, and extinguished any faith the reader might have had in humanity.

The boy is dark haired and olive skinned. An alien in the villages of the fair-haired. He speaks a different language, or at least a strange dialect. Wherever he wanders, peasants either s
David M
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Speaking of Pasolini's Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (the most horrible movie ever made, by a considerable margin: just 100 minutes of children being tortured and raped), Italo Calvino wrote, “the idea of situating Sade’s novel in the times and places of the Nazi-Fascistic republic seems the worst possible one from all points of view. The horror of that past that is in the memory of so many who lived it cannot serve as background to a symbolic and imaginary horror constantly outside the [realm] ...more
Nov 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, fiction
It was a high school teacher who first acquainted me with this book. The Painted Bird really hit me when I read it as an adolescent. The afterglow of this crescendo of violence stayed with me for a long time. Rereading the book after a few decades I better see its flaws. There is something two-dimensional and contrived about it that an experienced reader will flinch from. Still there are scenes which are difficult to put out of one’s mind (but now I would situate them earlier in the story rather ...more
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Identity 5 59 Sep 09, 2014 05:27PM  
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Kosiński was born Josef Lewinkopf to Jewish parents in Łódź, Poland. As a child during World War II, he lived in central Poland under a false identity his father gave him to use, Jerzy Kosiński. A Roman Catholic priest issued him a forged baptismal certificate. The Kosiński family survived the Holocaust thanks to local villagers, who offered assistance to Jewish Poles often at great personal risk ...more

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