Kim's Reviews > The Painted Bird

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński
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's review
Apr 12, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: cultured, warfare, mmix
Read in December, 2009

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 exploding pet squirrels and just gets more and more unbelievable as you go. I’m not saying that this stuff couldn’t have happened (well, maybe I am, but not to ONE person...)and I am well aware that as a French Canadian child born in 1970’s New England I would have NO BASIS on which to judge the monstrosities that this un-named child endured. But, it’s not really real, you know? No? Okay, then I’m colder than I thought.

I can’t get past the fact that this kid really isn’t ever given a break… We go through about 200 pages of beatings and rapes and mutilations and near deaths and you (me) start to roll your eyes and think that Charlie Brown could take some life lessons from this little gypsy boy.

I felt guilty! I shouldn’t be exasperated by this! I should be appalled! I should be weeping and thanking unknown deities that my lame childhood was all about having to walk to McDonalds and clean the pool. But, what did I do? I started skimming. Blah-Blah-beating-Blah-Blah-hanging from a hook to avoid certain death from vicious dog-blah blah-skinning a live rabbit-blah blah-thrown in a dung heap---Blah Blah---you get the picture.

The only thread of compassion that I hold onto is that I didn’t feel this way when I read Anne Frank The Diary of a Young Girl or Night. I’m not a monster. (Right?)

Maybe it was the writing style, the dispassionate, removed, telling of these events. Then interspersed with these flowing images of painted birds and sexual awakenings (rape or not.) It was difficult to juxtapose between these styles and stay in the moment. My breath would catch at a particularly moving passage like:

I had seen the end of terror that shakes one until it squeezes the stomach empty of vomit, like a punctured poppy pod blown open by the wind.

Then move a few paragraphs to:

I began to practice walking. My legs did not obey me and I tired easily. One night I heard noises outside. I peered through a slot between the boards.

You lose the rhythm, the fantasy, and hit the mundane again. My addled brain couldn’t handle it.

I read that Kosinski may have gone all James Frey with this and ‘embellished’ the tale but from what I’ve read, he never really said it wasn’t fiction, right? I mean, others fought to find meaning and truth behind the tale. Then there’s the controversy surrounding plagiarism and then all those health issues he had… Poor guy, no wonder he committed suicide. (See? Compassion!)

So, I’m glad that I read this. I have Being There and I’ve been wanting to read that for awhile… not realizing it was the same author. Only now, I’m not so excited.
And that’s sad.
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Reading Progress

12/12/2009 page 56
23.93% "Please tell me this isn't real."
03/22/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben The most graphic, vile, and sick book I've ever read, but Kosinski makes his point effectively.

message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Umm... okay.

message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Yeah, not lousy by any means, just ya know, sick.

message 4: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Gotcha. ;)

Michelle The squirrel part haunts me to this day.

message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Thanks so much for bringing that up, Michelle!

Michelle : )

I know...I probably shouldn't have...

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Quit being such a guilt monster!!!

I hated A Child Called It and the kid was made to eat his brother's shit and poisoned with bleach/ammonia fumes. And I'm a good person. : ) Relax.

message 9: by Kim (last edited Dec 12, 2009 07:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim The mortal soul I call my own is damned, Sarah. I just know it.

(I've never read A Child Called It-can you believe it????)

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)


message 11: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim I will take your advice... Plus, I've had just enough he-goat sex to last me for a long while.

Bookcase Jim Maybe you shouldn't try reading books for the grown ups, it will hurt your addled brain.

message 13: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Thanks for the advice 'Bookcase Jim'. You're a peach.

message 14: by Michelle (last edited Nov 11, 2013 02:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle Bookcase Jim wrote: "Maybe you shouldn't try reading books for the grown ups, it will hurt your addled brain."

Maybe you shouldn't try to be such a douche, it comes naturally.

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