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Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

Hailed as an important young author and thinker with the publication of The Painted Bird, winner of the National Book Award, Jerzy Kosinski ended his life amid allegations of fraud and plagiarism. With accuracy and understanding, Sloan undertakes the unraveling of a complex and confusing life, one that experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, the oppression of totalitarianism, the fruits of celebrity, and the consequences of lies, offering an all-too-human view of a man described as "part victim, part charlatan, and part genius." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When, from time to time, this lively bio fails to read as literary and critical detective work at its best, it entertains a la a People magazine profile. Sloan treats Kosinski, whom he describes as having a "penchant for telling more than the truth," as a great man, a charming rogue and an impostor all rolled into one. The question is, what percentages of those qualities combined to make up the complete man? Born Jerzy Lewinkopf in Poland in 1933, he came to the U.S. on a student visa in the 1950s, published two anticommunist tracts pseudonymously, married a wealthy, alcoholic widow and became a celebrated novelist with The Painted Bird, which its editor bought thinking that it was nonfiction. Most of his novels were assumed, with Kosinski's encouragement, to be autobiographical. Over the years there were also rumors?culminating in a damning Village Voice article in 1982?that they may well have been, in part, ghost-written, even plagiarized. Sloan weighs these charges, finding them more accurate than not, and also chronicles stories of CIA involvement in Kosinski's early career, his adventures in both New York's high society and its S-M underworld, his impressive tenure as president of PEN and the events leading up to his suicide in 1991. Sloan concludes that Kosinski was a brilliant, troubled con man who nonetheless legitimately won his place in literature with his Painted Bird. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (March 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452271673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452271678
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #994,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By D. G. Myers on January 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Since his suicide in 1991, the literary reputation of Jerzy Kosinski has continued to sink. At one time he was one of the most promising writers on the American scene, pounding out three hits in a row--the cult classic "The Painted Bird", "Steps" (winner of the 1969 National Book Award), and "Being There" (filmed in 1980 with Peter Sellers in the starring role). With their grisly violence and a sexuality bordering upon the sadomasochistic, the books raised Kosinski into the ranks of America's celebrity class.

Even as his star was ascending, however, Kosinski was all but finished as a writer. In June 1982, The Village Voice revealed that Kosinski (for whom English was a second language) had made extensive use of translators and collaborators to write all his books, and then had concealed the fact. The remainder of his life, as he himself said, was spent running from it.

And yet the truth about Jerzy Kosinski, as set forth in this new biography by James Park Sloan, may be even more fascinating. For though he disclaimed the role of spokesman for his generation, he was representative of it in many ways. A creature of postmodernity, he suffered--and celebrated--some of the most destructive pathologies of the age. It was as if he were hellbent on acting out the rupture in human values caused by the Holocaust. That was the central theme of his novels, and of his own life.

Born five months after Hitler came to power, he was the only child of Moses and Elzbieta Lewinkopf, a Jewish couple living in Lodz, Poland. His father changed their name to Kosinski--a more Polish-sounding name--in 1939 when he moved the family 120 miles away to the eastern border of German-held Poland. Here the family waited out the war, passing as Gentiles.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Houston on October 5, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Sloan, while not the most gripping writer, provides a digestible account of Kosinski's life and works. Much of the mythos accorded to Kosinski is addressed, if not fully explained. The largest benefit this book can bring to the reader is a refutation of the oftentimes confused early history of the author. Kosinski allowed and encouraged the public's belief that The Painted Bird was mostly autobiographical in a literal sense. This belief gained popularity to the extent that it has appeared as fact in "about the author" blurbs and websites devoted to Kosinski. Sloan disabuses the reader of this notion and places a much closer version of the reality in the reader's vision. However, he makes many mistakes. As noted by another review, "Sloan Should Have Proof-Read The Manuscripts," he makes several factual errors. He dispells some myths but clings to others despite facts to the contrary. Sloan interviewed Kiki (Kosinski's widow), as well as many others. Kiki told him that the story of Kosinski's arrival, in Poland, at his publisher's buisness in a limo with American flags was not true. In reality, Kosinski had come downstairs from a meeting. No car was involved, yet Sloan kept the myth. Such disregard for his sources and perpetration of myth makes me wonder what else Sloan did not accurately explain.
For the reader casually interested in Kosinski, I encourage reading Sloan's work as it does explore Kosinski's life quite in depth. For the scholar of Kosinski, it's a useful addition to the library, but not the first one to be turned to for understanding.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 20, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
When I picked up Sloan's biography I had never heard of the controversies surrounding Kozinski's writing. I have read several of Kozinski's novels, but it was my parents that saw him on the Tongiht show and heard him tell his stories as if they were factual. I read his work thinking that most of the incidents he described actually happened to him while recognizing that clearly some were fictionalized. After reading Sloan's biography I now know exactly what was fact and what was fiction, but for me Kozinski's work has not lost its luster. Reading his fiction today, it doesn't matter whether Kozinski was running around New York telling lies to his rich friends - you have to read his stories as just that: stories
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J D Long on May 25, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I think Sloan's work is helpful but shouldn't be taken as final word. It's been awhile since I've read it but my impressions were that it was fair. I was disappointed to hear of all the controversy over Kosinki's use of translators. I've read all but his last, "The hermit of 69th street," before I'd heard of Sloan's book. The real question is why did he keep the use of translators a secret? In the end, it's still Kosinki's work and nobody can take that away from him, which is noted in Sloan's book. One other piece of criticism that bothered me was the questioning of fact versus fiction. And so I ask, what difference does it make? His seven novels were released as fiction, that is what a novel is. As far as I'm concerned, Kosinski covered his tracks with the word "novel." It sounds like petty jealousy to nitpick over something like that. Kosinski told brilliant stories and "Being There" was the most brilliant of ideas.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I had read "The Painted Bird" by Jerzy Kosinski, before I read the biography by J. Sloan. "The painted bird" is a powerful book and I wondered about the author. A lot of things made sense to me after reading the biography. Sloan has written a very interesting book , but I feel that he has written too much of his own analysis. If Sloan knew Kosinski for about 20 years, there is no mention of a single event of that in the whole book. I found this kind of surprising, since the book is a memoir. In spite of all the controversies surrounding Kosinski, he is still a great story teller.
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