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The Painted Bird Paperback – August 9, 1995

3.9 out of 5 stars 208 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many writers have portrayed the cruelty people inflict upon each other in the name of war or ideology or garden-variety hate, but few books will surpass Kosinski's first novel, The Painted Bird, for the sheer creepiness in its savagery. The story follows an abandoned young boy who wanders alone through the frozen bogs and broken towns of Eastern Europe during and after World War II, trying to survive. His experiences and actions occur at and beyond the limits of what might be called humanity, but Kosinski never averts his eyes, nor allows us to.


“One of the best. . . . Written with deep sincerity and sensitivity.”—Elie Wiesel, The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful blow on the mind because it is so carefully kept within the margins of probability and fact.”—Arthur Miller

“Of all the remarkable fiction that emerged from World War II, nothing stands higher than Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. A magnificent work of art, and a celebration of the individual will. No one who reads it will be unmoved by it. The Painted Bird enriches our literature and our lives.”—Jonathan Yardley, The Miami Herald

“Extraordinary . . . literally staggering . . . one of the most powerful books I have ever read.”—Richard Kluger, Harper’s Magazine

Product Details

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 2nd edition (August 9, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080213422X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802134226
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
My byline refers not only to the fact that both Conrad and Kosinski were Polish authors writing in English. There are also similarities in Marlowe's journey into the darkness of the Congo and Kosinski's young narrators' voyage through the surreal landscape of wartime Eastern Europe. Both investigate the darker regions of the human psyche. Both are the antithesis of a "picaresque" novel. Both are told from the point-of-view of a relatively innocent narrator, whose original naivete is transformed by the scenes he witnesses into an understanding of the "horror" and a comprehension of man's capacity for evil. I read The Painted Bird over 30 years ago and many of its images still remain vivid in my imagination. I will never forget the couple caught copulating (you'll have to read Kosinski's description yourself - I'm not going to go there) and the boy-narrator's harrowing account of being thrown into a pit of excrement. I'm a bit surprised, having taught high school English myself, that this would be recommended to a young reader, even though I read it when I was about sixteen. It definitely wasn't on my school's list of recommended reading. I don't agree with some reviewers here that the book is pornographic. Far from it. The sex depicted is hardly meant to arouse. Kosinski's later work might have fallen into that category (he did a lot of short-story writing for Playboy and Penthouse), but this is far too brutal a work to be anywhere near titillating. If you would like to take a harrowing walk into the heart of darkness, and are equipped to handle visions of one of the most depraved landscapes you are likely to encounter in literature, then this book's for you.
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Format: Paperback
"The Painted Bird" offers a haunting, deeply disturbing look into the psychological impact of war, and how it can drive even the most civilized and the most innocent of people to do unspeakable things. The book opens in the fall of 1939. An unnamed, black-haired, dark-eyed 6-year-old boy is separated from his parents at the beginning of World War II. Wandering the countryside alone, the boy is mistaken for a Gypsy or a Jew by the fair-haired, blue-eyed rural villagers, and accordingly shunned. Even those who do shelter and feed him usually treat him with cruelty. But, even more disturbing, the boy's eyes are opened to the superstition-driven brutality with which these country folk treat their own neighbors, and even their own family members.

This is not an uplifting read. The cruelty the boy witnesses and experiences often defies the imagination. Kosinski makes no attempt to censor his gruesome descriptions, nor should he. To gloss over the atrocities of World War II would be an injustice to those who suffered through it. Though the book is not, as some would argue, autobiographical, events like those depicted here did indeed happen during the war. It is probably safe to assume that the story takes place in Poland, though Kosinski has deliberately left out place names in order to keep the narrative separate from his own life. As he says in the author's note at the beginning, he intended the book to stand alone.

The story actually spans the entire war, taking the boy from age six to age twelve. Over the course of the book, we witness his gradual loss of innocence. He tries repeatedly to make sense of a senseless world. For a while he throws himself fully into church, hoping that endless prayers will deliver him.
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By A Customer on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
OK, I admit, I should have been older than 14 years old when I first read this novel... it is more graphic than your average WWII book or movie. This novel is an unusual perspective on the holocaust. There are no factories full of jewish labor slaves, no ghettoes, no concentration camps. Instead, there is a small child, seperated from his parents in time of war, lost in the countryside of rural central Europe. In the course of the novel, we discover how the social chaos brought about by WWII plays itself out among common peasants in the countryside as they are reduced to the lowest behaviors imaginable in the absence of peace, stability, clear governance, and a socially agreed-upon sense of right and wrong. And the victim (or victims) is the child who witnesses (and lives with) this state of violence.
In response to the review title "More lies about Jerzy", I find it shallow and naive of the reviewer to call this book gratuitous violence invented for entertainment simply because the events depicted are not truly autobiographical. It is a novel. Last time I checked, novelists seem to make stories up on a regular basis. No need to discount the value of the narrative because of its condition as fictional. As for the suggestion that Jerzy did not write this book, I wouldn't be surprised if he had help smoothing his prose into readable English. Kozinski is not a native speaker of English. In fact, he learned the language as an adult. So he needed help with the language... who cares? The plot, characterization, and overall design of the book bear the creative mark that no proof reader or ghost writer could put on a narrative.
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