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Being There Paperback – September 20, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 132 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Not until you put the book down do you realize how chilling is the image of ourselves in Kosinski's mirror...It will survive as a seminal work' " -- John Barkham Saturday Review "'Chance, a fabulous creature of our age'" Time "'Being There is a reverse parable, highly polished and patterned to the last twitch of the nerves'" -- Norman Shrapnel Guardian "'A tantalizing knuckle ball of a book delivered with perfectly timed satirical hops and metaphysical flutters'" -- R.Z. Sheppard Time "'Extremely well written. Under the circumstances, I can only urge as many people as possible to rush out and buy it'" -- Auberon Waugh Spectator --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Publisher

Chauncey Gardiner is the great enigma: a hero of the American media. TV loves him; print pursues him. He is a household face. He is the one everybody is talking about, though nobody knows what HE is talking about. No one knows where he has come from, but everybody knows he has come to money, power and sex. Was he led to all this by the lovely, well-connected wife of a dying Wall Street tycoon? Or is Chauncey Gardiner riding the waves all by himself because, like a TV image, he floated into the world buoyed up by a force he did not see and could not name? Does he know something we don't? Will he fail? Will he ever be unhappy? The reader must decide.

"Being There is one of those rare books which echoes in the mind long after you have finished it. It will survive as a seminal work of the Seventies."--New York Post. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Kosinski, Jerzy
  • Paperback: 141 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (September 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802136346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802136343
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on September 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Jerzy Kosinski, the author of "Being There," had a long career as a distinguished author. After coming to the United States from his native Poland, Kosinski embarked on a writing career spanning nearly three decades. During this period he wrote nine novels and two collections of essays. The awards he collected over these years are too numerous to list here, but he did win an award for turning "Being There" into a screenplay. In the movie Peter Sellers played the role of Chauncey Gardiner (that's Sellers on the cover of the book, by the way). Jerzy Kosinski died in 1991.
If you have seen the film version of this book, you already know what the story is about. Chauncey is a gardener for a wealthy old invalid referred to cryptically as the "Old Man." Poor old Chauncey doesn't have much going on upstairs; he cannot read or write, and his days are spent watching television and working in the garden. The Old Man adopted Chauncey when he was a small child, and maintains an iron grip over his life. Chauncey has never seen the outside world, never interacted with people beyond the gates of the house, or left any trace of himself in the outside world. He's a sort of modern day Robinson Crusoe, isolated on his own private island in the middle of our bustling world.
When the Old Man finally succumbs to his illnesses, Chauncey is left to his own devices in a world he has only seen on television. After a slight accident that occurs a few minutes after he leaves his cocoon, Chauncey finds himself quickly moving up in the world. He is "adopted" by Benjamin and EE Rand, a wealthy family. When Chauncey spouts a few vague aphorisms about gardening, the Rands misunderstand him and begin to believe that Chauncey is a brilliant, wealthy industrialist with intelligent insights into the business world.
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Format: Paperback
After watching the film several times over the years -- but before reading the book -- I concluded that Being There was a prime candidate for one of the rare instances in which the cinematic version of a story was superior to the literature it was based on. The story is so simple and so much of it is communicated by expressions, gestures, and tone of voice that it seemed unlikely that the written word would be up to the task.

Instead, finally reading this thin but ambitious effort showed me again that good writing trumps good cinema almost every time.

To be sure, the film is good cinema. And the talented duo of Peter Sellers and Shirley McLean are so convincing in their silver screen roles that it is hard to imagine the characters they portray looking and sounding any different than the way they were played in the film (my effort to disassociate them from the story wasn't helped by the fact that my edition of the book has Mr. Sellers larger than life on its cover).

Yet the book takes the story to another level. Chance, the main character, is still a fortunate simpleton, But in the book author Jerzy Kosinski can reveal what is happening in his head, the swirling and disconcerting mystery that even the most obvious events seem to someone like him. These passages add an unexpected depth and darkness to the story, which is without most of the comic relief so prominent in the film.

The end result is a book that isn't the wry comedy with precision timing I expected after knowing the film so well but rather a biting and trenchant satire about the culture of modern media, politics, and business, and of the gullible nature of a people far too eager to follow anyone they think may be willing to lead.
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Format: Paperback
Chance. the gardner, "knows not whence he came." His only memories are of his room, his television set, the garden that he tends, the old man who owns the house and garden, and a cook/housekeeper. The sum of all his knowledge comes from what he sees on his television set and what he has learned tending his garden. He doesn't read. He doesn't write. He really doesn't know that there is a world outside of his garden.
When the old man dies, Chance is thrown into a world about which he knows nothing. His one advantage coming into that world is that he has the old man's hand-me-down suits which are impeccably tailored and are old enough to have come back into style.
By chance, Chance is injured by a chauffeur driven limousine belonging to a very rich and influential man. (Thank goodness for the suit he is wearing! Through no fault of his own, he looks rich and successful.) He gives his name as Chance, the gardner and it is misunderstood as Chauncey Gardiner. His vast experience in things worldly, gained from viewing television, tells him that if someone tells him that is his name then that is his name.
Whenever Chance, now Chauncey, enters into a conversation, he speaks of what he knows, the garden. Within a very short time, his replies, such as, "For everything there is a season," in response to a question about the future economic climate, are taken to be the astute observations of a brilliant man.
These meaningless utterances, coupled with his total lack of a background, make him into a media idol and, seemingly, the ideal candidate for Vice President of the United States.
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