As more research is done into the life of Jerzy Kosinski ever more of the mythology
that he built up around himself is called into question. While he didn't have a wonderful childhood
" might be too strong a word. The Painted Bird
, though he consistently allowed people to believe that it wasn't. He was never separated from his parents during the war
, and while yes, they hid from the Nazi
s, they did so in relative comfort in a small Polish
village, his father a respected teacher
and his mother able to employ a maid to clean her house.
And his existence in Communist Poland was hardly tenuous. He was a top student, a prize-winning photographer, the son of a powerful party official, and the darling of several of the country's top social science professors, who made his academic life much easier than it could have been. He came to the US not in some daring escape, but as an exchange student on full scholarship from the Ford Foundation, with the full knowledge and consent of the Polish government.
His life interplays with his fiction in interesting ways, though. While it is certain that he was never imprisoned for months by an old man who hung him from the rafters by his arms while a vicious dog snapped inches below his feet (one of the most brutal scenes from The Painted Bird), there does seem to have been some childhood trauma that left him with a lifelong dread of dogs and with permanently damaged shoulders, turned in such a way as to suggest a long period spent hanging by the arms. Speculation points to some kind of parental abuse. And while a mob of angry villagers never threw him into a pit of refuse for the crime of dropping the altar plate, he did once drop the altar plate as a child and was deeply ashamed, though interviews suggest that no one publicly punished or even reprimanded him for it.
I still think Jerzy Kosinski was a genius writer. But he was also a pathological liar. And he led a fascinating life, even if it wasn't the one he told people he led.
Source: Sloan, James Park. Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography. (c)1996 Penguin Books