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This book is a harrowing experience from beginning to end, no question about it. It is an unrelentingly bleak cataloging of human cruelty. There are moments that are very hard to get through. Moments when you must stop and catch your breath before going on.
I was utterly taken aback by several scenes in the novel, horrors that I knew at once I would never forget. Here are depictions of depravity so raw and visceral they leave the reader virtually poleaxed; stunned and gasping.
And then, at the end, I was equally shocked by something Kosinski says in his brief afterword.
He mentions that at a family gathering some years after the publication of his novel, family members from Eastern Europe accused him of downplaying the atrocities that occurred in their villages. Downplaying indeed.
Be forewarned. This one is a tough listen. It is however, a remarkable novel and justifiably considered a classic not just of Holocaust literature but in the larger sense as well.
Darkly poetic. Starkly beautiful. Mesmerizing and brutal. It is difficult to look away once the novel's melancholy spell takes hold.
Fred Berman's narration seemed entirely appropriate to me. Lightly accented, but easily understandable. Never overdone; never distracting. All in all, a very good fit for an undeniably difficult but worthwhile listen.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
i read "the painted bird" when it first appeared as a pocket book around 1966 or 67, and was pretty much bowled over by it. curiously, despite the much later appearance of books like "bloodlands" by timothy snyder, which described, in gory detail, the unbelievable bloodshed that took place in that area, the "bloodlands" comprised of poland and the ukraine -- i.e., the "unnamed eastern countries" of the painted bird -- i never took kosinski's book as autobiography --- i imagined it more as a story about a "collective" character, a composite character, made up of the fates of several people that kosinski may have known or whose stories he had heard. it was, i thought, a fictional, or factive, story like günter grass's "tin drum" (based on WWII) or grimmelshausen's "simplicissimus", a story about a character lost in the terrors of the 30-year-war, of 1618-48. but also the book struck me as being on a par with those two books, which are classics in their own right, very well written, memorable. the character in TPB, a picaro, jewish, as in the very first picaresque novel i'd come across, lazarillo of "lazarillo de tormes", a spanish classic from around the time of christopher columbus -- so too, the little lazar, the little jew, in this book, wanders from one scene of horror into the next, as did the character lasik in "the stormy life of lasik roitschwantz" (1960) by ilya ehrenburg. another great book in the picaresque tradition and i'm sure one that kosinski --- an author much accused of plagiarism -- must have been familiar with -- even long before it appeared in english in 1960. the english translation of ehrenburg's masterwork is pretty poor, BTW, especially when compared to the wonderful german -- and vaguely yiddish-sounding -- translation of 1929. the point here is that kosinski's book is not without antecedent, but it appeared in the english-speaking world like a comet, out of nowhere, and certainly impressed with its blinding light. i was pleased to hear the book rendered in this un-hurried, slightly foreign-accented reading -- which could, for all intents and purposes --- be a deliberate "act", part of the voice-actor's performance --- and so, what of it? it increases the sense of verisimilitude, it improves the reading. which is totally wonderful! and yes, the book holds up remarkably well. another thing that was always obvious to me -- all the more so, when i read that roman polanski and kosinski had been friends or acquaintances at the lodz film school in poland --- was that polanski should long ago have made a movie of this book. it hasn't happened so far and may now be unlikely to happen at all. polanski did make a movie of dickens's "oliver twist", which didn't really go much anywhere beyond the level of an "illustrated classic" comic book. someday somebody may have to make that movie yet, and the more time passes while we wait for it to appear, the more the stature of the book will grow as one-of-the great-classics-of-the-20th-century-that-has-never-been-filmed, much as "the catcher in the rye" hasn't. kosinski's other great book, which i found on audible in a very calm and unaffected reading by dustin hoffman -- none less! to be sure --- is "being there", which also exists as a great movie, starring peter sellers. it just antedates the reagan presidency by a few years --- if it had appeared any later it would have been thought of as a parody or political satire. even so, it serves that purpose well, seen from today's vantage point. to wrap up the point i want to make here --- this is a great reading of a great book, and deserves all the stars it can get. i would point the listener to the shorter and very different reading of "being there" next. hoffman's reading, in its subdued, matter-of-fact voice, does the book justice, as does the sellers film, one of the great movies of the 1980s. reading, hearing and seeing just these two books should allay anybody's doubts about kosinski's true stature in american literature. "the painted bird" is a classic, and this is an excellent reading of it.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Please do not give up on this book when it becomes almost unbearably brutal. It is worth listening until the end even if you do have to pause to regroup your thoughts and emotions. The Afterword goes a long way to helping understand the reason the book was written.
This book was hard to listen to but I'm glad I did.
This was a dark story which was hard to get through at times, but gave a realistic feeling of the horrors that war brings. The weak and vulnerable are the ones who suffer most, and the author doesn't hold back in showing this.